We've seen tablets used as skateboards, tablets used as car dashboards and many, many tablets hacked to do things they weren't intended to do. This, dear readers, might be the greatest hack of all: modifying a tablet to make it bulletproof.
When VestGuard UK announced its £49.99 (about $80) Ballistic iPad panel we wasted no time in requesting a unit to sample. The company was kind enough to send us one across the pond and we did what any gadget- and firearm-loving nerds would do: put it squarely in the crosshairs. Can the iPad really stop small arms fire when augmented with a tiny little sheet and what does that iPad look like after being on the receiving end of both 9mm and .357 Magnum rounds? Trust us, you'll want to click through and see for yourself.
VestGuard UK Ballistic iPad panelSee all photos
The Ballistic iPad panel is a thin, yellowish and incredibly light sheet. It feels no heavier than cardboard but any attempt to flex it will make it extremely apparent that this thing is much more than that. It's strikingly rigid -- as it should be. It's rated NIJ Level II Multi-hit, a term that we'll translate for those who aren't in a line of work that sees them getting shot at regularly.
NIJ is the National Institute of Justice, an organization that has developed standards of armor rating for "bulletproof" panels. Typically these panels are assembled into complete vests -- the sort of vests that, as you might have guessed by the name, VestGuard UK will be happy to sell you. Here we're just getting the single panel, and that Level II rating means it's rated to stop either 9mm or .357 Magnum rounds. Actually, since it's multi-hit, it's rated to stop both. (Note: if you're curious about the other NIJ ratings, check out the More Coverage link.)
Both 9mm and .357 Magnum most definitely fall within the small arms category, but trust us when you say you don't want to be on the receiving end of either.
So, that's exactly what we selected, one round of each. First was a 9mm CorBon round, 147 grain delivering a speed of 900 fps and 264 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. Second was a .357 Magnum round, good for 1,295 fps and 610 ft/lbs of muzzle energy. Both most definitely fall within the small arms category, but trust us when you say you don't want to be on the receiving end of either.
Before the lead started flying, though, we of course had to install the panel. It's intended to just slip in behind your iPad in a normal case. And, for a current-gen iPad we think it will do so without too much fuss. However, for our sacrificial iPad we selected a first-gen unit which was already a bit of a tight fit in all of the generic iPad cases we tried. So, it took a little extra shoving to force the Ballistic panel in there, but eventually we managed to get it to fit. We then propped the newly (hopefully) bulletproof case up on some hay bales for better shooting -- with the ballistic pad facing outward, of course.
After that it was just a matter of setting up the cameras and pulling the triggers, and the honor for that last duty fell to our friend George Walczak. George is a professional process server, a decidedly dangerous line of work that sees him knocking on the doors of unfriendly individuals who have quite often fallen on the wrong side of the law. George is not typically someone you want to see pull in your driveway, but this time we were glad to have his help -- and access to his extensive armory.
We approached and gingerly picked up the case -- a sprinkling of broken glass fell out as we opened it.
For the first shot, George started with the 9mm, the least powerful of the two options we'd be firing today. With a round loaded, he stepped up, aimed and calmly sent the bullet right through the center of the black leatherette case. Despite the force of the hit, the iPad barely moved. We approached and gingerly picked up the case -- a sprinkling of broken glass fell out as we opened it. The iPad display had become shattered, hugely distended where the bullet struck on the back. The tablet was clearly destroyed, but the round hadn't gone through.
VestGuard UK iPad shooting aftermathSee all photos
So, while you might be inclined to call that test failed, the fact that the round stopped means that quite the opposite is true. This was a successful test. VestGuard UK makes it perfectly clear that this insert isn't intended to save your tablet from damage. Here's the exact disclaimer on the website: "This solution is designed to protect you, and not your iPad, the tablet will most likely be seriously damaged in the ballistic event." Indeed it was -- though some might call "seriously damaged" a bit of an understatement.
To test the multi-shot support, we lined up George with a single round in his .357 revolver, which he expertly placed just a few inches away from the first hit. That was by design, as we didn't want both rounds to hit in exactly the same spot. This time the iPad definitely reacted to the greatly increased force of the larger round, getting knocked back and falling to the ground. We picked it up and the remains inside weren't pretty.
On the back, the inset Apple logo had gone, punched out and nowhere to be found, seemingly obliterated by the angry force of both rounds.
The glass, shattered before, was now more or less completely separated from the tablet body. The chassis itself was so deformed we had to cut through the faux-leather of the case to get it out. On the back, the inset Apple logo had gone, punched out and nowhere to be found, seemingly obliterated by the angry force of both rounds. The aluminum badly pushed in, looking all the world like something had been shot clean through.
But, crucially, it hadn't been. Again the Ballistic iPad Panel did its job, stopping and holding the round. In fact, with only a little probing into the panel we were able to find both bullets, each one largely intact. The panel itself was in remarkably good shape, now distinctly concave but looking perfectly ready to stop a few more rounds.
So, one iPad destroyed, but two passed tests. VestGuard UK's Ballistic iPad Case succeeded in stopping both types of rounds it's rated for, and thus it gets our stamp of approval. Of course, should you find yourself on the wrong end of a handgun pointed in anger, you'd probably prefer to have a full vest on your person, something capable of providing a little more reliable protection.
But, imagine a situation where you're confronted by someone in close quarters with a handgun. If things get heated, and you have some warning, you could put this between the pointy part of said handgun and the fleshy parts of your body. It's a bit of a tall order, but if you're in such situations and body armor simply won't do, we'd take this over nothing. It's certainly better than taking your chances with an iPod.
[Special thanks to George Walczak and Dave Deahl for arranging the testing]