Photo: Mark W. Clark
Ever since the first glass-covered personal electronics began hitting the consumer market, we have been looking for ways to protect our precious devices without putting too much foam or plastic between our fingers and the controls. In response, the case makers have been trying to find the right balance of form, function, and protection. Pelican may have the answer.
Pelican is well known for its design and manufacture of high-performance protective cases to store and transport your sensitive gear. So it's no coincidence that the company has delved into the protection business for personal electronics.
The Pelican ProGear Vault Series cases for iPad Air and iPad Mini may be the right combination of ruggedized protection and functionality that we've been looking for.
The Vault series of cases includes form-fitting protection for the iPad Air ($100) and iPad mini ($80). The cases offer protection for an iPad in three ways. Closed, it prevents impact to the screen and seals out dust and moisture. Open, you have the freedom of cover-free use but with impact protection. Then there's easel viewing; flip the cover over the back to use it as a secure table stand.
It's not easy to get excited about a case for an iPad, but the Pelican Vault is quite a case to talk about. It's rugged, as expected of any Pelican case, but it's not bulky. It's water resistant without compromising the controls.
When I got the case for my iPad Air, the first thing I noticed was that it comes with a hex wrench and 15 screws to secure your iPad in the case. So once you get the device in the case, it's not easy to get it out. That's good if you are intending to leave the iPad in the case, but not so good if you want to remove it frequently.
When you take the case out of the packaging, it's already together, so you start by removing the screws to take the case apart. Again, 15 screws means that you won't want to install and remove this case often.
When installing my iPad in the Vault, I noted that the case is perfectly fitted to the iPad Air. Like other cases, it has rubber lining on the inside and hard plastic on the outside; a proven formula to protect against drops from the height of an average person's clumsy hands.
The other thing I noticed is the case has a tight-fitting rubber gasket all around the exposed glass surface. All the control ports are sealed with rubber gaskets as well. It's advertised to offer protection against momentary liquid contact, and looking at the seals and gaskets I do not doubt the claim, although I won't be testing that for this review.
Once the iPad is inside the case, it's important that all the buttons and ports are functioning and accessible. Everything is covered and sealed and you no longer have direct contact with the controls. Even the camera lens is covered by high-quality glass. This is the biggest challenge for ruggedized case design, making them rugged with usable buttons.
When you put the case on the iPad, you no longer have direct access to the buttons; you're pressing the buttons on the case to activate the buttons on the iPad. So, you might expect that it takes a bit getting used to push the exterior buttons on the case. The on off and home buttons are easy to activate; it just takes a bit more pressure to get the desired response.
The volume controls offered more of a challenge. The up and down buttons are transplanted to the bottom of the Vault case, a bit below where the real buttons are on the iPad. It takes some effort to get your finger on the right spot to make the volume go up or down. I found the buttons were a bit cumbersome and took some effort to get the right direction of pressure to activate the volume controls. With a bit of use, they became more familiar.
Pulling the rubber seal away from the case provides easy access to the lightning charging port. Once opened, it's big enough to get the Apple cable attached with no problem. But beware of some of the aftermarket charging cables out there. If they've got any more bulk than the Apple cable, they're too fat to fit in the port. I tried to use a Belkin lightning cable and it wouldn't fit.
The headphone jack port is built the same way as the charging port. A sealed cover opens to access the port. It's a generous enough opening to get most any headphone connected without a problem. I tried a few different ear buds and they all had plenty of clearance.
The Pelican Vault case is a folio design, so it opens and stands like an easel. The biggest complaint I have with this case is that it has trouble standing up on a tabletop. The rubber on the latch and side isn't sticky or soft enough to grab the table. I tried on many different surfaces and most tabletops don't offer enough friction to keep the case from sliding on its back. I'm guessing that you can easily fix this by adding your own foam rubber pads, but maybe Pelican can look at adding softer rubber pads in version 2.0.
As mentioned earlier, the cover is a hinged design so it opens and closes like a notebook. The cover also has rubber lining and snaps closed. It's removable with the same hex wrench that came with the case. With the cover off, the naked glass is exposed to the environment. The raised plastic ledge of the case protects the glass from corner impacts, but it won't protect the glass from direct damage, like scratches.
Overall, I was impressed with the design of the Pelican Vault case. Any case you put on an iPad is going to make it harder to use. That's the compromise we have to make to protect our glass-covered personal electronics. The Pelican Vault case offers a near-perfect blend of protection and functionality. If you think of the Vault case as an attachment to your iPad rather than a cover to slip on and off, you won't be disappointed. It attaches securely and is not easily removed.
Simply put, the Vault case feels like a Pelican case. It's designed so that when you pick it up and use it, you don't have to read the logo to know it's a Pelican. It has some room for minor design improvements, but nothing that should keep you from getting this to protect your iPad.
Mark Clark is a 27-year veteran police sergeant. He has served as public information officer, training officer, and as supervisor for various detective and patrol squads.