Today I received the Gumdrop Drop Tech case for the Samsung Galaxy S4. Before we get into my impressions, let’s have a look at the feature set on offer.
The case is described as offering “shock absorption, drop protection, extreme ruggedness and hard-core readiness for all adventures.” This is provided by a three layer system – an integrated plastic screen cover, a rigid polycarbonate frame, and a silicone outer shell. The case is available in three colour variations, including black, green and black/red (which is the variant I’ll be testing).
At a retail price of $40 in the US (and apparently around £30 in the UK), this is a fairly expensive case and should therefore provide top tier protection without unduly sacrificing usability. Now, let’s see how it actually stands up in real world use.
So the first part of testing any case is the installation – the process of getting the phone inside the case. This wasn’t as easy as I expected with the Drop Tech, as the multi-layer system demands you pick apart the two layers in order to get started. Once all the pieces were separated, then you can proceed to removing the foam insert and actually mounting the pieces around the phone. This proceeded without issue until I attached the flexible silicone shell around the right hand side, near the power button.
As soon as this was in place, my phone rebooted, over and over again. The power button was being held down by the button cover, making the phone impossible to use. I tried readjusting the outer casing, but ultimately had to completely disassemble the case once again and then try again in order to shake the problem. Even now, the power button remains on a “hair trigger”, if you will, and seems to often be actuated unintentionally. I barely have to brush the side of the button cover, and it sets off. In contrast, the volume buttons appear to function normally.
Apart from this rather annoying issue, the installation proceeded okay. Now, let’s have a look at the reported raison d’être of this case: drop protection.
So this week an app was released for Android called Send Me To Heaven, or SMTH. The app is quite unusual in that it combines virtual rewards with real life risks, as you must toss your phone as high as you can and catch it. The app uses accelerometers in order to calculate how high of a throw you’ve achieved, and the leaderboards are quite astounding – usually on the order of 30 metres or more. We won’t be attempting that with the Drop Tech, but it does give us a nice way of testing both the protection abilities of the case and my confidence in it.
After ten minutes of rather enjoyable testing, my high score was about 5 metres. I didn’t really want to go any higher than that, as I’d have to find a field somewhere and risk losing my phone, but it was definitely nice to play the game without being worried about it.
I concluded with a series of standard drop tests onto carpet, from pocket height, chest height and as high as I can reach (about eight feet). I repeated each test five times, and thankfully no damage came to my Galaxy S4. I felt quite confident dropping the phone from normal heights (e.g. pocket and chest), but was a little nervous on the final test. Regardless, the phone survived well, even when it fell directly onto the screen.
So, it does seem that this case does provide pretty impressive drop protection, but that comes at a price. While the caseless Galaxy S4 is both thin and light, this case multiplies both aspects considerably – the phone is between two and three times the thickness, and weight increases from 130 grams to 198 grams. The phone also transforms from a very smooth object to one with a ridged rear. This is definitely noticeable in your pocket, as the phone becomes a lot trickier to get in and out.
The day-to-day usability of the phone is also impacted. The lip around the screen, while instrumental in preventing drops, also makes scrolling, particularly from side to side, less natural. The back and menu buttons work fine through the screen protector, but they are in their own recessed cubby holes which makes reaching them slightly more difficult. The home button seems to work as well as ever, although the button cover doesn’t protrude as much as the button itself. The hair trigger lock button remained an issue as well, although I didn’t have any incidences of repeated reboots after the initial installation.
Finally, the screen cover definitely makes the phone’s screen feel less slick. You can definitely tell that something is there, and when the cover became slightly crumpled through normal use this became more vexing.
Ultimately, the Drop Tech Series doesn’t make sense for me as a daily item. While taking the phone in and out of the case takes enough time that you’d want to avoid it when possible, I’d recommend it to be used only in places where the drop protection is really necessary – like when you’re hiking, traveling, or working outdoors. For the odd drop onto carpet, a slimmer case feels like it would offer vastly improved usability while still providing enough protection. While the case doesn’t feel badly made or poorly designed, using it simply wasn’t as convenient as I hoped.