Kensington BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case Review

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With new Surface hardware on the way, Windows 10 users would be wise to consider the Surface Pro 3, which is seeing steep discounts. Of course, any expensive gadget, particularly a mobile gadget, is worth protecting, and that’s where the Kensington BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case comes in handy.

True, we’ve been hard on some Surface 3 cases, mostly because of price, and also because they cover up some of the best hardware on the market. But things are different with the Pro 3. It’s larger, more expensive, and has more moving parts, like an internal fan that we would never want to see broken.

So does the BlackBelt live up to its rugged designation? Read on to find out.

Build & Design

Kensington BlackbeltThe Kensington BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case offers one-piece protection, and made from semi-flexible and textured thermoplastic polyurethane. It essentially offers edge protection from drops, with particular cushioning on the corners and a raised edge around the display bezel.

A Surface Pro 3 without the Type Cover measures about 11.5 x 7.93 x .36 inches, and weighs about 1.76 pounds. With the Kensington case, it bulks up to 12 x 8 x 1 inches, and weighs about 2.76 pounds. The Type Cover and Pen bring that total to 3.4 pounds.

There are various slots and holes for the ports, camera, and vents, along with protrusions for the volume rocker and power button. The case ships with an elastic stylus holder that docks on the top edge. Half the back panel has been removed to make room for the kickstand, and there is room on the bottom for the Type Cover keyboard.

The BlackBelt fits a bit too snugly, and is extremely difficult to pry off. This problem compounds by the fact that Type Cover cannot be removed without first removing the BlackBelt, and the case prevents the Type Cover from completely folding over the Surface Pro 3 back for Windows 10 tablet mode.

That’s a major design flaw, and it would be a deal breaker with a more expensive case.

At least it looks professional. It comes in black and is thankfully free of any garish markings that case makers typically apply to make a case appear aggressive, futuristic, or industrial. The ports remain easily accessible, as does the kickstand. The power button and volume rocker are a bit harder to access. The case is a bit too rigid here, and make the buttons too unresponsive and hard to press.

The case’s display edges keep the Type Cover from magnetically adhering to the Surface display, but they do not prevent the cover from attaching on the bottom for the sloped keyboard effect, nor do they prevent the “smart display” feature when the Type Cover is closed.

Performance

Kensington BlackbeltKensington claims the BlackBelt meets military-grade MIL-STD-810G testing protocols for drop and scratch protections. For consumers, this can be a misleading spec as device and accessory makers love to throw “military-grade” around to suggest the device meets some rigorous government protocol.

Technically, the spec suggests that a Surface Pro 3 outfitted in the BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case survived various drops of up to four feet on two inches of plywood over concrete. But because there is no official and strict certification process, manufacturers can get away with not actually testing to the standard. In fact, many often claim that their products are “designed” or “built to meet” the standard.

This is the case with just about all cases, but Kensington has been in the game a long time and typically releases quality products. To that end, the BlackBelt is a tough piece of plastic that undoubtedly protects the Surface Pro 3, even from four-foot drops onto plywood over concrete. And that’s all it really sets out to do, protect the Suface Pro 3 from the various bumps, bruises, and drops of daily mobile life. It won’t protect the Surface Pro 3 from dust or water, but it doesn’t sacrifice much portability

Conclusion

The Kensington BlackBelt 1st Degree Rugged Case is $40 as of this writing. That’s not cheap, but it’s less expensive than some other cases, which remain some the most overpriced products in consumer technology. Given that the Surface Pro 3 starts at $699 as of this writing, it’s a worthy investment for any user planning anything more than moving from room to room with the Pro 3, or the occasional trip, provided they don’t also use the Type Cover.


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