Originally founded in 1976 by an avid scuba diver, Pelican has a long history of creating rugged protective products and now they bring that expertise to the iPad Air (and iPad mini) with their all-new Pelican ProGear™ Vault series of cases.
This hard case not only provides a good deal of protection, it looks good while doing it. The ProGear™ Vault is a folio style case made of a hard plastic material with accents of rubber and a cool industrial looking brushed nickel hinge. The case wraps around your entire iPad Air, including all of the ports and buttons. The volume and power buttons are completely encased in rubber, tethered pop outs protect the headphone jack, mute/rotate lock switch and lightning ports, but still provide quick access and there is even a shatterproof lens cover for the rear camera. The front inside edge of the case has a nice rubber gasket which sits flush with your iPad’s screen to form a barrier against dust, dirt and any accidental moisture.
Unlike some of the other heavy-duty cases out there, Pelican’s ProGear™ Vault doesn’t offer any sort of built-in screen protector which covers your screen during actual use, which could be seen as either a positive or negative. On the positive side, it means that you don’t have to worry about any sort of loss of touch screen sensitivity, but it also means that while open, your screen is still susceptible to dirt, scratches, and sticky little fingers.
To grant you full access to all of your iPad’s functions while it is in the case, the attached front cover folds open a complete 180 degrees to sit flush against the back, providing a comfortable tablet experience. However, when closed, it forms a super protective seal over your iPad’s entire screen. In fact, Pelican states that its case is IP54 rated for water resistance and as such protects against momentary immersion and wind-driven rain. We’ve had our fair share of snow here in the North East over the past few weeks and I’ve had no hesitation carrying my Pelican ProGear™ Vault Series protected iPad under my arm to my car, even in a light flurry of snow. And while (thankfully) I didn’t inadvertently try an actual drop test, the case is rated to survive a 4 foot drop.
The cover of the Pelican also acts a built-in stand, you just angle the iPad (easel style) with the latch on the front cover acting as the foot on the rear side of the easel. Though depending on how grippy your table or surface is, standing angles can be pretty limited. If you try to angle to too much, the screen starts sliding forward and you have to stand the whole thing up straighter. Overall, I found the standing angles to be a bit lacking compared to other cases I’ve tried and I had trouble finding a comfortable typing angle (all the way flat was a little too flat for typing for me). So that was a bit of a disappointment.
Intense protection does come at a bit of a cost. The case will set you back $100 and the ProGear Vault will also increase your iPad Air’s waistline by a couple of inches and weighing in at 474g (empty) the ProGear Vault effectively doubles the weight of an iPad Air, making it even heavier than a nude 4th generation iPad. Unfortunately for many this could be a deal killer as one of the biggest selling points of the Air is its reduced weight. Though to be fair, most heavy duty cases do tend to add both bulk and weight, but the ProGear Vault is one of the slimmest ones I’ve tried.
Installation of the Vault Series case on your iPad Air will take a few minutes of time since you actually have to remove (and reinsert) 15 small screws which hold the entire case together. Though, truth be told, I didn’t find this to be too much of an inconvenience given that you know your iPad won’t be going anywhere or getting scratched up once it is inside. Just don’t lose the little allen wrench-like screwdriver tool they give you or you may have trouble removing the case when it comes time to upgrade your iPad down the road.
Sometimes with these super protective case the sound can be a little muted or tinny, but that was not the situation with this case. In fact, I found the sound quality with the ProGear Vault to be quite good. That being said, I did struggle quite a bit with the rubber-wrapped volume controls, they were a bit too difficult to reach properly while the cover was folded back and I often found myself just pulling up the on-screen volume controls instead. It is also worth noting that the case does not have a magnet built into the cover so the is no auto on/off functionality. The recessed lightning port is unlikely to work with third-party cables and even the first party cable may require a little finesse and attention when extracting so you don’t accidentally ruin your cable.
Overall, I really liked the cases unique look and the solid protection that the Pelican ProGear Vault Series case offers for my iPad Air offers. We don’t tend to see a lot of these premium hard plastic cases use the folio form factor (which is my preferred style) so I am thrilled to see Pelican adopt this design and at the same time, give it a little bit of their own signature styling. I just wish it were a bit lighter and offered better standing angles. Pelican does a lot of things right with their new ProGear™ Vault Series case and those looking for a heavy-duty protective case in the $100 price range for their iPad Air should definitely consider this one as well.