This past summer, editor-in-chief John Burnham handed a LifeProof case to one of his sailboat racing crew, bowman Peter Schott, and asked him to put it through its paces on his iPhone. In case you don't know what a bowman does, the name itself tells you the area of operations but does not suggest how much spray, solid water, and physical abuse often comes with the job. So Peter was a good review candidate. Meanwhile I had been using a LifeProof case on my iPhone, too. I was interested in knowing how the case would work for shallow underwater photography, and how it would hold up during spring-summer fix-it season on board, when I tend to bang up my body and my cell phones with equal disregard.
The LifeProof case is designed to meet MILSPEC standard 810F-56, requiring that it withstand "relatively infrequent, non-repetitive shocks," and IEL 60529, a standard for waterproofing that requires immersion integrity for 30 minutes at two meters of depth. The company water-tests every case before it goes out. The design is deceptively simple-looking and streamlined: The back and front halves snap together with an O-ring in a channel between; there's an integral sealed screen protector on the front, a swing-down hatch for the charger/data cord that presses up against a gasket pad when closed, and a screw-in plug with O-ring for the earphone jack. An adapter is supplied, with a standard jack on one end and a screw-in fitting on the other. Volume buttons and silencing switch are simply encased in pliable rubber composite. What's less obvious are the ways the designers provided for audio in the phone receiver (very clear) and speakers (somewhat muted), and the camera aperture coverings.
Here's a collection of impressions from Peter and me:
PS: Protection has been easy to get, but at the cost of limited operation or objectionable bulkiness. I found the case to be very slender. It added just minimal bulk and weight while allowing all of the functions of the phone to be utilized. Listening is adequate from the phone's internal speaker or the use of a screw-in adapter that allows for earbuds or earphones to hook up while maintaining the watertight integrity of the case.
DL: If I listened to a lot of music through headsets I'd get used to the adapter, but I still wouldn't like it. I leave mine plugged onto the house stereo output jack so that I can play iTunes and Pandora. Otherwise I just listen through the phone speaker. Hint: for better volume, open the charger cord hatch. (And everybody knows about setting the iPhone in a bowl or a mug for extra volume, right?) I agree about how non-bulky the whole thing is, and I'm impressed at how effective the screen cover is at transmitting finger gestures. It takes a very slight increase in pressure, but seems perfectly accurate.
PS: All LifeProof cases are leak-tested prior to shipping. I tested mine submerged in the sink for a very anxious hour, and it stayed bone dry.
DL: I've been using my iPhone as my main camera for years, but I take a lot of underwater shots too, and it was a pain to carry around a separate underwater camera and charger. I tried the LifeProof case at two meters, brought it up, dried it off, and looked for water intrusion. No problem. Took it down to three meters, then four meters, repeating the process. No problem, and that's good enough for me. One concern, though, is that if you take the case off and put it on multiple times you're likely to create a flaw in the seal. So I'm planning to leave it on for good.
PS: Sail or power, for those of us who need to operate boats out in the open for work or pleasure, using a phone is a huge stress. For most, the two greatest concerns about having an iPhone aboard are getting it wet and, worse, having it plunge to Davy Jones's Locker. Those accidents do happen, and a waterproof case is useless if you mishandle your phone and it slips off into the abyss. To overcome the iPhone's lack of buoyancy, LifeProof is now making a LifeJacket float that provides ample flotation and extra shock protection for the phone/case. It's a large foam outer cover that surrounds the case yet still allows for the full function of the phone. It's bright orange, so it should be easy to spot in the water. An extra long lanyard allows you to secure it and still have enough freedom to use the device.
DL: This would be great for personal watercraft people, kayakers, canoeists, maybe even paddleboarders. Makes it harder to get away from it all, though.
PS: All in all, I give the LifeProof case two thumbs up. First and foremost is the protection it provides for harsh environments, and second the ease of operation with minimal additional bulk and weight to your iPhone.
DL: Definitely, two thumbs up. Even at a relatively expensive price ($79.99 on the LifeProof website for the iPhone 4/4S case; lower prices on Amazon and elsewhere) compared to other iPhone covers, these things are really well built and provide good insurance for the kind of activities we're involved in -- among these, in my case, dropping cell phones into bilges.
(Note: LifeProof also sells cases for the iPad and iPod Touch, along with other accessories, and is about to release cases for the iPhone 5 and Samsung Galaxy S3. Read our review of the LifeProof iPad case.)
- Doug Logan