Tablets are fast becoming indispensable, seen more and more in the hands and vans of contractors and crews out in the field. But typically, iPads, Androids, and other tablets are neither designed for nor protected against jobsite hazards such as dirt and dust, or being bumped or dropped. Enter carrying cases.
Some carrying cases only aim to shield the screen from scratches or the elements when the tablet isn’t being used. Made from a soft-skin material such as neoprene, silicone, durable nylon, or synthetic leather, these carrying cases cover the tablet either folio-style or as a zip-case. They are widely available in a range of colors, from business-black or gray to more lively hues, or even in flowery prints.
For protecting a tablet during use on the jobsite, common choices include non-ruggedized folio cases that hold the tablet in place either on the corners or around the edges. These are available in a range of soft materials; they’re also made from lightweight airplane grade aluminum or hard plastic with soft interior lining. Practical features include protection of the corners; full access to ports, buttons, front and rear cameras, and microphone; support of the iPad sleep/wake function; and a designed-in adjustable stand for optimized comfort and viewing angles during use.
Contractors who type in a lot of data - punchlists, change orders, contracts, daily logs, or jobsite notes - may prefer a case with an integrated keyboard. A keyboard case incorporates a Bluetooth keyboard, typically with long-lasting rechargeable batteries, along with moderate protection of the tablet during transport and use. (Using a real keyboard instead of a virtual one preserves screen space when working in an app). Here are a few full-featured options for the iPad Air. Similar cases with many of the same features are available for earlier models of the iPad and for Android tablets, including those made by Asus, Sony, Samsung, and Google Nexus.
Logitech FabricSkin Keyboard Folio for iPad Air (www.logitech.com) has a thin, solid membrane-style standard Bluetooth keyboard with full-size wipe-clean keys.
Pros: Case offers two-sided, water-repellent protection of the tablet. There are two horizontal set-up options – close-to-flat for browsing and almost upright for typing. When the iPad is positioned upright, an invisible magnetic strip close to the bottom edge pulls it into position and the keyboard automatically turns on and connects through Bluetooth.There are iOS shortcut keys for copy, paste, undo and more. Available in three color combinations.
Cons: There’s an opening on the back for the camera, but none for the rear microphone. The iPad is only held by pressure in plastic slots on the top right and left corners of the top.
Belkin QODE Ultimate Keyboard Case for iPad Air (www.belkin.com) Constructed of aircraft-grade aluminum alloy for the keyboard and plastic for the cover that holds the tablet in place at the four corners.
Pros: Case protects the tablet front and back; supports three viewing angles. Cutouts allow access to all ports. Three neodymium magnets stabilize tablet, even on an uneven surface. Keyboard folds flat behind the iPad for handheld tablet mode, which allows easy switching between entering data via the keyboard or via the screen.
Cons: Tablet wobblesin the case when set up on the magnets in an upright position.
Zagg Folio Keyboard for iPad Air (www.zagg.com) features full body protection and a textured, sure-grip finish, with access to all ports, buttons, and camera and a pivoting hinge that supports 135 degrees of viewing angle.
Pros: Magnetic closure activates the iPad sleep function. The keyboard offers backlighting of the keys in seven colors at three light levels and several “shortcut” keys. Hinge placement makes it easy to walk a job while entering data. Mimics a laptop without the heft or bulk. Good balance, nice feel to the touch, and sharp styling.
Cons: Pivoting hinge doesn’t flip all the way around, preventing flat tablet positioning.
Ruggedized cases, offering various combinations and levels of bump, drop, shock, and splash protection from different types of encapsulation, padding, and configurations of protective elements, can provide substantial security for tablets used on active jobsites. Typically, they have no integrated keyboard. But they will give peace of mind. Here are a couple of sturdy contenders that can go just about anywhere and take the hard knocks of a day at the job.
Otterbox Defender Series for iPad Air (www.otterbox.com) features a two-piece internal polycarbonate shell that snaps together around the tablet, completely covering it, to deflect impact and dust when the case is closed.
Pros: Internal foam cushions the unit, inhibiting movement within the case. Clear membrane screen protector. Two-position shield stand inside cover supports four viewing/typing angles (two landscape, two portrait). Snapping the front cover onto the back cover creates a handheld tablet.
Cons: Not waterproof. Cover is hard to remove. On a busy workday, user may leave case stored snapped onto the back or as an integrated stand on a flat surface, minimizing value of cover protection.
Otterbox also offers a Utility Series Latch II carrying case which has stretchy corner hooks that grip the tablet and multiple carrying and tethering options.
Pros: Padded hand strap adjusts for size and rotates to accommodate landscape and portrait views. BProvides lots of support and security for active, on –the-go use on job sites.
Cons: Aesthetically, the case doesn’t earn many points (wearing it might bring back memories of holding up a pitcher’s mitt),
The Pelican ProGear Vault for iPad Air (www.pelican.com) is rated IP54 for water resistance (protection against wind-driven rain, and momentary immersion) and protection against intrusion of dust and dirt, and meets Military Specifications Test Standards (MIL-STD 810G) for bump and drop protection. The outside of the case is made from polycarbonate and aluminum.
Pros: When cover is closed, rubber-edged seal protects screen against dust, rain, snow, and moisture. When open, it stays attached and can fold back completely, so it’s easy to hold in one hand while inputting data with the other. Impact-absorbing elastomeric liners. Optical grade, shatterproof lens cover protects the rear camera area. Multiple viewing angles for using the tablet on any surface. Port covers are easy to open and close. Comes with a screwdriver for removing/replacing the 15 screws that hold the rubber edge seal of the bottom of the case in place. A standout in terms of styling and utility.
Cons: Once all that work is done, you probably won’t remove the case bottom. No keyboard or screen protector.
Bill and Patti Feldman write frequently about technology for the construction industry. They live in New York’s Hudson Valley.