iPhone LifeProof Case, part 1

For more and more people, our phones are not just devices with which to phone home, they are also our primary GPS, pocket camera, video recorder, notepad, music player, book reader, dictionary, translation tool, and complete mobile office. In fact, I am writing this review on my iPhone 4S.

With so much at stake, especially while traveling, protection is key. Not only are these pricey electronic gadgets averse to water and fearful of heights (i.e. made from slabs of glass), they are for the most part uninsurable.

At the Outdoor Retailer show in August I selected a few of the newest crop of rugged iPhone cases to test during our trip to the UK and Kenya. Plenty of rain in one place and dust in the other; I figured on some perfect testing conditions.

First up is the LifeProof Case ($80, Lifeproof.com). I found it highly attractive because it is not only fully waterproof to 2 meters, totally dustproof, and shockproof to 2 meters (full MIL-STD-810F-516.5 = 2 meters/6.6ft drop on all surfaces and edges), it is so streamlined it hardly changes the profile of the phone. It adds 1.5mm to each side and weighs less than an ounce (28g).

But wait there's more: the covers for the camera lenses are double AR-coated optical glass and the speaker covers are gas-permeable waterproof membranes (I believe Gore-Tex but I haven't been able to verify that while on the road).

So here are the first impressions.

- Passed the "at-home" wateproof test as specified in the instructions (to seal, sans iPhone, and submerge in water, weighted, for at least an hour)

During (above) and after (below) the dunk test. No water in the case or at the gaskets.


- The fittings snap together very tightly. Unlike the Otterbox case, they actually are very tough to put together and the company includes a long list of "must-do" actions to ensure the case is sealed properly. While fussy at first, you soon realize it's serious protection for an expensive gadget. However, after sealing in my iPhone 4S, the first thing I noticed was that the screen protector was warped and stood proud of the screen by about 1mm or more. This made it nearly impossible to use as anything but just a "hello" phone. Texting or manipulating photos (which I do a lot) was just silly—the fingers don't meet the screen and there is no contact, so nothing happens.

I searched forums and found this to be an intermitent problem, so after a call to the rep the company agreed to send a new one. This one fit very, very snugly and the screen protector very close (if not 100%) to the screen, so I found it easy to use, if not perfect. The Otterbox fits flat to the screen with no warping, but it's not 100% waterproof to 2m.

Extensive instructions and warnings accompany the LifeProof case.


- The only charger you can use is the factory Apple charger / cord. My spiffy retractable cord won't work with it, nor will it work with my Griffin iTrip.

- To use headphones you must use the adaptor (so it seals) or use Bluetooth.

After 10 days on the road taking photos, posting on Flickr (see Flickr.com/photos/conserventures), Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and here, I can say I really like this case. However, I admit to an unfair gripe. The replacement test model came in blue rather than the original (and my favorite) black. I hate blue. I just do. There's no logic. So when our friend Duncan in Scotland admired the blue case, and showed me his new black LifeProof case, I jumped at the chance to switch. Interestingly, the black case does not fit as well as that blue one, but it fits better than the first one I had. So lesson is: you might have to try multiple models to get the best fit.

So far the screen has not scratched. I have not dropped it, but I've used it in foggy spitting rain in Scotland, and it sat in a wet pocket for most of a half-day walk round a village. I noticed a little bit of fogging when we went from cold/wet to warm environments but it cleared quickly.

Next up: we're flying to Kenya, where we will fully test the LifeProof in the dusty, dry Rift Valley.