Trail Tested: The LifeProof Frē Case for iPhone5

Let me start by saying that I don’t really care for iPhone cases. I don’t like the extra bulk and weight they add to the phone, even though they are providing some much needed protection to my precious gadget. Until recently, the closest I had come to case “happiness” was with the Belkin Grip Candy Sheer case. It gave just the right amount of protection from bumps and scrapes without adding weight and bulk. The downside of the Belkin case was that it provided no protection from the two most causes of iPhone destruction – water and smashed screens.

Hands on with iPhone Cases at OR Show

Enter the LifeProof Frē case for the iPhone. While at the Outdoor Retailer Summer show last year I spent some hands on time with several different manufacturers of ruggedized iPhone cases. I wanted to be able to ask questions, feel how the phone felt in the case, and fiddle with it. I came away from OR show with a newly found respect for the LifeProof line of cases. I reached out to my contact at LifeProof and, after some arm twisting, managed to convince them to let me field test one of the new iPhone5 Frē cases.

I had been very impressed with the form factor and durability of the Frē case at OR Show and amazed by the water submersion tests (deeper than 6ft). Here was a case that provided all round protection with minimal weight (1.05oz) and little extra bulk (the thinnest all protective iPhone5 case available).

Like most people my iPhone tends to go everywhere with me. It’s become much more than just a phone and even when I’m on the trail carrying it with me switched off, it’s nice to know that (signal permitting) I have a life line back to family or emergency services if I need it. I personally don’t rely upon or use my iPhone for maps, GPS, or reference materials when hiking – I prefer to have good old pen and paper, map and compass. I do like having it for music and entertainment on cold nights and for the occasional photo taking. Regardless of the use, it needs protection from all the elements and my clumsiness.

What’s Included

The LifeProof Frē comes with the case, a microfiber cleaning cloth, two headphone jack covers, a headphone jack keeper, and a headphone extension cable/adapter. The LifeProof Frē is Water proof (IP-68) 6.6ft, Dirt and dust proof, snow proof, and shock proof (Mil Std 810F-516) for drops of up to 6.6ft.

Water Testing the Case

Every LifeProof case comes water tested, but it is recommended required that before you commit to using the Frē you put the case through a simple water proof validation test using a series of steps provided in the instructions. Step one is to do a visual inspection of the rubber O-ring. Step two is the 60-minute water test which consists of putting the case together (without the phone inside) and placing it in a bowl of water (weighed down) for at least an hour and then checking the seals for leaks. If it passes you’re good to go, if not you can return it for a replacement at no charge. As expected, mine was fine after an hour.

Phone Installation

After a successful water test you’re ready to actually put your phone inside the case and begin using it. The instructions tell you to remove any screen protectors that may already be on your phone and to thoroughly wipe and clean the phone to remove all dirt and dust before putting it in the LifeProof Frē case. A small microfiber cleaning cloth is provided for this purpose.

Inserting the phone is easy using the instructions provided and I found that the case snapped shut with a very reassuring and easily audible “click” sound. I took a minute to work my way around the outside edges of the case to make sure that the entire case was snapped tight. The final step was to insert the headphone jack cover and ensure that the charging port door was tightly closed. Done!

Operation Buttons

At first I was a little concerned about the slightly bigger feel of the phone, but I quickly go over it. The sense of security and ruggedness that the LifeProof Frē provides is very reassuring and the subtle textured grip of the case was a vast improvement on the slickness of the bare iPhone.

I noticed no lag or lack of responsiveness using the screen that was now covered by the case and after a very short amount of time became oblivious to the fact that it was there. The left side operation buttons work perfectly and the two bumpers that mark the ends of the buttons are a great way to feel where you fingers are without the need to look.

Charging Port Door

The hinged charge port door is most likely the single most venerable point of failure on the Fre case. It snaps shut with a firm click, and has never come open on me accidentally after months of use. On the inside of the port door is a small rubber/gel lining that sits up against the edge of the case to create a water tight seal. It’s very well designed to be honest.

Headphone Jack Cover Screw

Just about the only thing I’m not a fan of on the LifeProof Frē case is the headphone jack cover plug or proprietary headphone jack extension cable. It’s not a flaw or weakness in the design, just an inconvenience to use, but a necessary trade-off. I’ve discovered that the standard iPhone5 EarPods headphone jack will fit into the threaded Frē opening without the extender cable, but none of the other headphones that I have (Skull Candy, Yurbuds, original iPhone) will fit. The headphone extension cable will allow any headphones to be used, but does get a bit annoying sticking out of the bottom of the case.

Conclusion

Despite my hesitation to use an all protective iPhone case, the LifeProof Frē has surpassed my expectations. I’ve been using the Frē case for over nine months without any issues. I’ve dropped my phone on hard surfaces, accidentally submerged it in creeks and streams, and had it fall into numerous puddle of mud. Thankfully the Frē case has protected my iPhone it flawlessly the entire time. In addition to the Frē case for iPhone5, LifeProof makes all protective cases for iPhone5S, iPhone5C, iPhone4, iPhone4S, iPad Mini, iPad Gen2/3/4, iPod Gen 4/5, and Samsung Galaxy S3/S4.

LifeProof Frē Flickr Photoset

Disclosure: LifeProof provided Brian’s Backpacking Blog with a complementary LifeProof Frē iPhone5 case for testing and product feedback.

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  • Jo

    Thanks for the detailed review. Did you note any difference in photo quality when taken with the case on?

    • Jo, that was actually one of my biggest concerns, but I haven’t noticed any issues. In fact you can look back through the past nine months of my Instagram photos and see just how good the camera has been. In short – no issues with the case impacting the quality of the camera/lens at all that I can perceive. Hope this helps!