Rugged smartphone surrounded by rocks

If you’re looking for a rugged case for your phone or tablet, you’ve probably seen the terms MIL-SPEC or MIL-STD. But what do they mean? It’s a simple standard, but its appearance on product packaging is a complex topic.

What Does MIL-SPEC Mean?

These terms may seem fancy, but in reality, they’re fairly plain. All MIL-SPEC and MIL-STD mean is that a given product has been designed to live up to a specification coming from a lengthy document detailing the MIL-STD-810G standard.

How lengthy are we talking? The document is over 800 pages and details many tests covering everything from solar radiation to “acidic atmosphere.” When it comes to protection for our phones and tablets, though, the main thing we care about is Method 516.6 Procedure IV detailed in the standard. This covers drop testing.

If you see MIL-STD-810G or MIL-SPEC listed on an iPad case, for example, you’ll know this is talking specifically about drop testing.

MIL-STD-810G is the latest version of the document, updated in 2012. Before this, manufacturers tested against the MIL-STD-810F standard. If you see this in a modern phone, tablet, or case, you should probably avoid it as it is tested against a standard that has been outdated for roughly 10 years.

MIL-STD Testing Explained

MIL-STD testing has very little to do with any sort of military. As we mentioned above, this comes from a publicly available document that outlines testing procedures.

This doesn’t mean that when you see MIL-STD-810G mentioned on a rugged phone or case that any military body has tested the device. It doesn’t even mean that the testing used any standardized equipment. All it means is that a manufacturer designed a product to theoretically stand up to this sort of testing.

For many manufacturers, it also means that they test their products following a method similar to the one outlined in the MIL-STD-810G standard. This doesn’t mean that any product that a manufacturer tests this way will actually stand up to heavy use.

As a matter of fact, seeing the MIL-STD-810G badge doesn’t even necessarily mean that a manufacturer tested a product at all. The only thing it means is that the manufacturer intended for a product to survive those tests. There is no organization actually testing products to verify these claims.

What Does MIL-STD-810G Testing Involve?

Method 516.6 Procedure IV of the MIL-STD-810G standard is specific about how a manufacturer should test a given product. Specifically, the test outlines a test procedure of 26 drops, ensuring that testers dropped the product onto each face, each edge, and each corner.

The test goes further, outlining the type of surface that should be used for a drop test. Specifically, the drop test surface should consist of two-inch-thick plywood over a concrete base.

Again, no government agency or military body actually goes around regulating how manufacturers approach these tests. All you’ve got to go on is the manufacturer’s word.

Can You Trust Manufacturers’ Word on Testing?

Urban Armor Gear Monarch iPhone case
Urban Armor Gear

Since there is no governing body testing phones, tablets, cases, or other devices to make sure they actually live up to the MIL-STD-810G drop test standard, you only have the data from the manufacturer to go on. But how trustworthy are they?

This is going to vary from manufacturer to manufacturer, but there are two things to focus on. First, how much information do they offer about their testing procedures? Second, what type of warranty do they offer?

Some manufacturers are more forthcoming than others when it comes to how they test. For example, UAG has this to say about its testing procedures:

UAG cases specifically have been certified Military Grade through NEBS Certified Testing Laboratory. To achieve this certification, a device must be dropped 26 times from a height of 48 inches, on each face, corner, and back. The device must function properly after the test while not sustaining any damage to the screen.

Note that the company doesn’t specify the type of surface used in the drop test. That said, this is still a good deal more information than other manufacturers offer.

Finally, note that the warranty offered by phone and tablet case manufacturers covers only the case. If the case fails and your phone or tablet suffers damage as a result, you’re out of luck.

RELATED: Should You Buy Extended Warranties?

What About IP Ratings?

On many rugged phones and tablets, you’ll see IP ratings like IP57 or IP68, for example. Here, IP stands for “Ingress Protection,” and these standards are designed by the International Electrotechnical Commission. This has absolutely nothing to do with MIL-SPEC or MIL-STD testing.

The toughest devices are going to see countless tough conditions, so it only makes sense that manufacturers would test against different standards. That said, the MIL-STD-810G drop test used by device and case manufacturers has nothing to do with waterproofing.

Then again, just because your device has an IP rating, that doesn’t mean it’s actually waterproof.

Profile Photo for Kris Wouk Kris Wouk
Kris Wouk is a freelance tech writer and musician with over 10 years of experience as a writer and a lifetime of experience as a gadget fan. He has also written for Digital Trends, MakeUseOf, Android Authority, and Sound Guys. At MakeUseOf, he was Section Editor in charge of the site's Mac coverage.
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