Waterproof Tablet Case for Forest Inventory App

iPad Mini Waterproof Case Test

Even Forest Inventories Don’t Get Wetter

The Ipega waterproof iPad Mini case appears to work well, even passing the hand-it-to-your-two-year-old-in-the-bathtub test, which says something. If it can do that, it can handle forest inventories. It does not appear to be as hardy as a case as, say, the Otterbox Defender or the Griffin Survivor – both of which we’ve tested and have liked, but which are not waterproof. We find that forest technicians tend to use the Defender. The only other waterproof cases we’ve tested have been the stick-it-in-a-clear-plastic-envelope design, which doesn’t really afford any impact protection for the timber cruiser, so the Ipega is currently our current go-to waterproof case for the iPad Mini.

The LifeProof brand, so well-liked in the iPhone world, has not yet released an iPad Mini version of its waterproof case. It does seem that many of the waterproof case makers for iPads underestimated how much the Mini was going to take over that market, with most failing to immediately redesign for the smaller tablet. We are also eagerly awaiting the return of the units we sent out to Liquipel.

So, on to the forestry tablet torture.

Waterproofing:

Sitting by the tub of water recalled to me the 17th Century practice of drowning alleged witches to prove that they were wicken: if they somehow survived the ordeal they were put to death as proven witches, but if they didn’t, well, then that was unfortunate for them. I felt My iPad Mini had been accused of being waterproof within this new case, and I was putting it to a similar test.

Prudence demanded I do a bucket test first with the case empty. The picture above shows the case sitting for a few hours in a pan of water, all of which was kept out of the case’s tablet bay. Yes, it’s weighted down by two jugs of maple syrup; that’s just how Vermonters do things. The case had no problem at all with this test.

The rubbery screen protector felt a bit tearable, or at least the probable weak point of the case. I wanted to push and stretch it a bit to ensure that the bond between the flexible material and the hard outer case was secure enough. Poking and prodding it in the water failed to introduce any water inside, so I thought a full-on test with my own forest inventory tablet was the next logical step.

I could think of no more extreme test than to hand it to my two-year-old in the bath. To give you a sense of bath time at our house, we have toys fly over the sliding glass door enclosure and land on the bathmat. It’s a highly kinetic event. The iPad proved safe, even when used as a water shovel to throw sheets of water on daddy while cackling.

Impact Protection:

The case is a gasketed hard plastic with four mechanical clips that crimp it down to seal the chamber. Back in the early days of the iPod Minis, there were a few waterproof cases of this design, and they did quite well. Because those were pretty much just music players back then, they had to have a mechanism to plug in earphones and remain waterproof. Interestingly, the Ipega does not include such a mechanism – nor does it include access to any of the other switches on the iPad Mini, but for the home button on the front.

We did not conduct a drop test, but here are some impressions of its efficacy as a ruggedizing case. The case is quite hard, akin to the hard layer of the Otterbox two-layer system that also includes a rubber layer. This means that in a drop, the G forces on the iPad in an Ipega case would be significantly greater. It also means that the protective layer will be a great deal more brittle than one of the other types of cases. The upside to this design, however, is that it’s relatively sleek. The Survivor, and to a lesser degree the Otherbox, are girthy; so much so that even wearing the slightly slimmer Otterbox, the iPad Mini does not fit into sealed envelope-type waterproof cases – which otherwise would have been a decent solution for maximum impact protection plus waterproofing.

Other Notes:

The screen protector is interesting. Rather than being a very smooth and clear surface, like all the others I’ve seen, this one is more of a catching rubber sort of texture, almost a bit tacky. It is also slightly cloudy, which gives the screen more of a matte look. It does not make the screen cloudy when it’s on, but rather makes it appear to throw less glare. Interestingly, that frictive surface, which is slightly annoying at first when dry, becomes quite smooth when it’s wet. It seems like the case is really designed to be used wet or even under water.

Upshot:

So far, so good. Impact protection feels adequate, but not as bomb-proof as the Defender or Survivor cases. The waterproofing appears good in our initial testing, but we’ll see as we unleash a few dozen unkempt, ham-handed consulting foresters, timber buyers, habitat inventory takers, timber cruisers and the like. If these guys can’t break it, well, it isn’t going to break. The logger I sugar with can’t seem to keep a chainsaw in one piece for more than a year period, what with running it over with a skidder every so often. Apple will replace an iPad broken in this way for $50, but that’s more hassle than I’d like to experience once I’m out in the woods already taking a forest inventory. For my part, I will continue using my iPad Mini with one of those skimpy rubber back cases (without front screen protection) indoors, and use my Otterbox outdoors, which is great protection for impact and adequate protection for most slightly wet situations; and it’s skinny enough to let the iPad remain a one-hand timber inventory device for me. I just find that I personally don’t need literal waterproof protection, but if I did, I’d use this case for timber cruising.

POSTSCRIPT:

A few observations with some use in the waterproof case:

– When using a stylus (Forest Metrix gives a stylus with each unit sold), the capacitance seems to be diminished when there’s a thick layer of water on the screen, making the use of a finger superior. The stylus still works, but not as quickly and with as much sensitivity as with a finger.

– The case prevents easy access to the lightning cord interface, the main connecting cord for an iPad Mini. This prevents the use of an extra battery while in use in the field, something we like to do for a full day of forest cruising.

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