LifeProof Frē Review: Super-Slim Waterproof Case for iPhone 5, 5s, 5c

I’ve been failing to capture some of life’s best adventures because I’m scared that I’ll drop my iPhone 5 in the river or lake. It’s worse, though: I’ve missed some great video of snow and thunderstorms because I was worried that I would catch a big snowflake or raindrop on the Lightning port and zap my iPhone dead.

Enter the LifeProof frē waterproof case series for iPhones.

Available for the iPhone 5, iPhone 5s, and iPhone 5c, the LifeProof frē is a thin waterproof, dustproof case that lets you use your iPhone in extreme conditions. It is fully submersible down to 6.6 feet and boasts ingress protection rated to IP-68. Plus, it’s shock proof to Military Standard 810F-516 to withstand drops from 6.6 feet.

How the LifeProof Frē Works

The LifeProof fre for iPhone series comes in ten color options, including camo.

The case is deceptively simple and lightweight. It comes in two halves that snap together. The bottom half has a camera-grade glass lens to cover the iPhone’s camera, while the clear flash cover is made out of some sort of thin stretchy clear material. Around the outer edge of the bottom half, a yellow rubber gasket lets you visually check it for debris before you snap your case together and seal up your iPhone.

Note: Make sure you pay attention to this gasket. I found a couple of tiny pieces of cardboard or similar material on the unit LifeProof sent me to review, but I was able to blow them off easily enough. The point is, if you get a bit of dirt or sand on the gasket, you can defeat the seal. (All gaskets face this risk.)

Meanwhile, the front is covered by a thin sheet of plastic, which also covers the front facing cameras, sensors, and speaker for your ear. A super fine mesh appears to cover the bottom speaker ports, and a screw-in plug seals up the headphone port, which can be used underwater with a screw-in extension. The side buttons are covered by a pleasant grippy rubber.

And the Lightning port? A hinged cover with a foam seal snaps closed over the port, giving you fast access for charging or syncing.

What about the Touch ID fingerprint feature on the iPhone 5s? The frē case for the 5s uses a thin polymer film over the home button to let Touch ID function correctly.

Look and Feel

The case seems flimsy when you first unpack it, but it snaps together with a strong, positive feel and becomes rigid. At first, I must admit, I had my doubts, primarily due to the thin plastic screen protector. It feels and functions far better than I expected — slick and nice, actually, but there is a bit of a gap between your screen and the protector. I didn’t have any trouble using my iPhone, though. The biggest issue that bothered me was that the case introduces a mushy feel to the home button — you lose the standard, naked crispness of the button without a case. Call it one of the costs of waterproofing.

The sound is muffled a bit, but frankly, it’s not bad. For a sealed unit, I had no trouble hearing callers and they reported that I sounded normal. Audio playback and the speakerphone is workable but not as good as you’ll get from a naked iPhone. Again, if you want this case, you want it for waterproofness, not acoustics.

The overall aim of this case is to provide you with a waterproof case that’s extremely light. It comes in a variety of colors including a Realtree Camo option. (Nice. Very nice.)

Underwater Action

Before you first use the LifeProof frē, the instruction manual tells you to test the waterproofness yourself with a half-hour submersion before you use it with your iPhone. While each case is tested before it hits the retail channel, such a test is only prudent. Mine passed.

For any sort of potentially wet activity, I trust the frē to keep my iPhone protected from any quick exposure to water, mud, or margaritas. The case is slim and remains pocketable, so it’s possible to use it all the time.

What about swimming with it? With some hesitation, I took the frē for a dip in a swimming pool and got some video footage of friends and family swimming and diving underwater. Great stuff. I can’t say that I wasn’t worried, though. What if the cased leaked? Would I lose my iPhone? Unfortunately, LifeProof only guarantees the case from defects, not the contents: The company won’t replace your iPhone if the case leaks. In fact, I don’t know of any case manufacturer that will do that. So there’s a high level of trust needed before you go snorkeling with your iPhone. Just saying.

That said, the handy Lightning port door is the piece that gave me the most pause. While it snaps into place and feels solid, I could imagine a swimming finger, toe, or swimsuit catching on it and pulling it open, especially if you roughhouse when you swim.

After I started using the LifeProof case, I noticed several of the cases in use out and about. A good outdoor, adventurous buddy had one — as did his wife — and he loved the case. Made him feel a lot more confident around kids and water. But did he actually swim with it? Nope. If you want to swim with your iPhone on a regular — and deeper water — basis, you might want to skip a waterproof case and instead invest those funds in a real waterproof digital camera.

Accessories for the LifeProof frē

LifeProof, it turns out, is really into making it easy for you to use your iPhone everywhere, and to prove it, the company has created a series of accessories that fit the LifeProof frē case, including an armband, a bright orange floating life jacket, a suction cup car mount, and a bike and bar mount. All great accessories for active people.

If your priority is light and slim with wet protection — and you want a case-friendly accessory — the LifeProof frē is a great option.

lifeproof car mount

Car Mount

lifeproof-life-jacket

LifeJacket

lifeproof-bike-bar-mount

Bike & Bar Mount

lifeproof-armband

Armband

 

 

 

 

 

Check out current LifeProof frē prices on Amazon:

About the author

Chris Maxcer

Twitter Website

I've been writing about the tech industry since the birth of the email newsletter, and I still remember the clacking Mac keyboards from high school -- Apple's seed-planting strategy at work. I'm a big fan of elegant gear and sublime tech, but there's something to be said for turning it all off -- or most of it -- to go outside. Online I like to call out cool stuff on Wicked Cool Bite, share Apple-focused opinions on TechNewsWorld, and blog with my buddies at Man Makes Fire. For something different, check out If They Mistake the Moon for the Sun. To catch me, take a "firstnamelastname" guess at the url of this site.