For all their talents, iPads aren’t jungleproof. Not even waterproof, for that matter. Now the tablet has become an indispensable part of many people’s daily toolkit, how can you protect one against the rigours of the beach, piste or workplace, even if the workplace is the Nicaraguan rainforest?
As a freelance worldwide expedition leader with a penchant for water-based activities, a case isn’t so much a fashion accessory as a necessity for me, as often my work depends on being able to access information in hostile conditions. I’ve tried a number of phone and tablet cases over the years, and found quite a variation in cost and quality. However, you don’t have to be working commercially outdoors to find a bombproof case an essential accessory.
Lifedge is a UK-based company aiming to make a dent in this huge market with its small range of waterproof cases, which are currently tailored just for iPad and iPhone 5/5S. This iPad 2/3/4 case has a full IP68 rating, meaning it’s tested for use up to 1m underwater for 60 minutes, with dustproofness coming as an obvious consequence. This puts it right up there with the most rugged tablet cases available.
Lifedge’s background is in technical marine installations, so you’d expect a little specialist expertise to be applied to their case design, and they certainly haven’t shied away from the challenge. These cases are designed to be both rugged and waterproof, using premium materials that don’t just function well, but have a high-quality look and feel. The experience begins when you open the box: the packaging alone tells you this is a premium product, a trick which Apple themselves learned years ago.
Attention to device functionality stretches to buttons, cameras, headphone and charger sockets, all of which are fully accessible and functional. A neatly engineered switch passes mute button functionality through the casing, cameras are covered in optical-quality, abrasion proof lenses, and an optional, well-engineered threaded headphone pass-through connection allows headphones to be used whilst maintaining full IP68 waterproofing. The headphone connector is normally covered by a screw-in waterproof plug, but unless you have a very spindly headphone plug you’re likely to need the pass-through option.
Tactical use of hidden waterproof membranes mean speaker sound isn’t locked inside the case, although the nature of the beast means you’re not going to be enjoying hi-fi quality sound through a waterproof enclosure. The membranes also allow temperature and pressure equalisation, so your case won’t bulge on those mountain climbs.
The Lightning or 30-pin socket is covered by a waterproof flap, although opening this for socket use most definitely negates the IP68 rating; it would be nice to see a pass-through option which maintained watertightness, at least for the less fragile Lightning option. This would be particularly useful for marine use, for example cockpit-based navigation.
Instructions for accessing the inside of the case to insert the tablet are clear, and it’s nice to see the design doesn’t rely on acres of stretchy silicone which would tend to degrade over time. The case back features a large removable rubberised grip which can be slipped over a hand (in either portrait or landscape mode) to hold the device securely, although my large hands found it a bit of a squeeze. The rear of the clamshell is separated from the iPad by four polycarbonate vanes, which would appear to transmit any shocks over a very small area of the iPad’s case. The design rationale behind this is not clear, although perhaps the metal iPad case is perfectly up to the job of absorbing any such forces.
Two plastic legs are supplied for flexible stand use in portrait or landscape, and a surface-mount kit is optional. Deck and rail mount options betray Lifedge’s marine heritage and will certainly appeal to the waterborne fraternity, as well as other action sports enthusiasts.
In use, there’s no getting away from the fact that the IP68 rating requires a substantial sheet of plastic across the iPad screen. This needs a firm hand initially, but squeezing the air out through the dock cover helps. It’s not nearly as ergonomic as using a nude iPad, and if you’re used to touch-typing you’ll find the going quite hard, with a firm press needed and a little lag when dragging, and occasional complete misfires around the edges of the screen. Lifedge has used a high-spec hydrophobic DuPont®material to give excellent screen protection but usability is a definite trade-off. In practice, this means you’ll be popping the iPad out of the case when circumstances permit, but Lifedge emphasise that the design should allow repeated fitting and removal of the iPad without degrading the case. A cut-out in the corner of the plastic frame eases the process of separating the halves of the case.
The Home button gets its own dedicated rubberised pass-through button, which is decidedly firm, and a double-tap gives quite a thumb workout. (The iPad used in testing has a fairly thick screen protector which may contribute adversely to this.)
The case is sturdy and designed to be highly shockproof, but I confess I didn’t have the courage to try running it over with a car – not with my own iPad inside, anyway. However, the case will be trekking up volcanos and through jungles in Nicaragua with me shortly, and I don’t doubt it will be up to the task. Lifedge test a fall onto concrete from 1m; unless you drop your iPad face-down on something pointy, it would be quite difficult to do it much harm once it’s entombed in this case.
The mid-grey colour works well with a white iPad, with a black option and also aqua for those who want their iPad to be easy to find (although possibly not underwater).
Casual users may not want to justify the cost, but for anybody working with an iPad in hostile conditions, extreme sports or watersports fans, or those who just want to enjoy their tablet on the beach with complete peace of mind, the Lifedge case combines quality design with a thoughtful choice of materials to make it well worth a close look.
Thank you to Lifedge for sending me a unit to review.