Rugged cases for the iPad seem to be a dime a dozen these days. But while many people, including myself, like the idea of bringing strong protection to the expensive device, the real-world benefits have been less than ideal.

Before I purchased a new iPad, my original version of the tablet was clad with the Otterbox Defender. While I liked the protection it provided, the case weight made it feel like I was trying to carry around a heavy object with one hand.

Currently, I’ve been using a slim, folio-type case to protect my new iPad. While I’ve enjoyed the ease of use, I thought I would look to see if there were any different cases on the market that provided strong protection but didn’t weigh the iPad down greatly.

And the Drop Tech Series Military Edition case from Gumdrop Cases certainly stuck out. The solution promises a heavy dose of protection without sacrificing the usability of the iPad.

The case is composed of three parts – a hard polycarbonate shell, a silicone outside cover, and a snap-on screen protector. To apply the case, combine the screen protector with the shell and slip on over your iPad. Users then place the outside cover over the tablet.

All ports are accessible, but protected. The on/off switch, volume rocker, and home button are completely covered by the case. The dock port, headphone jack, and orientation lock button can all be accessed by flipping up a silicone tab. The ambient light sensor and camera lenses are covered by clear plastic. The Military Edition also features microfilm dust filters.

The Good

First, the Military Edition is probably one of the best looking iPad or iPhone cases I’ve seen, period. While the basic Drop Tech Series case comes in black, white, and pink, there’s nothing more manly than an Army Green 44 case. If all cases would come in this color, I’d be a happy reviewer.

The case back is made up of a tire-tread consistency that bulges up from the unit. While it looks a little intimidating at first, the tread actually made the the solution very easy to hold and handle.

As far as the protection angle, the unit held up to its claims. I put the case through its paces, handling my iPad more roughly than normal, and there were no issues. I did have one scary moment when the iPad, protected by the case, accidentally fell around 4 feet from a countertop to a tile floor on its screen.

But after a few moments of panic while taking off the case, I discovered my iPad was totally fine.

I was also pleased with the weight of the unit. While other solutions I’ve seen can tip the scales at much more than 1 pound, I measured Gumdrop’s case at around 12 ounces. The extra weight was noticeable, but definitely not a huge problem in day-to-day usage.

The Bad

A major part of the solution – the screen protector – is really a mixed bag. While I think any protective case should have good screen protection, image clarity usually suffers. And that’s the case with the Military Edition’s screen protector.

There was a noticeable lack of clarity of the iPad’s screen while using the protector. In somewhat dark rooms, it wasn’t enormously noticeable. But in any type of brighter-light situation, the beautiful Retina display was pretty severely washed out with a hazy blur.

The protector was also a big fingerprint magnet, requiring almost constant cleaning. Also, after a few days of use, small pieces of lint and dirt seemed to be trapped between the protector and its frame.

But, the screen protector does have a pretty big redeeming quality – its removable and replaceable. That’s a first for any type of screen protector that I’ve seen, and it is a nice advantage. Replacement protectors are $15.

And, like me, if you weren’t all that pleased with how the screen protector modified the iPad’s screen, you can simply not install it on the case. Without the protector, the case looked and operated just fine. If anything, I’m planning on using the unit without the protector for daily use and installing it when I know I need a little more protection – like when traveling.

Also, since the front and back camera are both covered by a clear film of plastic, I did notice a little bit of extra haziness in my photos and in FaceTime sessions. It wasn’t extremely noticeable, but just a word of warning.

Verdict

If you’re looking for an rugged solution for your new iPad that can actually be used day in and day out, you can’t go wrong with Gumdrop’s case.

Along with looking great, the unit provides a strong layer of protection to the tablet without all that many downsides. It held up very well in my tests. And my biggest complaint – the screen protector – doesn’t even have to be used.

The Drop Tech Series Military Edition case lists for $69.95, but can be found for as low as $59.99 at Amazon. It is compatible with the new iPad and the iPad 2.