The 5.5” by 2.75” plastic and aluminum box is the kind of case that requires a complicated installation process. Of the three separate layers of the case, the rear tray is the largest: it’s lined with shock-absorbent rubber around the edges and back, thick enough so that the iPhone 5 is held firmly in place when inserted, and deep enough the the device is fully recessed. Next goes the aluminum bezel frame, coupled with the non-adhesive screen protector. The latter has small tabs that attach to the former, holding together well enough that they can be installed as one piece. First, you snap the protector in place, and then you screw it down in the corners with included screws and a hex wrench. When it comes time for removal, a small hole along the right edge of the metal allows you to pop it off with the wrench. Two extra screws are included, as is a cleaning cloth.
Once it’s all put together, Vault offers full body protection, including coverage for the ports and buttons. This includes raised metal buttons over the Sleep/Wake and volume controls, and a rubber cover for the Home Button, none of which affect the tactility too greatly. To accommodate the side switch, Pelican uses a knob; turning it down to the red dot silences your iPhone. The headphone and Lightning ports are both covered by flip-open rubber protectors, which permit easy access while otherwise keeping debris out. The microphone and speaker adjacent to them are protected with a material that seems to be designed to keep liquid out, as are the earpiece and the rear noise-canceling microphone. Music playback isn’t affected, and in our audio tests, the outgoing voice was only slightly muffled. The screen protector works without hindering the iPhone’s touch controls, but it does scatter the light, causing a prismatic effect that the best waterproof cases don’t.
Despite Pelican’s claims of water resistance and impact protection, it doesn’t get into any specifics, which is somewhat concerning. Competitor Frē is rated to last up to 30 minutes under two meters of water, and Atlas can stand up to an hour. All that’s said about Vault is its “full-seal design defends against extreme wind-driven snow, rain and dust” and the “water-resistant microphone and speaker covers provide high fidelity audio.” So while we might feel comfortable taking the case out in the rain, there are no guarantees regarding submersion.
With Vault, Pelican is asking you to pay the same price as very good and truly great solutions, yet you’ll have to sacrifice ease of use, compactness, and overall protection. It’s not a smart proposition, and not one we’d recommend to our readers. While the case isn’t bad in and of itself—as long as you’re not looking to take your iPhone in and out with any frequency—it doesn’t make sense in the current competitive landscape. As such, it’s worthy of a C+ rating.
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