Don't get stuck 60 feet underwater on your next Caribbean dive with a smartphone in your back pocket, expecting to retrieve it for the parrot-fish money shot.
It'll only lead to disappointment.
Underwater, or rugged terrain, calls for a camera like Nikon's Coolpix AW110, an otherwise basic 16-megapixel camera with 5x optical zoom lens that's heavily fortified for outdoor use. It's waterproof to 59 feet, shockproof to 61/2.5 feet and withstands temperatures to 14 degrees.
Because I didn't want to abuse the AW110 — it was, after all, on loan from Nikon — I only submerged the camera and took pictures from depths of 6 inches (in a sink), dropped the camera from 6 feet (onto a rug) and placed it next to a frozen cold pack (in a lunch container). And, yes, it survived all three tests.
The AW110 updates its predecessor, the AW100, with added ruggedness, a higher-resolution (614,000-dot) three-inch OLED screen and Wi-Fi. Like so many electronic devices, the AW110 is difficult to use without a manual. Nikon, like many electronics manufacturers, doesn't supply one, either, only a quick-start guide. The 252-page downloadable monster is available on disc or online.
Only with the manual's aid could I figure out, for example, how to use the Wi-Fi feature to either transfer photos and videos to a mobile device or use the Wireless Mobile Utility app as a remote viewfinder. The secret: Wi-Fi mode, accessible through the on-screen menu, is available only when the user has installed a memory card. (It won't work with the camera's meager 21-megabyte built-in memory.) The remote viewfinder wasn't too helpful, limited to snapping a picture and adjusting the zoom.
On the ski slopes or underwater, the AW110's tap control allows button-free navigation through menu options like image settings or 1080p video recording. Activation requires a tap of a button, however, on the camera's left side panel, as does selecting a particular option.
The AW110 wouldn’t be an extreme-conditions camera, either, without GPS, electronic compass and altimeter. It’s still a mostly plastic, $349 camera, but who among us can withstand a beating like the AW110?
Justin Power Case
The faux-leather case is almost a throw-in when you buy a Justin Power Case from Innovative Technology, a $70 charger-protector for iPad generations 2 and later. It's the battery that counts. The Justin Case's 11,600mAh cell provides 2.1 amps, enough power for two full charges of the original iPad and the second-generation iPad, says the company. The third- and fourth-generation iPad, which use 2.4-amp electrical chargers, take longer: Expect no more than one full charge.
The Justin Case is a slow worker. In my tests to see how a fully charged case would perform, it took two hours to charge an iPhone 4S and even longer to charge (to 93 percent) a second-generation iPad before dying. It was even slower when replenishing its own charge: figure about 14 hours. A long-decommissioned electric toothbrush is the only device I've seen with slower recharging.
The battery packed in the front part of the case, which folds onto the iPad screen, has a micro-USB and a USB port, so it can charge more than an iPad. Innovative Technology says it will charge iPhones, Samsung smartphones, BlackBerry devices and Kindles seven times each.
A push button on the case's inside flap activates the charger, with four LEDs indicating the power levels. The Justin Case has a kickstand for displaying the iPad horizontally, and a flap secures the closed case. The iPad looks oddly asymmetrical when tucked into the case, with most of the bezel on the screen's left side obscured.
Perhaps because the Justin Case can be used with so many devices, Innovative Technology requires user-supplied cables for charging. That's OK for basic charging, but using the iPad during charging left me wishing for a much shorter USB-to-30-pin-connector cable like the one shown on the Justin Case packaging.
I've seen only one price/power competitor for the Justin Case, the New Trent NT1400 iZen Folio Case (newtrent.com) with a removable 14,000mAh lithium-ion battery in a real leather case. It lists for $80 but is available at Amazon.com for $70.
Either case will protect your iPad and maybe even extend your time on the beach this summer.