Testing iPad cases & mounts: Lifeproof, Lifedge, Life Jacket, RAM & Tallon
I’ve been testing three waterproof iPad cases that all have “Life” in their name for some reason (anyone?). Frankly, none got me excited until I recently snapped my iPad mini into the Lifeproof frē case above (running Garmin BlueChart Mobile). The design is stellar, I think. The LifeProof is so light and snug that the mini still feels mini, but it now has a protective rubbery edge and non-slip back; it survived 30 minutes submerged in my sink, yet all the buttons plus the charge port still work fine. I suspect I’ll always use this case on the boat and maybe everywhere. That’s not to say that I know everything about the ever-changing world of pad cases. Let’s review the testing and discuss…
The photo above shows the LifeProof frē before closure (with iPad running Nobeltec TZ). It just snaps together starting at the top of the iPad (left here) and you use a large coin or similar and two slots at the bottom to begin the process of taking it apart. I’ve done this fairly quickly several times now, but, as noted, I don’t see much reason to remove the mini. Note the clear poly that goes over the iPad screen. I’ve used many cases with similar plastic protection — see this 2011 discussion — and this one seems the least intrusive, I think because it’s fairly stiff and fits tight to the iPad screen.
The screen cover is also what distinquishes LifeProof’s various frē cases from their “nüüd” design, which establishes a seal around the device screen so there is nothing between it and your finger. Frē started with iPhone and nüüd came along with LifeProof’s iPad 2/3/4 case. I’ve met several boaters who were very happy with their iPad nüüd. Now LifeProof offers iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy SIII cases in both frē and nüüd styles. I have no opinion about which is best, but maybe someone out there does 😉
I was enthused when Scanstrut introduced the Lifedge iPad case early last year, but at least the iPad 1 version has issues. The main one is difficulty getting the rubbery outer shell to fit properly over the stiff back piece, which is also something you have to do at least partially whenever it needs charging. Scanstrut recommends using a water or oil-based lubricant — and now includes Lifedge Lube with the case — and that definitely makes the process easier. But it’s still a pain in my experience, though I should note that my hands are a little screwy (from dupuytren’s contracture) and the newer Lifedge iPad 2/3/4 case may be an easier fit.
Note the top of the photo above. I did leave this case right under one of Gizmo’s large windows for quite a while, but I was still surprised to find that the anti-glare coating is apparently becoming detached from the main plastic screen protector. Don’t do what I did! The screen, by the way, shows Navionics add-on nav module, which I like and is nicely illustrated on The Hull Truth.
The Lifedge is the only iPad case I know of with a sturdy hand strap on the back (not shown), which may be particularly useful for racing sailors moving around a cockpit. There’s also a Surface Mount Kit that can work with adjustable ROKK deck and rail mounts (also available fixed and with new Scanstrut Rail Pods). However, if you’re settled on using RAM ball mounts around your boat, you’ll be pleased to know that the hole pattern on the Lifedge case holder works fine, as shown above. Also shown are the two combination install tools and case legs that come with the case. This video shows how the legs can clip on in portrait or landscape modes and how the tool’s “shoe horn” end is used to get the difficult case corners fitted. Is the YouTube commenter who claims they used an especially flexy cover correct, or are we seeing the difference between the iPad 1 and iPad 2/3/4 cases?
The Life Jacket waterproof iPad case, which is also sold as the “forward” by Fugawi and others, is a newcomer and that’s why I’ve illustrated the full packaging. It’s a big case that can hold any existing iPad model, and it floats; a drawback is that only the home button is accessible (though of course you can get to rotation and volumn controls on the screen)…
I don’t think that many folks would want to walk around with the Life Jacket anyway, as it doesn’t have soft edge bumpers or a non-skid back, and the four snap tabs that make it very easy to insert or remove an iPad are not friendly for hand holding. Though hard to see in the photo, this non-glare screen cover also suffered a little delamination while sitting in Gizmo’s window, and I should note that cases like this that extend right to the edge of the pad’s touch screen can sometimes get in your finger’s way, like when trying to tap that “star” button (lower right) in Transas iSailor…
What the Life Jacket seems best suited for is mounting securely in its accessory bracket, not unlike a chart plotter! I picture boaters leaving the case and bracket in place and sticking their iPad in it when they get underway. The bracket has a nice ratcheting mechanism and is quite solid, though the early model I received for testing does not snap snugly around the case and one thumbscrew needed extra washers to tighten on the bracket. The company reports that these issues are rare and also that they’ll soon be out with a charging port that will be waterproof even in use (take that, LifeProof) and an alternative mounting plate.
There are many ways an iPad can serve around a boat, but if you use one for underway navigation, I think you’ll want it mounted in a sturdy way so that only one hand is needed. I liked Tallon’s mount when first spotted and it’s turned out to be a winner on the boat. I use the full Tallon Ultimate iPad Mount to put my (naked) iPad 1 just where I want it at Gizmo’s lower helm. Since Tallon uses RAM mount ball connectors, I can move the iPad holder up to the flybridge (in fair weather), as seen in Panbo’s current header photo, or I can mount the Lifedge case either up or down, as seen here.
What’s neat about the Tallon Elite Socket USB are the 12v outlet and USB port and the fact that you can remove the ball and cover all three holes for a flat, yachty look. The mount housing also seems very strong once you’ve drilled the big hole and screwed the parts together. Note that the USB port wire has a male end you can attach it to a computer or the like, but I recently found a 12v USB adaptor that I plan to try out soon.
It seems likely that LifeProof will come up with a “Lifejacket” (confusing!) flotation collar and universal cradle for the iPad mini frē case, like it has for the iPad nüüd. Note that RAM already has three iPad mini cradles designed to work with sleeves and cases. It may seem strange to mix manufacturers so, but LifeProof, RAM, and Tallon may be a sweet way to go. What do you all think?
I LOVE my LifeProof nuud case for the full-sized iPad… so much so that I am contemplating upgrading to the nuud for my iPhone 5 even though I already have the fre.
Thanks for talking about mounting systems… I think you also had one for your devices that was 4 rubberized prong that gripped the device… am I mistaken?
I recently upgraded to an iPhone 5, and got a LifeProof case for it (the kind with the clear plastic window over the display).
Waterproof for sure, the only problem I’ve had reported is that my voice is distorted when talking. This problem seems worse when it’s windy. But others say my voice is fine, so it isn’t a killer (and I use a Bluetooth headset for really important calls).
Assembly was easy, and the little click-open door for charging is doing fine after a couple months. If/when I get an iPad, it’ll have one of these right away!
The search for good cases that protect, yet remain useable is endless. One caution on the LifeProof cases. They are well made, but if you look at the warranty, you are obligated to pressure test the case before loading it. It also says you must retest it anytime the unit has been handled roughly (my words, no the warranty). Which means, for some of us, in order to make the warranty valid, each day we may have to pressure test the case!
In addition, if there is a leak, the warranty only replaces the case…No the electronic!
How do I know this?? My IPhone flooded in 3 feet of water (a swimming pool). Lifeproof’s response was swift and immediate…I MUST HAVE DONE SOEMTHING WRONG AS THEIR CASES ARE EACH TESTED! They also quickly point out the testing requirements and that even if it did leak because of their fault, they would replace the case.
Too bad they have such bad customer service as the cases are trim and nice.
Thanks, ValkyrieY. I meant to mention that as I remember your past comments. But I wonder if any waterproof case manufacturer will replace a damaged phone or pad? It would be a heck of liability and we users can screw things up in so many ways (not to say you did).
C Dan, I’ve never tested a RAM X-grip, but they look interesting:
They look like they might hold a cased iPad and if they are adjustable enough you might not find that your cradle presses the volume button on your phone as some do on my semi-nude Galaxy Nexus.
I have been using an Ipad in the open cockpit of a sailboat for four years. I admit that these cases offer great protection. But what about functionality.
Ben since you have access to all of these brands of cases can you perform a simple test with them,for those of us who are in open cockpits?
Ben can you take a shower with them? Simulate a good downpour. Can you tell us if any of them allow the capacitive touch screen of the Ipad to function?
David, your timing is impeccable. It’s wicked hot and sticky here in Maine (what climate change?) and I was just about to shower when I read your comment. So I took the iPad mini with LifeProof case with me (but let’s keep that between us, please).
Interesting! When squarely catching full shower volume (from water conserving head, to be sure), the water sometimes initiated touch commands in Nobeltec TZ and Garmin BCM, though I could still sometimes touch tap my own commands. The iPad worked better when I turned the shower down to a gentle but heavy rain and/or if I tilted it more to the horizontal.
Some other cases may be less sensitive to rain because the screen shields are further away and touch commands have to be more aggressive, but even with the LifeProof I wouldn’t call it impossible. I could have done my nav commands in the lee of a foul weather jacket, I think (had I been wearing one).
What I don’t get, though, is how do you deal with the iPad screen in bright sunlight? Have you considered a bimini to deal with both issues? Or an MFD?
PS I haven’t taken it apart but the LifeProof is mostly dry on the outside now and the iPad is still working fine.
I have used a RAM mount for three years. Two comments:
The iPad is in our pilothouse, so waterproofing is not an issue for us. Sometimes on a warm day in bright sun, the iPad will overheat. A cool breeze, or a wet cloth draped over the back of the iPad cools thing off, but I wonder if these waterproof cases will exacerbate the situation.
I have used the iPad in the dingy in moderate rain, and a zip-lock sandwich bag kept everything nice and dry. The touch screen, GPS, and all the buttons still worked OK.
I have the lifeproof nuud case for ipad2. I think it’s great! It does not add much bulk to the ipad at all. I also purchased the lifeproof mount, to which I installed a RAM ball to the back side. It’s very simple to move from the helm RAM to a RAM in my bunk.
I don’t have any problems seeing the screen under my Bimini top, and with my polarized sunglasses as long as the ipad is kept horizontal. At vertical, my sunglasses make the screen completely black. At ipad horizontal, I think my polarized sunglasses actually make the screen brighter then with the naked eye. Not sure how that’s possible, but that’s what it feels like.
Lifeproof was a really great company, with a great warranty. After otter box acquired them, their customer service and warranty took a big nosedive. It’s still nice stuff though.
I have an iPad3 in the Lifeproof nuud case.
I cannot say enough good things about it. The texture is far superior to the iPads slick surface. When I place it down on a non-skid surface it stays there. It makes my iPad a bit larger, fitting in my hands better. I also purchased the LifeJacket float (for rough water use on deck) it fits over the nuud and will float the iPad if dropped overboard. (added drop protection as well). My original “float” was a bit loose. I contacted Lifeproof and the sent me a new one with return packing slip for the loose one. The new unit fit perfectly. They also offer a “Total Water Protection Program” ($75 for one year) covers the iPad and a new case. Here’s the info on that:
If, within one-year of purchasing your LifeProof case and registering with the Total Water Protection Program, your eligible device suffers water damage while in the case, LifeProof will repair or replace it.* The program is limited to a one-time use, and requires the case be used in accordance with all provided instructions. A simple request process and a nominal service fee ($50 for iPhone, $75 for iPad) is all it takes. And, we’ll send you a new case, too.
And the link: http://www.lifeproof.com/en/total-water-protection-program
I have been very happy with this product so far.
I LOVE the vision of you showering with your iPad…. Not every electronics wizard would go there, or admit it!
Re : Ipad in cockpit.
Ben, I do have a bimini but it doesn’t necessarily solve the problems.As a matter of fact I sent you some photos last year which showed my two pad locations using a SeaSucker mount. One location is on the pedestal guard and the other is on the bimini frame tucked up right under the cloth. In either location wind and driving rain or spray can wet the screen and of course in those conditions your hands are also wet.
The biggest problem I had in sunlight was reflections. I cured that with a matte screen protector. Also the brightness has to be set to high. That really drains the battery which means you need a waterproof power supply. I’ve tried putting the pad to sleep for short periods when on a long trip but then you loose other functions like AIS.I back up with Garmin plotter,computer,& charts.
Ben, thank you so much for taking the time out to perform this review! I would like to formally introduce myself as the designer, inventor and owner of Global Navigation Authority. We produce the LifeJacket Case and are very excited about the endless opportunities that surround tablets in the marine environment. Our case was designed by a long time boater (myself), for boaters specifically. We will launch our waterproof USB port to enable charging in early August. We will also launch a flat mount bracket with the AMPS holes pre drilled for multiple mounting options shortly thereafter. Currently our bracket has pre drilled holes in the bottom to connect perfectly to Ram mount 111U. We welcome any ideas or suggestions as our company will continue to grow in the marine tablet protection direction.
Thank you once again,
Global Navigation Authority
“LifeProof offers cases in both frē and nüüd styles. I have no opinion about which is best, but maybe someone out there does.”
I’ve used a Lifeproof frē on both my iPhone 4 and 5 and have been generally happy with them. Lifeproof proved its salt after protecting my phone from an overnight dip in a class III rapid in northern Idaho. Perhaps the even bigger miracle was that it was found the next day!
I can tell from first hand experience that the plastic film over the screen on the frē decreases the sensetivity of the touch screen measurably, as it doesn’t lie perfectly flat on the glass. Recently I’ve had problems with the “end” button being completely unresponsive when I try to terminate a call. That can be a real annoyance. A quick search of the internet finds many other people having the same issue. Might be one of the reasons Lifeproof recently introduced the nüüd for the iPhone. Knowing what I know now, given the choice, I’d now go for the nüüd.
The Tallon Ram Lifeproof combination is working well on my boat.
I also have a Lifedge iPad 2/3/4 case and it is difficult to install over the iPad (even with lubrication)- I no longer use this case.
I use the Ram X Grip and think this a great device, it holds a bare iPad, the Lifedge and the Lifeproof cases, it also copes with the other non-marine cases that I use like the Gumdrop and the STM Skinny.
As a followup to the above post, I wanted to let people know I contacted LifeProof about the problem I was having and they replaced the case without hesitation and at no cost. The plastic film over the screen of the replacement case seems to be a much tighter fit. I don’t know if they’ve changed the design since, but I was one of the first adopters to the frē case for the iPhone 5 when it was initially released. Time will tell if they have solved the problem…
Thank you for the talk last night, which was very informative.
I used the lifeproof fre on my iphone 5 this summer, and encountered the same problems with the screen mentioned above. For the last ten days, I have been using the nuud, and I think it is a vast improvement. I also have the nuud ipad case for my ipad 4, but have only been using it for 24 hrs. So far,so good. Lastly, I have life jackets for both, which I like as much for their anti shock capabilities as their flotation ability. They are a bit large, but that bothers me more on the phone than the pad.
Thanks, Maldwin! (I gave a talk on tablet nav apps to a wonderfully receptive audience in Camden last night.)
And let me add that Maldwin is probably an excellent case tester as he seems to spend significant time blasting around Penobscot Bay in a large RIB in most any weather.
Hello Mr Drummond.
I gather that you must be the same gentleman who help build the Sir Winston Churchill. Us old schooner folk are having a reunion in Portsmouth on 19th October. Do come. The current owner of the Malcolm Miller will be there. Wing Chan. [email protected]
Hello Ben, it is unfortunate that you didn’t contact us to include in your review the German made Andres industry cases. As you are aware those cases have been on the market and used on boats for years now. Their cases are designed with very harsh environments in mind since Andres’ primary markets are military and law enforcement, so everything they design and build take into consideration that the devises with get dropped, hit and receive water or chemicals.
Sorry about that, Daniel, but in situations like this my testing is often somewhat random. All the gear discussed above was offered to me for testing, so I may have missed other waterproof iPad cases that are out there.
Gumdrop has a new iPad marine case and mount that looks very interesting: