iPad 2 going outside? Check out the rugged case showdown

People are using the Apple iPad 2 outside in the environment for a number of reasons and there are rugged cases to protect your valuable investment. Which did I find to be the best choice?
Written by Matthew Miller, Contributing Writer

It seems that people overwhelmingly love using the iPad and I know that I have it with me nearly every day now thanks in large part to the applications and services found on the device. I discovered the excellent Soccer Dad application that lets me show my team drills during practice and also helps me manage my players during games. I wasn't about to take my $829+ iPad 2 out in the rain for soccer practice though so took a look at three iPad 2 rugged cases to protect my investment. You can check out photos of the three cases (four if you count the additional color of one case) in my ZDNet image gallery along with my review below.

Image Gallery: Check out the lineup of rugged cases for the Apple iPad 2.
Image Gallery: iPad 2 rugged case lineup
Image Gallery: Gumdrop Cases iPad 2 case

Candidate cases for evaluation

Before I took my iPad 2 out to the soccer pitch I scoured the Internet looking for candidate rugged cases for my iPad. I have used several OtterBox cases in the past and know that Jason Perlow took a look at the Defender Series case already. In addition to this case, I found the Gumdrop Cases Drop Tech Series and Griffin Technology Survivor cases. I am familiar with Giffin's cases too and looked forward to trying them all out.

Griffin Technology Survivor Case: Design and functionality

The Griffin Survivor Case comes in a retail package that states it meets US military standards, MIL-STD-810F to be specific, with information on the back that shows the following testing conditions:

  • Sand/Dust: 3 hours at up to 59 ft/sec
  • Shock/Drop: Concrete floor from 6 feet
  • Wind/Rain: 1 hour at 7.8 inches/hour
  • Vibration: 18 hours at 20-2000 Hz

All of these cases come with four parts and the Griffin Survivor consists of a front frame with integrated screen protector, back frame piece, silicone out shell, and removable stand. The front piece rests on the front of your iPad 2 with openings for all ports, buttons, and other parts (such as the cameras). There are slits in the plastic frame that are used to secure the silicone out shell.

The rigid back frame piece shapes onto the front frame piece very securely and is actually very difficult to pry back apart after it is assembled, which is a good thing for protection. There are soft pieces on the inside of the back to protect your iPad too.

After snapping these two pieces together you wrap the silicone shell around the front sides and back, pressing the nubs into the slits to secure it. There are flaps to access ports such as the rear camera and speaker with hinged plugs for areas like the headphone jack. Silicone buttons for the power and volume controls are also present. I like the feel of the silicone material used here by Griffin and found it did not collect a bunch of lint and junk like some other silicone materials I have used before.

The stand is a durable plastic hinged piece that can be attached to either side and lets you prop up your iPad 2 in landscape mode. For the on field usage I wanted such a case for I didn't need the stand and you can completely remove it and leave it behind if you don't need to prop it up at all.

Griffin Technology Survivor Case: Field use and pricing

I wrapped my iPad 2 in the Survivor case and took it to the soccer pitch for practice and games over the last month. I dropped my iPad 2 a couple of times while trying to carry too much at once and it looks and functions like nothing ever happened. I used the case in light rain and set it down in the wet grass during games, again with my iPad 2 never showing any signs of impact. The case is functional and protective. I did find that some edge areas of my iPad were unresponsive at times when pressing on the screen protection, but it was not that repeatable.

The Griffin Survivor case is available in black or pink for $79.99 and if you intend to use your iPad 2 out in the elements it is definitely a case to consider.

Gumdrop Cases Drop Series: Design and functionality

I never heard of the Gumdrop Cases line before, but am happy I discovered their cases for this evaluation. They sent along their white and military green colors to check out. This four piece design includes a front screen protector frame and front frame piece that fit together to protect the front of the iPad 2. The screen protector frame is replaceable and you can buy new ones if the one that you bought originally wears out. There is a back plastic piece and a silicone skin that fits over it all. The design is similar to the Griffin Survivor case with the silicone piece fitting into slots in the black plastic frame and having flaps and openings for all ports and cameras.

There is no cover piece for the rear camera and the silicone back has a speaker grille so there are potential openings for the elements with this case. Make sure you test it out and know what kind of protection you need before taking your iPad 2 out into the weather.

The silicone has large ridges and actually feels quite good in my hand while offering thick iPad 2 protection. There are small plastic arrows on the back to keep the silicone attached securely to the back.

Gumdrop Cases Drop Series: Field use and pricing

I ended up using the Gumdrop Cases Drop Series case more than any other case since I liked the visibility of the white case and found the level of protection adequate for my soccer coaching needs. In light rain I kept my iPad 2 in my hand with the display face up most of the time so the back wasn't exposed to any rain. I found the display to remain responsive in every situation with this case on my iPad 2 as well.

The Gumdrop Cases Drop Series cases come in five color variations (military green, black, black/red, white, and pink) with a retail price of $59.95.

OtterBox Defender Series: Design and functionality

I have used many OtterBox cases in the past and they were a pioneer in the ruggedized cases market so I thought of them first and also did not think anyone would be able to compare with what they offered. The OtterBox Defender Series comes in black and is also composed of four primary pieces. There is a front plastic frame, but it is simply a rather thin piece of plastic with no integrated screen protection. OtterBox does include a separate self-adhesive screen protector, but that means you have to leave it on even if you are not using their rugged case.

There is a clear plastic back piece with some soft pads inside to protect the back of your iPad 2. This clear piece has a large hinge on the back above the connection port, but I don't understand why it is so large. The outer silicone piece is thin and offers the least protection of all three of these rugged cases. There is a large sturdy plastic piece that can be placed on the front or back for protection and is removed for the stand with the retractable hinge piece.

The speaker grill remain open to the elements, but there are plugs for other ports and silicone piece for the power and volume buttons. This case is the least bulky of them all, but I didn't feel as secure with my iPad 2 in this case as with the others.

OtterBox Defender Series: Field use and pricing

I used the OtterBox Defender Series around the house, but I wouldn't take it with my iPad 2 inside to the field because there was not screen protection integrated into the case and as a coach I spend most of my time interacting with my iPad 2 via the display.

The OtterBox Defender Series for the iPad 2 is available for $89.95.

Which case do I prefer and why?

The Griffin Technology Survivor case offers the highest level of protection for your iPad 2 and meets a military standard as well. It has the best silicone on it and is the case I recommend for iPad 2 users working in the elements. I used the Gumdrop Cases Drop Series white case quite a bit too since my team (12 year old girls) enjoyed the bright white color and I found the display to be very responsive while in the case. Thus, if you don't need the highest level of protection (remember the back camera has no cover and the speaker grille is open) then you may want to consider this case.

I was disappointed with the OtterBox case and wouldn't buy this one if you need full protection from the elements. Many of their cases have integrated screen protection so I was shocked to see this one did not have it, especially when the iPad 2 has such a large display. I used their BlackBerry PlayBook Defender Series case and found it to be an excellent choice so I know they can get it right.

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