While at CES, Pelican announced a new line of protective cases for a bunch of devices, in that group was the Pelican Vault case for the iPad mini. The Vault line of cases seeks to maintain Pelicans reputation of tough, rugged cases for your equipment, touting MIL-STD 810G shock protection (from 4 ft. drops), as well as water and dust resistance to IP54 standards (for those of you unsure what IP54 is: “Water projected by a nozzle (6.3 mm) against enclosure from any direction shall have no harmful effects… at 10 liters/min at a pressure of 80-100 kN/m2 for 5 min.”). How does this ruggedized case hold up? Read on to find out.
As mentioned above, the Vault is a protective case, and it is designed with ruggedness in mind. The case has 2 main components, the rear base/ front lid assembly, and the gasketed front frame. The front frame and rear base are held together with a series of tiny plastic clips and 6 small screws (installed with an included tiny screwdriver), and the front lid is held to the rear cover with a removable Aluminum hinge. The gasket on the front frame is located around the screen, so the glass is fully exposed, a system very similar to what Lifeproof has done with the nüüd line of cases. Along the sides of the device are a series of port covers, which are made of an “Elastomeric Copolymer rubber” which helps dampen shock. The port covers don’t lock into place, they seem to be held in only with friction, which results in a seal that feels less substantial than it actually is. The volume rockers are built into the rubber, slightly shifting their location to the back of the device, yet they remain fully functional. The sleep/wake button is also built into the rubber, but its functionality is greatly reduced. The first case I received from Pelican had no function whatsoever (which they assured was a production error), and the replacement is only better in the sense that with enough force I can actuated the button, by no means can I use the sleep/wake button in the same way I normally would.
The cover is lined on the inside with the same rubber as the buttons, and that liner nests in the front frame to cover the glass. The cover has a lip that wraps around the base to allow it to clip to the rear base creating the aforementioned IP54-rated system. It is also possible to clip the lid to the front frame, which does not create any kind of protection from the elements, a mistake I made the first few times I used the case. If you flip the lid around the back of the device, you can use it to hold the iPad at an angle, allowing for it to be a freestanding unit. One downside of that lip is that the device can not sit flat when placed on a surface, which is a but frustrating. Also, the cover is not held in place when flipped to the back of the device, I would for the second generation of these cases (assuming there will be one) to have a series of magnets to hold it in place.
The Vault case comes in several color combinations, such as Gray/Orange (as pictured), as well as Black/Gray, Gray/White, and Gray/Magenta
The overall build quality is good, as one would expect with the protection ratings that Pelican is advertising. The case feels solid in all orientations, and does not flex or yield when in use. Over time the rubber cover that protects the headphone jack has gotten more difficult to properly align, this isn’t a huge issue but it does take a bit more concentration to make the proper seal. The gasket that wraps around the screen so far has been great, and it makes a nice tight seal. Unfortunately, there is a really weird issue when you are trying to remove the case, and it is due to the way Pelican has designed the clipping mechanism to seal the case. In order to properly ensure the case is sealed tightly, Pelican has molded a series a tiny clips around the perimeter of the case, which results in a tight fit, but when removing the case, these clips more or less have to snap out of place, which causes the plastic to fatigue overtime, potentially losing its ability to seal as tightly, or may cause them to break off entirely. I will say that I have not experienced any broken clips, it is just something that I noticed that caused some concern. The obvious fix for the user would be to just keep your iPad in the case and not remove it, but there are certainly some scenarios where that isn’t an option. The case has held up admirable to some minor “lab created” situations, such as dropping the case onto the floor from standing height (that was totally on purpose, I swear), as well as some minor splashes from the sink (I may/or may not have been doing dishes with the iPad nearby). Overall, this case is well put together, with some minor details that don’t greatly take away from the usefulness of the case.
All things considered, the Pelican Vault is an adequate case if you need the protection. If you don’t absolutely need this dust and liquid resistance, there are tons of cases that better fit your usage. Pelican shows its great container heritage in this case, but it also makes some mistakes attributable to being new in the mobile-device case field. Over time –and design iteration– I assume that Pelican will be a major player in the protective case field, and I think that is a good effort.
The Pelican Vault can be had from Pelican for $79.95 and $99.95 for the iPad Mini/ Mini with Retina Display, and the iPad Air respectively.