That’s right. This is a iOS accessory review on a “tactical” blog. I assure you that this is here for good reason. Today’s smart phones and tablets are ridiculously useful on the shooting range but they are often not built to withstand the rigors of outdoor use. A quality case is a must.
I have been in the habit of taking my iPad Mini to the range with me so I can create packing lists, document review items, use ballistic software, and take notes right there on the spot. It has become indispensable for this blogger. I have had a few cases in the last year, all of which were fairly expensive and claimed to offer protection against the elements. All of them were too bulky, not water-resistant enough to be useful, and the worst of them actually started to crumble after less than 30 days of use. I was pretty much ready to be rid cases all together. I basically tried the LifeProof frē as a last resort.
I have now had the LifeProof frē longer than all the other cases combined. It has seen rain, mud, dust, the inside of range bags, the inside of ammo cans, daily time in my EDC bag, car dash boards, and even some use by toddlers. It still looks new. I have no complaints about the protection that it offers. It has proven itself to be head and shoulders above the other cases that I tried in terms of durability.
What I find most amazing about the frē is that it is able to offer a tremendous level of protection (water resistant to 6 feet, dust proof, drop resistant to 4 feet) without adding much bulk. An iPad Mini still feels like an iPad Mini when it is wearing the frē. The case weighs very little (4.64 ounces) and actually feels kind of flimsy until you lock both halves of the case together. Once it is put together, it has a reassuringly solid feel and is actually difficult to take apart.
The back of the frē actually has a hard, clear plastic panel that has a sound chamber (for lack of a better term) built in. It actually seems to slightly improve the sound of the Mini’s speakers or at least does a good job of redirecting more of the sound to you.
The headphone and Lightning ports are both covered. The headphone port is covered with a rubber plug that, mercifully, is anchored to the frē so I don’t lose it. The Lightning port is covered with a small hinged cover that has a soft membrane on it that seals against the case when closed. It works well enough to keep rain out and I was able to submerge it in a sink full of water (with iPad removed). The speaker ports are also covered with a water resistant membrane.
The frē comes with a shoulder strap that seems to be reasonably well made and is easy to attach but I never use it. A wrist lanyard would be more useful for me. It also has attachment points for various accessories like a smart cover which I purchased. The smart cover isn’t great but it protects the screen from scuffing and makes a decent stand for when I am typing. The cover that I purchased seems like it should be about 1/8” longer so it would close properly and it doesn’t stay closed like other smart covers. The frē is great but if you don’t need the stand functionality of the smart cover, I would just skip it.
I found that the frē actually improves how the iPad Mini feels in my hands. It adds some additional thickness and over-molded rubber grip makes me feel less like I am going to drop the thing all the time.
There are always trade-offs with a case like this. The integral screen protector is very clear and the screen still looks pretty good but it glares a bit. The buttons are all accessible but the top button is a pain to hold in for longer than a split second which makes powering down or resetting a little more difficult. These things just come with the territory on this style of case and are worthwhile trade-offs in return for the protection that is offered.
The frē has turned my iPad Mini into the range companion that I always hoped it could be. It shrugs off rain and dust and it protects from impacts, all without adding a ton of extra bulk. Tablets and smart phones are becoming increasingly useful tools on the range but you need a case that is up the task if you really want to get the most out of them. LifeProof’s cases have proven that they are at least up to whatever I can throw at them.
Check out the LifeProof frē for the iPad Mini and other devices.