There are dozens of accessory and case makers in the world attempting to solve the problem of protecting your precious iPad or Android tablet from the pitfalls of modern life.
Some solve this by wrapping it in armor or gel or just mounting it to a stable surface, never to move.
Some solve this by wrapping the tablet in balls.
Friendly Integration, a small company out of San Francisco, offers up their iBallz protection system. It’s not quite a case but does promise protection from drops, even on the corners.
Can iBallz protect your precious iPad from peril? It will keep your tablet from actually hitting the floor, though I found that the floor isn’t the only danger to your device. Read on to find out how iBallz (and my tablet) fared when I put it to the test.
The system consists of four foam
balls ballz attached to an adjustable elastic cord. Notches cut in the ballz slide snug over the corners of a tablet. Because they’re foam they can fit tablets of different thicknesses, not just the iPad 2. However, they won’t fit a thicker device like the ThinkPad Tablet or original Toshiba Thrive.
The cord is adjustable so you can comfortably fit iBallz on tablets bigger than 10 inches on down to 7 inches or smaller. Unfortunately, due to this versatility you always have this extra length of cord hanging around. The maker provides a velcro bit at the end so you can tie it out of the way — a nice touch.
With iBallz users can hang the iPad or sit it up at a slight angle by tucking one of the ballz underneath for hands-free use. But the real selling point is the protective properties. The foam ballz are supposed to absorb impact and keep the tablet from actually touching a surface it drops on, thus reducing the chance for damage.
Depending on the tablet, iBallz may end up covering or partially obscuring a port or button. On the iPad it gets in the way of the headphone jack. On the Nook tablet it covers the top of the volume rocker. The Galaxy Tab’s buttons and ports are all safely out of the way.
I tested the iBallz on the Samsung Galaxy Tab 10.1 and the Nook Tablet. The ballz fit on the Tab’s corners easily — no surprise since it’s about the same thickness as an iPad 2. The Nook Tablet proved more difficult since it’s thicker, but the foam squished to fit without much effort.
With the cord adjusted to the right tightness I felt the ballz were secure on both. Getting the ballz off the tablet when I was done with them took little effort and was very fast. Putting them on was a bit of a chore since you have to deal with the cord’s tension, but still only a few seconds.
I enjoyed the ability to hang the Galaxy Tab over my bed and next to my desk instead of finding a place for it on a nightstand or on the crowded surface of my work area. It stayed in place the entire time and the ballz didn’t slip or look in danger of falling off, even when I left the Tab hanging for 12 hours.
I found the ballz a bit big for comfortable use on the Nook Tablet. The company also sells iBallz Minis for smaller gadgets, which is a better solution for the 7-inch range.
The ergonomic benefits aren’t as great as the makers tout. Having an extra bit of padding on the corners isn’t much more comfortable than just holding the Tab, but then the design is already very holdable. If you have a tablet with right angle corners the ballz may make holding it more comfortable.
Plus, having the ballz on the corners meant I needed to reach farther with my thumb to hit elements in my game or on the keyboard than I would normally. I found more equilibrium when reading eBooks, webpages, or stuff on Flipboard where only small motion is required.
iBallz Protection & Drop Test
How well will the iBallz protect your tablet? On the iPad I’ve seen the iBallz protect the tablet from drops as high at 6 feet (hitting on the corner) and tossed a length of four feet to land flat on a thin carpet on the CES show floor. I experimentally dropped the Galaxy Tab a few inches onto a wooden table and the tablet survived just fine.
However, when doing some drop tests with another tablet the results were less satisfactory. Since I still have a Grid10 lying around, I put the iBallz on that and dropped it from a height of 3.5 feet onto a thin carpet over a wooden floor. This was the result:
I’d first dropped it from the same height onto the bare wooden floor with the glass facing up. However, that produced a really alarming sound. I moved to the carpet and dropped it face down and heard a crack. Sure enough, the display was ruined.
Notice that the crack radiates from one corner, right where one ball(z) is? The tablet never made contact with the floor, the crack happened due to pressure from iBallz.
The back of the chassis has also begun to separate from the front.
Since I’ve seen for myself that the iPad survived worse, I can only speculate that the shape of the Grid10’s edges may have contributed to this, or even poor build quality. It’s not out of the question. Still, once I saw that, I became much more nervous about dropping anything else from that height with the iBallz on.
The Bottom Line
For $19.95, iBallz is a decent tablet accessory. I like the ability to hang my tablet on the wall, I like that I don’t have to be too worried about minor drops, and I like that it has the potential to make some tablets a little more comfortable to hold.
However, iBallz ability to protect from major drops is in question with me. I’m willing to engage in more testing to see if the Grid10 was a fluke, just not with my own gadgets.