Tough cases

An extra layer of protection can save laptops from drops, drips — and more


Anyone who watched TV in the 1970s and even early '80s will remember that a gorilla can test just how tough a case really is. In a commercial, an ape threw, jumped on and dragged around a bright red case and proved American Tourister luggage is tough.

Fuerte would be open to the gorilla test, Bircumshaw says. The company offers an unconditional lifetime guarantee on almost every product it sells. Bircumshaw has checked in several cases with airlines and the equipment inside survived without problem.

Thomas says a gorilla definitely could stand on an OtterBox case, which he says also can be dropped from reasonable heights without issue. Even small cars could drive over OtterBox cases, he says.

Pelican cases haven't yet been tested by gorillas, but customers report that a lion cub and a camel have tested Pelican Protector Cases and found them to be watertight, dust-proof and rust-proof.

Many protective cases manufacturers, including Hardigg, OtterBox and Pelican, offer an unconditional lifetime guarantee on their cases.

"If an officer leaves a case behind the squad car, drives over it by mistake and the case cracks, we'll replace it," James says.

The same is true if a case is dropped off a cliff, he says.

Storm Cases by Hardigg have survived falling off the tarmac onto the ground, being hit with a sledge hammer and flying off the back of a pickup truck and hitting a tree.

Overall, hard cases are good at protecting computers against impact.

Not all hard cases, however, are watertight.

Pelican and OtterBox cases are waterproof up to about 3 feet deep.

Founded by Dave Parker, an avid scuba diver who didn't always find something he needed to make a dive complete, Pelican makes cases specifically to keep electronics safe and dry.

Pelican Protector Cases have survived soggy situations and kept sensitive equipment bone dry. They also have been used as flotation devices when needed.

As a general rule, Thomas says it's best to leave an OtterBox on land. But, things happen.

Officers on water patrol have dropped computers overboard into water and breathed a sigh of relief to see their OtterBox case float to the surface and find the computer safe inside.

"Occasionally accidents happen and an OtterBox may fall into a puddle, lake or river," Thomas says. "Don't worry, the computer inside will still be protected."

Unless a case is completely watertight, Fuerte Cases does not deem it protective. All of the cases that the company sells float and protect against water penetration.

Things to keep in mind — just in case

Just as kryptonite weakens Superman, there are some things that can weaken super-strength cases.

Anything caustic will cause problems. Sulfuric acid and highly corrosive petroleum distillants, for example, eat through polymer, James says.

While some protective cases do well in water, most are not made to resist high heat.

Extreme heat can be a failure factor, Bircumshaw says. In a fire, any plastic resin will soften. SX cases, made by Seahorse, are flame-retardant and will self-extinguish, Bircumshaw says but only if the flame is removed.

When left inside patrol cars or any other vehicle, protective cases and their contents will reach ambient temperatures. Bircumshaw has been asked if the color of a case can help alleviate this internal heat buildup, but color does not make a significant difference. The case and its contents will reach temperatures similar to its environment regardless of case color, he says.

And, although protective cases are designed to be tough, Berry advises against checking in computers and other valuable equipment with airline baggage.

The best case scenario

Each case type and brand has its unique strengths.

Berry sorts cases into good, better and best based on their construction:

Good: Panel-type case construction (made from an aluminum frame with aluminum or PVC panels)

Better: Molded aluminum (more durable than panel-type construction)

Best: Molded polypropylene waterproof cases (extremely durable, resistant to scratches, waterproof)

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