Waterproof Phone Cases | Cruising World

Waterproof Phone Cases

Testing six great waterproof phone cases for sailors and boaters.

With model names like Preserver, Bravo, SLXtreme5 and Hydra, waterproof phone cases hold great promise for anyone who uses a smartphone on the water. It’s cool to use, unless it gets wet. We have seen several popular cases leak for undetermined reasons that are normally attributed to user error. Still, we think they are a good insurance policy against accidental impacts or dunking, but in our opinion, cases still don’t make your phone a good water toy.

How We Tested Operations

You could put your phone in a vault, but you couldn’t make a call. We looked for operating issues when the phone was in the protective case. One case we tested actually reduced signal reception, also resulting in reduced battery life.
3 points: No restriction of functions
2 points: Some restriction of functions
1 point: Functions critically handicapped when sealed

Ease of Installation
Let’s face it: Reading directions is not our forte. And some of these phone cases had some onerous details to cover. You’ll have to judge whether the benefit is worth the risk, but here’s how we scored them.
3 points: Easy intuitive install
2 points: Barely intuitive install
1 point: Engineering degree needed to install

Volume
Waterproof cases are notorious for muffling sound. We took A-weighted decibel readings of a voicemail message placing the Radio Shack decibel meter directly against the earpiece. Then we used the speaker phone and held the decibel meter 4 inches away. We repeated the tests with the phone in each case and logged the difference. Note: Decibels are logarithmic expressions. Two dbA are twice as loud as 1 dbA; 4 dbA are 16 times as loud.

Earpiece Scores
3 points: Under 10 dbA lost
2 points: 10 to 15 dbA lost
1 point: 16 or more dbA lost

Speaker Phone Scores
3 points: Under 10 dbA lost
2 points: 11 to 15 dbA lost
1 point: 16 or more dbA lost

Skid Test
Nobody likes to lunge for a sliding phone. We’d like some nonskid surface to help keep it in place. We put our phones in cases on an 18-inch acrylic panel and inclined them until they slid down.
3 points: More than 6-inch incline
2 points: 4- to 6-inch incline
1 point: 1- to 3-inch incline

Waterproof Test
We crushed Alka-Seltzer to make a “fizz bomb” and dumped a tablespoon of the powder into our cases before dunking them into our tank 36 inches deep for 30 minutes. None fizzed! Each got three points.

Survivor Catalyst - iPhone 5
Included: Wrist lanyard, waterproof headphone jack
$69.99; griffintechnology.com

Operations: 3/3
Ease of Installation: 3/3
Earpiece: 2/3
Speaker Phone: 3/3
Skid Factor: 1/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
The clear polycarbonate case allows inspection of the O-ring seals and watertight status.
This was the easiest to install and gave full function to all devices.
Twist-cam mute switch is easy to use.

Lows
Polycarbonate is more brittle than other cases are but compensates with inner cushioning.
Membrane, not glass, covers the flash.

Specs
Weight: 1.79 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP68 (9.8 feet)
Impact rating: 6.6 feet
Installation cycles: Unlimited

Ballistic Hydra - iPhone 5
$79.99; goballisticcase.com

Operations: 2/3
Ease of Installation: 3/3
Earpiece: 2/3
Speaker Phone: 2/3
Skid Factor: 3/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Light and compact
A simple task to install the rugged three-piece case
Earphone bung attached
Good slip resistance
Compact, low profile

Lows
Reduced function of ring/mute button
Noticeable but minor reduction in screen sensitivity

Specs
Weight: 1.90 ounces
Waterproof rating: Unrated (manufacturer claims 6.6 feet)
Impact rating: Unrated/6.6 feet
Installation cycles: Not specified

Otterbox Preserver - iPhone 5s
Included: Wrist lanyard
$89.95; otterbox.com

Operations: 2/3
Ease of Installation: 3/3
Earpiece: 3/3
Speaker Phone: 3/3
Skid Factor: 3/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Case closes with positive snapping seals so there’s no question of a seal.
Charger port and earphone port covers are hinged to avoid loss.
Practically no volume loss and skid-resistant face are big positives.

Lows
Fingerprint window is occluded, but we improved recognition by rescanning with the case on.
We had no luck getting the mute button to function — a common gripe on forums.
The case back was slippery, losing grip on the 3-inch inclined acrylic panel we used as a test ramp.

Specs Weight: 1.94 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP-68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: 6.6 feet
Installation cycles: Not specified

Tigra Bravo Aluminum Case - iPhone 5 (iPhone 4, 4s also available)
Included: Waterproof headphone jack, spare cap and screws, assembly tools
$129.99; tigersport.com

Operations: 1/3
Ease of Installation: 1/3
Earpiece: **3/3
**Speaker Phone:
1/3
Skid Factor: 1/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Best screen contact and touch functions of any case; cool Humvee look.
Unlimited installation cycles.

Lows
The aluminum frame interfered with reception, lowering three bars to one and reducing battery life; Humvee heavy.
Installation is tedious.
The earphone bung has no keeper.
It’s slippery on hard surfaces.

Specs
Weight: 3.17 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: Unspecified (6.6 feet)
Installation cycles: Unlimited

Lifeproof Fre - iPhone 5s (4, 4s, Galaxy S3, S4)
Included: Waterproof headphone jack
$79.99; lifeproof.com

Operations: 3/3
Ease of Installation: 2/3
Earpiece: 1/3
Speaker Phone: 3/3
Skid Factor: 2/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Good fingerprint recognition
Concave faceplate gives good touch-screen sensitivity and full functionality.
Tethered earphone bung stays with the case.
Lightweight, slim, low-profile.

Lows
Optical glass covers the camera, but a vulnerable membrane covers the flash.
It earns the lowest score for earpiece transmission, blocking 20 db of volume.

Specs
Weight: 1.05 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: Mil-Std 810G-516.5 (4 feet, 26 times)
Installation cycles: Not specified

Snow Lizard SLXtreme 5 - iPhone 5 (iPhone 4, 4s also available)
Included: Lanyard, waterproof headphone jack, mini-USB charger cord
$149.99; snowlizard.com

Operations: 2/3
Ease of Installation: 3/3
Earpiece: 3/3
Speaker Phone: 2/3
Skid Factor: 3/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Adds 16 hours of battery time, plus solar panel can add five minutes of talk time per hour of full-sun exposure.
Screen contact was good; installation is so easy: It opens like a Zippo to receive the phone, so use it only when you want.

Lows
I lost the untethered earphone bung.
Mute button is inaccessible.
Case is bulky, but added battery time makes it worthwhile.

Specs
Weight: 6.80 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: Mil-Std 810G-516.5 (4 feet, 26 times)
Installation cycles: Unlimited

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