Review: Lifeproof Fre for iPhone 5


It took me all of two days to dump the new Lifeproof case for the iPhone 5. After a birthday dinner on Saturday, I picked up the white model from Best Buy noticing that they've been selling out regularly since their release a few weeks back. After three phone conversations I decided enough was enough. I'm back to using my ugly Speck Candy Shell.

Before I dive too deep into the review, you should know that I don't really like cases. An iPhone with no case is indeed the perfect phone. But the more active I am, and the harder I work (and play), the more dinged up the phone gets. After getting a new phone I like to keep a case on it for a few months at the very least.

I tried out the Lifeproof for the iPhone 4 a while back, and kept away because of the bulkiness and the screw-off headphone jack cover. With the new size of the iPhone 5 most cases are much more comfortable, and the Lifeproof is no exception. It feels well made and doesn't add too much girth to the phone itself. According to the specs, it weighs the same as the old model but is slightly longer and thinner. 

The first thing I noticed after putting the case on is the integrated screen protector; it is slightly elevated off of the phones surface near the top due to the seals around the ear piece. The effect is missed touches quiet often. This gets old very quick, especially if you hit the status bar often to scroll to the top of long lists, a trick I use regularly. 

The prospect of having a waterproof iPhone is exciting. Thinking about going skiing, to the beach or the pool with an iPhone is a non-starter; but adding a Lifeproof you can take it just about anywhere. It protects from dust and sand and it's water proof and drop resistant up to 2 meters (6.6 ft).

 The Apple Logo Window

The Apple Logo Window

Unfortunately, those rare situations aren't enough to dismiss the one thing the case does very very wrong: sound. The speaker turns into a vibrating tin canny sound. It's aggravating and is caused, from what I can tell, by the solely cosmetic addition of the Apple logo window on the back. This means no more speaker phone. Talking on the phone oftentimes results in a fractured phone conversation with many "what"'s and "are you still there"'s. I'm not sure if the folks at Lifeproof even tested the phone functionality before shipping these. About once a minute, an interference loop-back starts up. It sounds like a fast heartbeat in your ear.

And the worst part of all is that they completely ignored the microphone on the back of the phone, near the camera. It's a new addition and is used for stereo sound in videos and noise canceling during phone conversations, one of my favorite features. This little microphone was the straw that broke the camels back for me.

After less than 48 hours I've taken the Lifeproof Fre back. While I suppose many people no longer use their iPhones as phones, I still do and will need to continue to for the foreseeable future. I definitely don't recommend this case for anyone, especially if you still need to make calls as well.

Update 1/04/2013

Lifeproof has sent me a case, free of charge, to try out. They've made some changes to the design to better accommodate phone conversations. In my limited testing, it seems they have resolved the loop-back interference problem and the people I talk on the phone with are reporting better sound quality; no more "are you still there"'s. Unfortunately the rear microphone is still covered, meaning no noise cancelling. 

Being that my iPhone can be used as a phone again, I can safely recommend this case to anyone who is looking for a waterproof sports case, but it's still not an everyday carry for me, leading me to wonder why they named it Lifeproof. The recessed headphone jack and raised screen protector make carrying my phone in a Lifeproof day in and day out a challenge.

Update 4/11/2013

I recently picked up a Mophie Helium and it's been great. Close to double the battery life and very well designed. I suggest taking a look if you need a little more juice and don't mind the added girth.