Knowing my past track record and how notorious I can be for switching PDAs
every time something new and shiny comes out, makes it hard for some to believe
that I’ve been happily using the
iPAQ hx4700 since October 2004. Amazingly enough, there just haven’t been
any announcements for other upcoming devices that have managed to pique my
interest. The fact that the 4700 will be supporting the
Windows Mobile 5.0 Upgrade later this year makes it doubtful that I will be
looking for its replacement anytime soon, and I have to admit that it is nice
to have finally found a PDA that makes me feel so content, one that
actually makes me feel loyal.
That’s not to say that the iPAQ was perfect out of the box, mind you…
Early on, I sent my 4700 to PPC Techs
to get its measly 64MB internal RAM
upgraded to 128MB. Soon after, I also added one of their
WriteSHIELD C² Screen Protectors. After
trying several aftermarket styli, I chose to go with the chrome version from
All that was left to do was to find the perfect case. If I hadn’t added
the HP extended
battery to the accessory mix, then my iPAQ might have spent the rest of its
days jauntily clad in a
moss green Vaja, but nooooo – I wanted 3600mAh, or double the iPAQ’s
already generous regular battery capacity. This created a case crisis.
For the longest time, not a single case manufacturer offered anything that
would work on my particular PDA configuration. In order to carry the iPAQ with
its extended battery installed, I resorted to the risky act of carting my PDA
around without any case at all – just the cheesy screen-cover that it came with
from the factory. The result was a series of mysterious scratches
appearing on my iPAQ’s lower left side, which I detailed in the
Sena extended battery case review, a case that finally came out to fit the
iPAQ with extended battery. While I give Sena props for being the first
manufacturer to address this need, their version did not fully protect the
corners of my PDA, which made me a bit nervous since that was obviously a
personal danger zone. I should also admit that as nice as their case was, it
just didn’t feel like a reflection of my personality which is what my
iPAQ truly has become.
I am sure that every other person that uses their PDA everyday to the point
that it feels like an extension of their brain will understand where I am coming
from. I have personalized my iPAQ by adding the programs I need to get through
each day, and almost every single one of those programs has been personalized in
some way to cater to my needs – whether it be through their color schemes
or through the information that they display.
Perhaps in the back of my mind I was hoping that Vaja would eventually take
pity on me (and the other extended battery iPAQ owners) by offering one of their
expertly crafted cowhide cases, but it was not to be. Ah well, that was their
missed opportunity wasn’t it?
What now seems like ages ago, Graham Walker with
nSignia Cases in Australia had
promised that he would eventually introduce a case for the 4700, including one
for the iPAQ with extended battery. Of course I was no stranger to Graham’s
cases, having reviewed and approved of his
nSignia Book-Style iPAQ 1900 Case last year, and having long ago enjoyed
carrying one of his earliest offerings – the
Flak Jacket for the Compaq iPAQ back in 2001.
Since his Flak Jacket days, Graham has started nSignia with the intention of
catering to people that are looking for something special, something not found
in the average PDA case. Graham heads his Australian based company, but he is
also active in almost every part of the process – from designing the
cases, choosing the materials used, quality control of the Thailand based
artisans’ leather workshop, to processing orders and answering customer’s
questions. I think that the only thing Graham doesn’t personally help with is
the sewing of any of the cases, instead there are 35 skilled craftsmen that do
that. It is obvious when speaking with Graham that you are dealing with a person
that wants to take care of his customer’s needs. That was made quite evident
when earlier this year his nSignia website hosted a poll – trying to learn
exactly what skins his prospective customers were interested in, as well as
trying to learn which PDAs the majority wanted his cases to cover.
Because of his unusual attention to detail, I knew that whatever Graham came
out with would be expertly crafted and made of the finest materials, but I guess
that I should just cut to the chase and say that after doing so many case
reviews, I have become somewhat jaded. Jaded? Yes, unfortunately. How so? Well
here’s an example: Sometimes Julie and I will joke about certain PDA cases,
saying "it covers your PDA, protects the screen, and it comes in black or
brown leather…end of review." See what I mean? There’s just not very much
that is "new" under the sun when it comes to PDA cases, now is there? But I
Graham said that his nSignia line would not only be offered in affordable
traditional cowhide, he would also be going full-tilt into the exotic arena by
offering both book-style and flip-style versions in crocodile, ostrich, kangaroo
and possibly some other skins. I admit it, my interest was up. Other than
a company that made PDA pouches and which disappeared several years ago,
no other company has ventured into the high-end exotic arena. It is high time
that someone did.
Knowing that I have a weakness for alligator skin, Graham offered to send me
the crocodile version case once he was ready to offer them for the iPAQ 4700
with extended battery. I was quite happy with that plan until he sent me the
list of the other skins he would be using, which had been expanded to include
eagle ray and
stingray. Okay, tilapia is a
fish that I enjoy eating but I never knew that it had a hide which could be
harvested for accessories, so I was intrigued. But the leather that really
caught my interest was the stingray’s. A PDA case seemed like the perfect way to
showcase this unique skin with the marvelous texture, so I asked if I could
review the black stingray instead of the crocodile, and Graham graciously said
yes. He also offered to send samples of cases in the other available leathers so
that I could include descriptions of the various skins in the review. I was
happy to accept.
Within a few days, a large box showed up from Australia. Inside were nine
different PDA cases in various skins. Opening the box was incredible – the smell
of properly tanned leather was overwhelming and it was almost like Christmas –
even if I didn’t get to keep all of the presents! There were still two more
boxes that would be coming in the mail containing the crocodile and kangaroo
Inside the large box was an nSignia box which included my case, the
Black Stingray HP iPAQ hx4700 with Extended Battery Flip-Style. You may also
know stingray by its European name, Shagreen.
Each case comes in a black printed heavy paper box with the nSignia logo.
Inside, the case is displayed in a simple yet classy manner
I was actually speechless as I opened the box and removed my case. Stingray
is a stunning skin to begin with, but I had never seen it used on a PDA case
before, and the result was simply gorgeous.
If you are not familiar with stingray, the best way that I can find to
describe its texture is to say that its surface resembles thousands, perhaps
millions of tiny smooth pebbles. Down the center front of the case is a series
of white dots or "pearls" (the spine of the ray). According to the
a company I found which charges
$300 (and up)
for their stingray watchstraps, it is incredibly difficult to work with stingray
because the craftsman has to deal not only with the leather, but also with the
mineral portion of the skin – the inlaid ivory which creates the pearls.
This is as good as any time to mention that stingray is an incredibly
durable leather, one that is near impossible to destroy. It has been used
for centuries for everything from Shogun sword handles to Egyptian armor. This
is a case that will not fall apart on its owner, even after years of use.
According to Graham, "This leather will outlast almost anything. In fact with
the leather wallets, if the cowhide interior wears out the customer can send it
back to us and for a reduced cost we can replace the insides because the
stingray will still be in perfect condition."
The case is held shut with a single non-magnetic snap on its backside.
While we are on the rear side of the case, let’s take a look at the belt-clip
system. As you can see in this picture there are two small plastic slugs with
the nSignia logo. Whether or not the case’s owner wants to add a horizontal or
vertical belt clip will determine which plug if any should be pulled.
For an additional 6.82 AUD ($5.19 US) a quick release belt clip kit can be
added. This kit includes a small Phillips head screwdriver, the metal post for
the clip, a metal screw, several plastic replacement slugs and the heavy plastic
Ultra Swivel Belt Clip from The Clip
Company, which comes with it’s own lifetime warranty. I really appreciate
that the option is there to add the belt-clip if the user wants it, but when the
user doesn’t want it (like me), there isn’t a big ugly hole left on the back of
the case when the clip’s post is removed.
The left side of the case completely covers that side of the PDA, stopping
short of the voice recorder button.
The bottom of the case is cut so that the reset button, Infrared port and the
power/sync port areas are unfettered. Notice how the leather from the sides
comes together with the leather on the bottom of the case, completely protecting
the PDA’s bottom sides.
When the flip-lid is snapped shut, the opening for the sync/charge port is
The right side of the case also protects the entire side of the PDA, stopping
in a symmetrical position with the left.
Opening the flip-style case reveals an interior sumptuously trimmed in
goat-suede and cowhide.
The small nSignia logo near the end of the flip-lid is the only branding
present on the case, other than the previously mentioned plastic slugs on the
One of the interesting features of all nSignia cases is the removable
storage module, which on this particular case is composed of goat-suede and
cowhide. Some cases will have the leather portion of the storage module made of
a different leather than cowhide, but whatever the leather, it will always be
backed with a complimentary color of goat-suede.
This storage module has slots which will hold three ID or credit cards and two
SD or MMC cards. The module inserts into the long slot built into the leather
lined flip-lid. When it is carried in the case, its suede back will cover and
protect the screen area of the PDA. Keeping the storage module in the case does
add a bit of thickness, as should be expected. With the module installed, the
case measures 5.7" tall x 3.2" wide x 1.6" thick. Bear in mind that the iPAQ
with extended battery measures 5.2" tall x 3.0" wide x 0.8" thick without any
case. You can tell in this picture that the storage module will make the case
"thicker", but if you need the added slots you probably won’t mind. It’s not as
if the iPAQ with the extended battery is all that pocketable anyway; it harkens
back to the days of carrying the old iPAQs with their PCMCIA sleeves installed..
This is a picture of the iPAQ with the storage module
installed – yes, it is a chunky little brick. :0)
I don’t like to carry any cards in my case, so I was happy with the option of
being able to completely remove the storage module and instead just have the
smooth leather of the case touching my PDA. Without the storage module, this
case measures 5.7" tall x 3.2" wide x 1.4" thick – slightly less thick!
The holster which holds the iPAQ is composed of cowhide on its exterior, but
is entirely lined in suede so that nothing but buttery softness ever touches the
The PDA slides in through the top, and the suede helps to securely keep the
iPAQ in place. As you can see in this picture, unfettered access is available to
the stylus silo, the SD & CF card slots and the headphone jack – when the case
is open. Graham has informed me that future 4700 flip-style cases will have a
small notch in their spine to make more room for the headphone jack. I rather
like not having it, since my PDA’s case is generally open when I am using
it – with or without the headphones.
The cutout around the touchpad seems a little bit "close" to the tops of the
contacts and email buttons, but after using the case for almost a month, I have
found that it does not get in the way or hamper my use of the buttons. There is
a small cutout to the right of the touchpad to allow clear use of the iPAQ’s
The top of the holster has see-through plastic windows over the three LED
indicator lights and the HP medallion. Personally, I would have just left the
medallion covered in leather, but it’s all right. A silver mesh screen covers
the speaker area on the top right of the PDA.
The cutout around the screen on the case I received was perfectly lined up
and centered. It aggravates me no end when this area is sloppily cut, and that
is certainly not the case here, no pun intended.
The nSignia Stingray case is truly a beauty, and I have received many
compliments while using it. I must confess that I am not used to anyone
noticing my case, much less commenting on it. In fact, I can’t remember any
other PDA case that ever drew compliments. Several people have wanted to touch
it, and so far no one has known what type of skin it was until I told them.
Their usual reply is, "Wow Really?!"
Granted, not everyone will want a case that catches other people’s eye, but
so far this has been an enjoyable experience. :0)
Now that I have covered the case specifically for my iPAQ with it’s extended
battery, lets take a look at all of the exotic goodness that Graham included in
my review box. When I first received this shipment of cases, I wrote in my
online gear diary that
that I was glad they wouldn’t all fit my PDA because otherwise I would have
spent a lot of time trying every one of them out on my iPAQ.
Graham actually wrote and apologized, I guess he didn’t realize that I was
First up, we have the book-style salt-water crocodile case for the Dell Axim
Now this is one yummy case! Notice that the entire exterior is
done in brown matte crocodile. The interior is just as sumptuous…
Note the stylus holder in the case’s spine
The interior is composed of a smooth brown cowhide and brown goat-suede. Here
you can see what the book-style case looks like with it’s storage module
inserted. When customers go to the nSignia site planning to order, they may not
always find the crocodile version available for their Dell or iPAQ, but there is
no need to worry. According to Graham, "One of the reasons that the Croc
cases aren’t always up on the website is that I was planning on trying to make
each case an individual purchase. My idea was that since each case has a
particular scale pattern and look that is unique to each and due to the higher
cost of the cases, that it would be nice if our customers could look at a
particular case and select the exact one that they wanted." So if you are
interested in a croc case, the best thing to do is
Graham an email and let him know exactly what you have in mind – the smaller
round scales like the case above, or the
more angular belly scales shown in this case.
The next case is the one that Julie fell for once I described it to her, the
Dell Axim x50/x50v flip-style in Eagle Ray.
The biggest difference that I can see between eagle ray and Stingray is the
amount of pearls down the ray’s spine. Eagle ray and stingray usually have the
same size pebbles (for lack of more technical term). According to Graham, "The
normal feel of the [stingray] skins is what eagle ray looks and feels like. We have chosen
to use a smooth stingray skin for our stingray cases. Basically what they do is
take a grinder and grind down the bumps until it has a smooth feel to it. I
really like the texture of these skins which is why we went that way, but we
left the eagle ray in the "natural" state to provide a choice to our customers." Hopefully you can see
by these pictures that they are even more prominent in this skin than they are
on my Stingray case.
Graham mentioned that there will also be cases available for the Axim wearing
its extended battery, so for those that were wondering, there is the answer. He
also had this to say about the currently round headphone cutout in the Axim
cases’ flip-lids, "After reading an interesting review by XDALAW on
aximsite.com I found that I tended to
agree with him that circular cut-outs for headphones could be awkward to use as
it is more difficult to open and close the PDA case with the headphone still
plugged in – like when you want to start, stop, pause, skip ahead, etc. As such
we have decided to try making the cut-out extend from the edge of the PDA case,
this way a headphone that is plugged in won’t affect the opening and closing of
the flip cases. Luckily none of these headphone issues are a problem with the
book style cases."
Here is the Eagle Ray in navy blue in a book-style case for the HP iPAQ
rx3400 / rx3700…
Because of the camera on the backs of the
rx3400 and rx3700, there is a cutout on the rear of the case so that
pictures can be taken without having to remove the PDA. A removable piece of
stiff clear plastic slides into a special pocket in the inside back wall to
protect the camera lens when it is not in use…
Here is some good news for PDA users that are left-handed, they do not have
to forego the book-style case. According to Graham, "Although I haven’t put
up the mirror book style cases for the hx4700’s yet, if you have a look at the
book style cases for the Axims on our website you will see that we have added an
option for a left handed book style case. We had some requests for book style
cases that open from the left to the right and have decided that we can make
these cases on a "make to order" basis. Basically we just mirror the patterns
for the standard book style. This doesn’t cost the customer anything extra,
however it does take 4-6 weeks for us to get the case before we ship it."
If it wasn’t already clear, it should be obvious by now that Graham is
serious about taking care of his customers needs. This is definitely not the
kind of one-on-one service that anyone could hope for, much less receive from a
company that mass-produces its items.
Here is the flip-style case for the HP iPAQ rx3400 / rx3700, in stingray…
It’s a little bit hard to see, but this PDA’s case also comes with the removable
piece of rigid clear plastic which covers the camera lens cutout on the rear.
Here is the Dell Axim x50/x50v book-style stingray case in navy blue. Note
that on this case the stingray skin is slightly lighter than the navy cowhide
trim, which really shows off the texture of the skin…
Now let’s take a look at a couple of ostrich cases. These are for the Dell
Axim x50/x50v, and I received both the book-style in black and the flip-style in
brown. Those that are fans of ostrich skin will think that they have hit
the jackpot, because these cases have full quill ostrich skin on the
…as well a slightly less nubby ostrich skin on the inside. Of
course, there is still goat-suede for all of the areas that will touch the PDA.
I didn’t point it out on the previous book-style cases, but I should take
this opportunity to mention that the full holster on nSignia’s cases ensures
that three sides of the PDA are always covered by leather. This is great
protection from scratches and small bumps!
Note the ostrich quill bumps on the removable storage module
This brings us to the Tilapia case. I received the book-style version for the
iPAQ hx4700. If I didn’t know better, I would have thought this was some sort of
Tilapia’s texture is actually quite smooth, and the scales do not feel loose
or like they will catch on anything that rubs against the case.
The next two cases might not seem that different from each other in these
pictures, but in real life there is a noticeable difference in the way they each
First is a black kangaroo case for the Dell Axim x50 / x50v.
The main difference between the kangaroo skin and the cowhide which will follow,
is that the kangaroo is similar to deerskin – incredibly soft. It also
has a slightly more matte finish than the cowhide – but that last point won’t be
evident to anyone unless they happen to have both cases in hand for comparison.
Here is the black cowhide flip-case for the iPAQ hx4700…
If customers think that their new PDA cases will make their wallets look
shabby, then Graham has a great solution, "We are also introducing a range of
wallets that will be made from the same leather types as the PDA cases. We are
going to offer these on our website both individually and as a "Gift Set"
combination with a PDA case. If the customer buys a PDA case and a wallet at the
same time they get a 25% discount off the price of the wallet."
Overall, I must say that I am amazed at the quality and attention to detail
that went into each of these cases. There were no rough edges, instead all
borders were finished in rolled leather. Stitching was straight and true, and
there were no loose threads or other blemishes that would call negative
attention to any aspect of the cases. In fact, these cases have a truly
luxurious feel that will appeal to anyone that wants a little something more
for the cover of their PDA. When you hold one of Graham’s cases in your hands,
you will completely understand.
Amazingly enough, the prices for these cases do not even begin to
reflect their quality and materials. Prices vary according to PDA model, so I
will mention the prices for the flip-style iPAQ 4700 with extended battery in
these examples: Cowhide cases cost approximately $47 US, Tilapia will set
it’s owner back $61 and Kangaroo is around $64. Ostrich cases are
about $142, Eagle Ray is $115 and Crocodile – the most
pricey case Graham carries – is only $223! My beloved stingray runs just
under $100 – only $10 more than the cowhide case I got from Vaja.
I should think it is evident which case is the better deal.
As I wrap up this review, I would like to take a moment to officially crown
nSignia as my choice for the premier luxury exotic case manufacturer of the
world. Graham has raised the bar by not only producing beautiful cases in
some of the world’s most gorgeous leathers, but he has stunted potential
competition by charging reasonable and fair prices for these small works of art.
Owning my nSignia case makes me thankful that I won’t be switching from my iPAQ
4700 any time soon. When the time comes that I finally do, I will hope that he
creates a case for my next model.
Price: 133.64 AUD (approx $99 US) for the Stingray
flip-style case, other models will vary
nSignia case offer a
guarantee against defects in materials and workmanship
Gorgeous exotic leather cases for fair prices
Custom options are available
Full protection for the PDA, whether in a flip-style or a book-style
Cases are available for the Palm Tungsten T3, Dell
Axim x50 & x50v, Almost every HP iPAQ series – be sure to check for your model