Although they mightn’t seem as necessary for iPads as iPhones, there’s no shortage of heavy duty, super-protective cases in the marketplace. Today, we’re looking at two recent models: Griffin’s Survivor for iPad 2 and the third-generation iPad ($80) and Gumdrop Cases’ Drop Tech Series Case ($60), both updated specifically to fit the new iPad. As with many of the cases in this field, including OtterBox’s Defender Series Case, each of these cases layers rubber over plastic frames to achieve superior protection. They look pretty similar at first glance, but there are some real differences between them.
As OEM-alike products have begun to trickle into Griffin’s product catalog, we’re reassured every time we see something like Survivor, a case that looks a lot like Defender Series Case but has enough classic Griffin engineering to stand on its own. Like Defender, Survivor’s components combine to to form a single holder; this one resists sand, dust, shocks, drops, vibration, wind, and rain to a point where it meets or exceeds US military standards. The first layer is the plastic frame, which is made of two pieces that snap together around the iPad’s body, covering almost all of it. This includes an integrated screen protector, a feature we previously saw from OtterBox, and introduces the potential for issues with the new iPad’s Retina Display. Survivor’s screen cover lays completely flat on the screen and thus doesn’t affect the touch controls, but it creates a prismatic effect that’s especially pronounced on white or other lightly colored portions of the screen. The feature ends up being a tradeoff: would you prefer the extra protection it offers, or a clearer view of the screen?
Raised segments on the back of the plastic and around the ports and buttons fit into grooves in the rubber to hold the pieces together.
The installation takes a round or two of pushing and snapping around the perimeter, but once it’s in place, it really feels like one cohesive piece that resembles the shape of the iPhone 4 version, complete with raised portions in the center and around the edges. Both the front and back of the iPad are completely covered, including the ports and buttons. The Home, Sleep/Wake, and volume buttons are all under rubber but accessible, while the speaker, Dock Connector port, rear camera, side switch, microphone, and headphone port are all protected by flip-open panels that stay firmly closed unless you pry them open.
We actually had a very difficult time lifting the one for the headphone port, although the rest moved without extraordinary effort; you’ll have to decide whether the protection is worth the need to pull covers off and pop them back into place, but there are small holes in the plastic that keep the opened tabs in place during use; the camera and speaker plugs are nicely held open this way, but the microphone’s plug isn’t as reliable. Survivor is certainly thicker and heavier than most cases, but its protection is impressive, and it looks surprisingly nice for what it is.
Griffin also includes a smart plastic stand with Survivor. Rather than the large back plate we’ve seen from others, this one is a little less than five and a half inches long at its longest point, namely the curled edge that wraps around the body of the case. It fits on either side of the case for storage, right over the raised edge and in between the two bumps in the center, in an impressively unobtrusive way. When it comes time to use it, the stand unfolds, allowing the iPad to be used at viewing or typing angles in landscape orientation. It’s an impressively implemented stand solution that fits perfectly with the rest of the case design.
With its new Drop Tech Series Case, Gumdrop Cases has simplified last summer’s Drop Series Case for iPad 2, seemingly without major compromises. The previous version was much like Survivor, with a full plastic case underneath the rubber.
Rather than that full endoskeleton, Drop Tech attaches hard plastic solely to the front of the tablet, curling over but leaving exposed the Sleep/Wake Button, rear camera, and volume rocker. It snaps into place around the edges to insure that it won’t move. Like Survivor, Drop Tech has a screen protector that creates a similar prismatic effect on the new iPad’s screen. Thankfully, however, this protector is removable, giving users a choice of screen coverage without having to forego the case altogether
The rubber outer layer wraps around the plastic and exposed aluminum back, and all together the case is noticeably thinner than Survivor. It has a tire-tread like texture that adds some character and also makes it a bit easier to hold; the rubber itself is smoother than the material Griffin uses. There is similar, but less substantial coverage for the ports and buttons. While the headphone port, side switch, and Dock Connector port all have the same kind of flip-open covers and the four buttons are covered, the camera and microphone are left totally exposed, and the speaker is covered by a rubber grate. For some these openings may be perfectly acceptable, although there’s certainly less coverage compared to Survivor.
If Griffin didn’t get so much right with its case, it would be easy to call Drop Tech the definitively superior design. It’s less expensive, thinner, simpler than its previous iteration, and has an optional screen protector.