We hear about them all the time these days, ruggedized products that claim to meet or exceed Military Standards, or that refer to IP levels. But what do these designations really mean, and how can they help us make informed decisions when it comes to buying tech accessories or choosing protective gear for our devices?
The origins of the Military Standard goes back to the World War II era, when the Army and Air Force released their first specifications detailing an approved formal methodology for putting various equipment to the test, under simulated environmental conditions. Specifically, MIL-STD is a document that establishes uniform technical and engineering standards for various equipment, and includes interface standards, manufacturing process standards, design criteria standards, and test method standards.
The current version of MIL-STD 810G was issued on October 31, 2008, and addresses how to tailor equipment's design and test limits to the conditions that it will likely experience throughout its life. MIL-STD 810G also established chamber test methods which served to replicate the effects of environments on products, rather than having to subject the equipment to the actual environments themselves.
If you cant see this cool video of Otterbox testing their new Resurgence case, click HERE.
Another great example of compliance with military standards is popular smartphone case manufacturer Griffin and their listing of all the ways in which their Survivor cases comply with MIL-STD 810G. The Survivor cases have been tested to withstand:
Wind and wind-blown rain, totaling 200 mm of rainfall over the course of one hour.
A 6-foot drop.
Wind blown dust and dirt at 18 meters a second for 3 hours.
Vibrations of between 20-2000 Hz for 18 hours.
While MIL-STD 810G is an impressive claim and achievement and some companies make a point of letting buyers know that their products have passed certain tests, it's definitely a case of buyer beware. Just because certain products claim to meet Military Standards, does not necessarily mean that the product has been independently tested and verified, nor does it mean that said product has in fact, been tested at all, as tests and testing equipment can be expensive. So while it is true that if you see a MIL-STD 810G rating on a case or other techie product, it usually means that the product is dependable, durable, and ready to take some abuse, it's always good to do a little research, and read some reviews when possible. Since there is no commercial agency or organization that certifies compliance, vendors, and manufacturers can technically create the test methods for their specific product's application, if they are tested at all. If you want to know more about what tests a manufacturer puts their product through, and whether those tests were performed independently or in-house, don't hesitate to ask them.
Another term we see getting tossed around a lot has to do with a product's water resistance. Known as an Ingress Protection (IP) rating, this standard lets you know how much you can rely on any given product to keep water and debris (and even hands and fingers) away from what are often sensitive electronic components encased within some type of a protective shell. IP ratings can also apply to impact protection, so there is some overlap between an IP rating an a MIL-STD rating.
Rather than consumers having to rely on ambiguous marketing terms such as waterproof, IP-ratings provide us with specifics standards which determine exactly how impervious a given product actually is. The "IP" code is followed by two digits which indicate conformity with various environmental test conditions. In instances where there is no protection rating regarding certain requirements or standards, the letter X is substituted in that digit's space. The first digit following the "IP" typically refers to solid particle protection and goes from 1–6, with 6 being the highest level of protection from dust, sand etc. The second digit then refers to liquid ingress protection and goes from 1–9K, with 9K indicating that a product is protected against close range, high temperature, and high pressure spraying.
So when companies like Lifeproof or Otterbox say their cases provide IP-68 protection, it means the products in question offer the highest level of dust protection and are suitable for continuous immersion in water under conditions specified by the manufacturer—which in terms of device cases usually means that the case protects an electronic device for 30 minutes submerged at a depth of 6 feet. Another thing you may notice is that in some instances you'll see accessories that display an IP-X6, or IP-X8 rating, for example. These ratings would mean that while the product may not have been tested against wind-blown dust specifically, it is nonetheless, very well sealed and well protected and therefore, a certain level of inherent dust protection can be inferred. Again, buyer beware, it's always good to ask questions of the manufacturer before you invest in a product that may, or may not, meet your criteria.
These days, with all of the ruggedly designed gear available for our mobile devices, it's good to know what packaging labels and marketing materials advertising Military Standards or IP-ratings really mean. To help give a better idea of products that can legitimately lay claim to these rugged criteria, below is a short list featuring some great examples of accessories that meet MIL-STD 810G and/or have high IP-ratings:
Grace Digital's Ecostone Bluetooth Waterproof Speaker ($149.99) IP-68 and MIL-STD 810
Fugoo Bluetooth Waterproof Speaker ($199.99-$229.99) IP-67
Blue Ant PUMP Bluetooth Waterproof Headphones ($129.95) IP-67
Lifeproof Waterproof Cases IP-68 and MIl-STD 810
For iPhone 4–5s: $79.99-$89.99
For iPad: $99.99-$129.99
Otterbox Preserver Waterproof Cases ($67.46) IP-X8 and MIL-STD 810
We hope this helps make sense of all the codes and number that you'll so often see on ruggedized mobile gear. Let us know if you have any questions, or experiences with these or other rugged tech products, in the comments below.