Lifeproof Case: No Proof of Life

We’re overdue for a good old fashioned product review.  This one’s a Part II after a few solid years of use, and a little abuse.

Lifeproof is a well known and very popular manufacturer of water and shock resistant cases for phones and tablets.  They make sleek, form fitting products that are exactly customized to specific devices, and are generally well thought out to give full functionality so that the device can just stay in the case.

The Lifeproof “Life Jacket” and iPhone case for the 5 series, with a suitably rugged backdrop.

I’ve used their cases for iPhone 4 and 5 series phones.  I was stoked about them at first, until they seemed to wear out prematurely.  I’ll go on record right now as saying that I’m rough on gear.  So, when I had trouble with my iPhone 4 case wearing away and falling apart, I thought it was me, but I put in a warranty claim anyway, and, BAM.  New case for free.  Good customer service!

The only problem is that it kept happening.  First, the 4, and then with the 5.  On our last Instructional Sailing Vacation trip in the Virgin Islands, one of the new cases leaked while snorkeling and almost ruined my phone.  I saved it with fresh water and then electrical contact cleaner, but it malfunctioned for a week and caused me some trouble with calls.  (Yes, I did a proper water integrity test before putting the phone in.  And, yes – I got some really kewl video footage of marine life for you that’s on our Instagram.)

As well as the wearing-away issue and the leak, the buttons that control the volume on/off switch, and the microphone port sealing screw, failed on two different replacement cases.

The case comes with a mic/headset adaptor that seals the phone when using either.  That protects the phone if the connection gets wet, and only the mic/headset is at risk.  However, they never worked properly with any kind of headset.

In my humble opinion, my issues boil down to two things:

  1. Lifeproof made an accessory called the Life Jacket for the 4 and 5 series phones.  It’s a bulky foam-rubber case that floats the device and also provides way more shock resistance.  It actually blocks wind noise for phones, too.  Unfortunately, the Life Jacket is very hard to get on and off the case, and wears it down quickly.  Must be done, as there’s no way to charge the phone with the Life Jacket on.  (Never got around to trying some Exacto-knife surgical modifications.)
  2. Durability issue with original cases, compounded by poor quality control in manufacturing of replacements.  New cases had halves that didn’t line up well, were warped, broke easily without using the Life Jacket, and in one case arrived with a loose broken part that had nothing to do with packing and shipping.

Sure, the company gladly kept sending replacements, and they made an easy process easier.  (I had to wonder if that reflected growing problems with quality and higher return rates.)  However, when I got fed up and asked more questions about where they were made, and whether I could expect better quality replacements for later models (6 and 7 series phones), I got a meaningless first response and no answer to a follow up.

So, I’m stuck with kewl Life Jacket accessories and broken cases.

There’s growing competition for this style of drop & drink resistant case for mobile devices.  One manufacturer, who has been around for decades making similar products, is Pelican.  They now make an iPhone case for the iPhone 6 and 6plus series phones that looks very similar to the Lifeproof products.  I might have to give them a try despite the lack of Life Jacket and figure out a workaround.

At least one if not several companies make dedicated snorkeling cases for the iPhone as well.  One is the TAT7 iPhone Scuba Case.  It’s a simple, clear case that has three dedicated buttons: home screen, camera app, and shutter.  It’s rated for depths up to 100 feet.  Once the phone is in, all one can do is shoot and stop (and toggle between pic and video, apparently). It has a built in wrist strap, which the Pelican doesn’t appear to.  Looks worthy of consideration.  (Couldn’t find a dedicated web site so that might be a slight red flag, but they are in product reviews and on Amazon.)

Anyway, here are links to Lifeproof and Pelican so you can do your own research and make your own decisions…

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