Review: Pelican ProGear Vault for iPad Air and iPad mini
Available for both the iPad Air ($100) and iPad mini ($80), Pelican's ProGear Vault case is a different take on heavy-duty protectors. It's one of the few such cases with a folio rather than playthrough design, but can transform into the latter as needed. ProGear Vault is a full conversion kit, requiring you to unscrew and rescrew the parts every time you want to install or remove your tablet. Once inside, the iPad is heavily protected, with military-grade drop protection, a dust and dirt seal, and protection from momentary liquid immersion.
Apart from obvious size differences, the iPad Air and mini cases are highly similar. In fact, other than some color swaps here and there, the biggest difference we found was when it came to installation. Both cases require you to use an included hex wrench to unscrew the screws, and then put them back in place. On the iPad mini version of the case, there are six screws, but on the full-sized version, you’ll have to fuss with 15 screws. Six is an annoyance, but 15 is crazy, especially if you ever have to take the iPad out of the case. Each case lets you remove the lid using the same wrench, though you actually must take the lid off to install the larger iPad.
Inside ProGear Vault, the iPad is protected by sturdy materials that should help prevent significant damage, including rubber lining the inside. Not only is the body of the device covered, but so are the ports, buttons, bezel, and even the rear camera. Starting at the top edge, there’s a rubber protector for the headphone port, special grates over the microphones, and a hard plastic protector for the Sleep/Wake button. This button becomes hard to press on the larger case, but it’s just about right on the mini. Then, there’s glass over the rear camera, a flip open side switch protector, and a segment of rubber that effectively transplants the volume buttons to the back of the case, where they remain responsive. On the outer edges, there’s one more port protector for the Lightning port, and a grating over the speakers. All in all, ProGear Vault offers a high level of body protection.
Two levels of coverage are found on the front of the iPad. First, the border of the case covers about half of the iPad’s bezel, and is lined with rubber to create a tight seal; there’s also rubber over the Home Button, allowing it to be protected and used normally. Then there’s the lid. Attached with two or three screws, depending on the size of the case, it has a large metal hinge. Also lined with rubber, the cover can snap shut over the screen, reinforcing the seal, but it doesn’t have auto-locking magnets. It also can’t be used as a stand.
We’re generally not fans of full conversion kit cases; unless a case is really well-designed to adjust to various situations, iPad owners will generally have reasons to remove their tables from their cases on certain occasions, which is inconvenient in kits laden with screws. If you plan on putting your iPad into a ProGear Vault and leaving it there, the experience isn’t as bad, but installation is still a pretty extended process. Compared to LifeProof’s Nüüd cases, the closet correlate, this one is cheaper, and adds the lid, but gives up a degree of waterproofing. All things considered, ProGear Vault earns a limited recommendation. The belabored conversion process is the biggest drawback, but it’s otherwise a good case with quite a bit of protection, at a relatively high price point.