OK, we've looked at the tests, now let's see how the cases stand up to them!
We decided to start off with the drag test because it was a quick and simple test (just tie them to the back of the Freelander and drag them approximately 300 yards over asphalt. Not only that but it was a quick way to rough up the finish of the cases a bit so they didn't look new any more (it's easier to be rough on something that doesn't look factory fresh!).
Now we don't seriously expect that someone will forget to pack their case but somehow attach it to the back of their car and drag along behind them. Instead, the drag test is seen as a good way to quickly simulate long term rough usage. It's also a good way to test how secure the case latches are.
Safety tip: One worry we had when doing this test was that a case would snag on something and be sprung back towards the vehicle when released. To prevent this from happening we made sure that there was a low-breaking strain section between the vehicle and the rope - that way if anything did snag the rope would break rather than yank the case through the rear screen.
- Storm Case iM2370 Case survived intact. Latches remained secure throughout. The case suffered minimal cosmetic damage but remains usable.
- Storm Case iM2050 Case survived intact. Latches remained secure throughout. The case suffered some moderate cosmetic damage but remains usable.
- Otterbox 3510 Case survived intact. Latches remained secure throughout. The case suffered some light cosmetic damage but remains usable.
- Seahorse SX 300 Case survived intact. Latches remained secure throughout. The case suffered some moderate cosmetic damage but remains usable.
- Peli i1010 Case survived intact. The latches however did burst open numerous times during the test, which would have meant bad news for anything inside the case. Not good. The case suffered some light cosmetic damage but remains usable.
For the crush test we used the same technique that we used when torture testing the Corsair flash drive and drove a 3,900 lbs Land Rover Freelander over each case. For this test the vehicle was driven onto each case in turn (not jacked up and lowered on like I've seen done in some tests). The vehicle remained on each case for about five minutes as the photography was carried out before being driven off.
To make this test realistic, inside each case was either an iPod nano or an HP iPAQ (both of which belong to my wife Kathie, who bravely did all the photography and video for this test). In case you're wondering what was wrong with using my iPod, well, there's nothing wrong with mine - I just don't allow folks to drive over it! :-)
Safety tip: Photographing around a vehicle balanced on a plastic box has the potential to be dangerous. If the case were to give way the vehicle would fall to earth very quickly indeed - far quicker than anyone could react to it.
- Storm Case iM2370 Case deformed quite substantially under the weight of the vehicle, enough for us to be worried that the whole case could collapse (which meant keeping well away from it during photography). Other than a rather impressive tyre mark, the case suffered no further cosmetic damage.
- Storm Case iM2050 Case deformed slightly under the weight of the vehicle, but the deformation was slight. It seems that the compact size of the iM2050 makes it much stronger than the larger iM2370. The case suffered no further cosmetic damage.
- Otterbox 3510 This case didn't seem to deform at all under the weight of the vehicle and seemed to be very study indeed (almost like parking on top of a brick). The case suffered no further cosmetic damage.
- Seahorse SX 300 Case deformed very little under the weight of the vehicle (less than the iM2050), but the deformation was minimal. The case suffered no further cosmetic damage.
- Peli i1010 No case deformation was noticed during this test (the smaller the case the stronger it seems to be). The case suffered no further cosmetic damage.
Note: No iPods or iPAQs were harmed during this test!
This is another simple yet brutal test. One cliff, five cases, a 75 foot drop onto shingle. The shingle surface offers a particularly nasty landing for the case. This test is where the rubber meets the rock and we start to see differences in how the cases behave under extreme stress.
Safety tip: This test was probably the most dangerous of the lot because when you're chucking objects weighing up to 6 lbs (the Storm Case iM2370 weights in as a shade under 6 lbs) off a 75 ft cliff, if anyone gets hit, the least you can expect is serious injury. There's not a lot of science to throwing plastic cases off a cliff and a small gust of wind can move the estimated landing spot by many yards. To make matters worse, cases hitting the shingle let fly a high-speed shower of rocks of various sizes (check out the videos to see how much debris was kicked up by some of the impacts), making eye protection a must. Fortunately we were carrying out this test in a private, secluded spot which was closed to anyone who might venture into the firing line.
- Storm Case iM2370 Case survived. Latches and hinges remained intact. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Storm Case iM2050 Case survived. Latches and hinges remained intact. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Otterbox 3510 Case survived. However, the latches opened when the case hit the ground and any contents would be spilled out. Minor damage sustained. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Seahorse SX 300 Case survived. Latches and hinges remained intact. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Peli i1010 Case survived. This test was repeated twice. However, the latches opened both times when the case hit the ground and any contents would be spilled out. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage. Video of drop test can be found here.
Same test, but this time some of the cases have an egg inside protected by foam. When we came up with this test I thought that expecting any of these cases to protect an egg after a 75 foot drop was way too optimistic. However, I'm glad that we took the time to do this because the results are interesting.
- Storm Case iM2370 The egg survived (however, we did have to pad it out with the foam from the iM2050 - because the iM2370 is designed to hold notebooks not eggs). The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage but nothing that affected its performance. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Storm Case iM2050 Amazingly, the egg survived. This, I have to admit, totally surprised me but it goes to show that the supplied foam did a very good job of both holding the egg snugly in place and absorbing the shock of the impact. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage during the drop, but othing serious. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Otterbox 3510 Egg smashed and the case smashed. This was a real surprise to us because the Otterbox had performed flawlessly up until this point One of the plastic latches also broke off on impact. The breakage was at the hinge and this caused the case to burst open. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Seahorse SX 300 Egg smashed. On closer inspection is appeared that the impact had forced the egg to the bottom of the case. The weakness here was that the main bulk of the Seahorse foam is a single main layer of cubed foam while the foam at the bottom of the case is very thin indeed offering the egg very little protection. This left a very impressive splat on the bottom of the case. If the case had hit the ground upside-down (lid first), the egg might well have survived because of the extra padding at the top of the case. The case sustained additional minor cosmetic damage during this test but nothing serious. Video of drop test can be found here.
- Peli i1010 Case too small to hold an egg. Test not carried out.
To be honest, I'm amazed that any of the egg drop tests ended with an intact egg. I would have thought that the G shock loading involved would have destroyed the egg on impact no matter how good the case or the foam was at cushioning the shock (anyone know how much shock it takes to break an egg?). I'm also certain that the egg inside the Seahorse case would have survived if the foam was cut into two thick layers rather than one which allowed the egg to hit the thin foam at the bottom.
Why did the Otterbox break? We've looked at the video and it seems that it hit the ground hinge first, which caused the lid to pop open and the stress of this might have caused the plastic to fail and the lid to separate from the body. Whatever the reason, the Otterbox's participation has come to an end.
This is another simple but effective test. The cases are placed outside in simulated heavy rain (using a hosepipe and spinkler attachment) with the handles upright for 1 hour.
I expect that this test will be the most controversial of the lot, we certainly debated it endlessly before we started the tests. Most of the debate revolved around when the waterproof test would be done and what kind of test it should be. Should the test be done at the beginning, when the cases are in a new condition or should they be roughed up a bit first? Should the waterproof test be a rain test, a "chuck it into some water and see what happens" test or a complete submersion test? Questions, questions, questions ...
In the end we decided to water test them after they had been hammered a bit because we've got a number of Storm Cases, Otterboxes and Peli cases and they all seemed to be waterproof when new, so it's far more interesting to see if they're still waterproof after some abuse.
As for the type of water test, we chose the rain test because a submersion test is not realistic because all the cases float naturally and allowing them to float on some water isn't much of a test at all (not to mention that sinking them and then recovering them would be a major contract).
- Storm Case iM2370 Case leaked. About 3 tablespoons of water entered the case. Our guess is that the deformation the case suffered in the crush test warped a seal and allowed water in.
- Storm Case iM2050 Case did not leak.
- Seahorse SX 300 Case leaked. About 4 tablespoons of water entered the case.
- Peli i1010 Case did not leak (and no, the latches didn't burst open this time!!!).
Assuming now that all the cases were waterproof when new (and our experience with these kinds of cases would suggest that they are indeed waterproof when new), then we have to assume that the seals have been compromised during the abuse they received. More than likely it was the crush test which damaged the seals because that test put extreme pressure onto the seals and caused the Storm Case iM2370 to buckle substantially, which is probably why it leaked. There was no obvious damage caused to the Seahorse but the water was obviously getting in through the seals somewhere.
The handle is a critical component of any large case. If the handle comes off and the case hits the deck, there's no telling what's going to happen.
The test that we subjected each case to here was a 4 foot fall followed by a sudden arrest on the handle. The cases were loaded with between 20 to 35 lbs of weight (depending on size) for each test and the tests were repeated five times per case.
Given how robust the cases seemed, I wasn't really expecting any of the handles to come off, but there was scope for latches or hinges to give way or even for the weight to break through the plastic.
- Storm Case iM2370 25 lbs loaded into case. No handle damage at all after 5 tests. The Storm Case handle is not only robust but far more comfortable that those of its competitors.
- Storm Case iM2050 35 lbs loaded into case. No handle damage at all after 5 tests. The Storm Case handle is not only robust but far more comfortable that those of its competitors.
- Seahorse SX 300 25 lbs loaded into case. No handle damage at all after 5 tests.
- Peli i1010 Case too small to carry out the test.
Since the Seahorse SX 300 claims to be fire retardant, we just had to check out what this meant in the real world. Just had to! We took two approaches - exposing the Seahorse to a gasoline fire and then to a blowtorch.
Safety tip: Any experiments with fire have the potential to become very dangerous very quickly, especially when dealing with gasoline. Not only that, but melting/burning plastics can generate some very noxious gases.
- Seahorse SX 300 For the first test we took the Seahorse and placed it on our test fire pit and doused it in gasoline (roughly half a pint) and then lit it and allowed the gasoline to burn off naturally. The damage to the case was minimal (although it was absolutely filthy and covered with acrid soot), with some signs of singeing to the edges and the areas which had previously suffered abrasion. There was no signs that the plastic had melted in any way and all the seals and latches still worked fine. For the second test we took a blow-lamp to plastic. The blowtorch was powered by a butane/propane mix which burns at over 1,800°F(1,225°C). Even with this kind of ferocious heat applied to the plastic over a period of about 20 seconds it didn't melt, run or become soft in any way, but instead slowly carbonized and charred, and this charring seemed to protect the inner layers of the plastic from the heat.
- Peli i1010 Just for laughs, ahem, I mean, in the interests of scientific research, we decided to apply the blowtorch to the plastic shell of the Peli case so we could see the difference between a flame retardant plastic and a plastic that isn't rated as flame retardant. The different is staggering, with the Peli case starting to melt and run almost instantly. The plastic also quickly became very soft under the heat. We're pretty sure that a 20 second burst with the blowtorch would have put a hole through the shell of the Peli case.