There are plenty of phone cases on the market that claim to offer military-grade protection, but what exactly does that mean? Just because something is tough enough for the military, does it follow that it’s tough enough for consumers?

In the case of mobile phone protection, the standard is MIL-STD 810G. It is one of a series of US military testing standards to help objectively decide whether a device can withstand certain conditions.

One part of the standard, Method 516.6, is especially important for handheld devices. It involves a series of 26 drops from a height of 1.2 metres onto two-inch thick plywood over concrete.

That is still not as severe as when your phone slips from your grasp and crashes onto the street, but it is a challenge for manufacturers.

There is also some room for manoeuvre. Up to five different samples can be used over the course of the testing, meaning that each one might be dropped as few as five or six times.

Companies are also permitted to conduct their own tests. This means comparisons between claims are hard to make and it is up to the companies how they analyse the results.

Phone cases and testing

So, is a military-grade standard sticker on a phone case misleading? Does it encourage consumers to put their trust in phone cases that might not live up to the claims?

Some manufacturers do ensure that independent organisations are brought in to confirm what has been tested, and state that a case has been approved by a certified testing laboratory.

The Cranfield Impact Centre (CIC) is a UK test facility with state-of-the-art laboratories offering a range of test rigs for both static and dynamic testing.

Dr Jim Watson, Engineering Manager at CIC, points out: “You need an independent test house to say that your product has met the most relevant standards properly.
Graphic explaining how phone cases are tested during drop tests
“If you’re doing your own tests, building your own rig and so on, there’s room for interpretation. Whereas an independent test body can say what they’ve witnessed and made sure all the tests were performed correctly.”

CIC already conducts impact tests on phone cases, recently comparing how market-leading cases fared in a drop of one metre.

This showed how much the case compressed on impact and which cases offered better impact protection.

Industry recognised

Duane Cubbage, Product and Brand Manager for Australian case and screen armour brand EFM, says: “The military standard is industry recognised, so it plays a part in our overall messaging when featuring performance and standards.

“It has gained credibility through many US brands utilizing this spec as a key USP, and with EFM D3O Case Armor we need to compete at the same level or above.

“Consumers want accurate information and we back this up in all our communications to market.”

Phil Mulholland, Chief Marketing Officer for STRAX, whose brands include GEAR4, also thinks consumers are familiar with the standard.

He said: “The industry has put ‘military standard’ onto packaging and it’s become a basic requirement to have in the protection space. It’s interesting because the military standard was written in the Sixties and the latest update was in 2008.

“As a brand, we point out that we exceed the standard because we go beyond the required drop height, we go up to three metres. But for many consumers the thing that jumps out are the words ‘military standard approved’.”

Mulholland stresses that the military standard is there as a badge but instead GEAR4 focuses more on the fact that D3O has surpassed requirements in other industries.

“From sports to motorbikes, to the Ministry of Defence, to helmet liners for football and defense, these have much more stringent requirements and are standardized so there is an independent component to the testing.

“If it’ll protect your body in motorbike leathers at 100mph, it’s going to protect your phone dropping from the top of your car.”

Creating a British standard

What does the future hold when many phones now are waterproof or have some degree of shock protection or strong screens?

“A phone is still an increasingly more expensive piece of kit,” says Mulholland. “Even if it’s scratch-resistant, consumers still want to protect it to keep it looking like new.

“If you’ve bought a thin phone, you don’t want it bulked up again so the protection needs to be thin. The other trend is towards colour, and making cases more design-oriented.”

GEAR4 has its own ideas about where the standard should be heading. It is in initial discussions with NPL, the National Physics Laboratory based in Teddington, near London.

“We want to see if there’s a process towards having an open standard that can become a more relevant measure of what you’re buying in terms of protection,” explains Mulholland.

“A British standard, devised with an independent authority, would mean the end user has a clear idea of what they’re buying.”


This article was originally published in Impact Magazine.