A Second Opinion on the LifeProof Case

At the start of the year, Dan reviewed the LifeProof iPhone case. He loved it. I have had one for a few months, and on paper it is the ideal case for me. But I don’t have the unconditional love for it that Dan did. So will the pros outweigh the cons? Read on for my take, though if you haven’t yet read Dan’s review i suggest you head there for a quick overview of the fundamentals of the case first.

As I said, on paper this is the case for me. I run, in all-weather conditions, so having my phone protected from water is a plus. I am also accident-prone. My coworkers from Borders teased me mercilessly about the time I attempted a behind the back toss of an item and knocked myself over. The first time I fell while out running, I called my mom to complain about my skinned knees…instead of sympathy, she asked if falling was a common risk or just because it was me. Two weeks ago I walked into a glass wall. Encapsulating my fragile smartphone doesn’t seem like such a crazy idea!

But there are drawbacks to that kind of protection. For one, the screen protector drives me nuts. It isn’t so bad by itself, but if I handle a non-LifeProof’d iPhone and then go back to mine, I definitely feel the difference. It takes more force to activate the screen, and it makes it slightly harder to interact with certain games. Also, the glare from it is bad. It is so glossy, in fact, that Sarah made me angle my phone differently the other day because the screen protector was making the bedside light glare into her eyes. I also had some difficulty accessing the screen in direct sunlight.

Second, to make the case really waterproof you need to keep the headphone jack sealed. There’s a handy screw-in adaptor so you can still listen to music, but you need to keep track of where you leave the headphone plug, a tiny piece of plastic. It is hard to say how they could have waterproofed the headphone jack without a screw in plug, but it’s a huge pain if you use the headphone jack regularly, like I do for Pandora on my commute. LifeProof sells replacement plugs, but I really wish there were a way to have a pop open door like the dock connector instead of a separate, tiny piece of plastic.

Third, and this is partially only an issue because I am already nitpicking, the dock connector space is really tight. It only fits an Apple-sized one, so my 3rd party chargers (like my car charger) don’t work. I could go out and buy an official Apple car charger, or find another one with a smaller plug, but the one I have functions fine, it just doesn’t fit the LifeProof case. It isn’t a big deal, and if I were head over heels for this case I would justify the expense of buying a new charger. I just haven’t brought myself to do it yet. It isn’t a problem on a regular day, but I found myself managing my power consumption very carefully on my road trip to Maine this weekend, so I didn’t accidentally run out of juice along the drive. This actually became a big issue on my drive back-I had to head home earlier than I thought, and my phone wasn’t at 100%. It’s a 6+ hour drive, and I sweated bullets about having enough juice. I did come up with a solution that didn’t involve removing the case (more on that below) and that’s a good thing, as removing the case leads to my last concern.

Apparently, in order to maintain the waterproof nature of the case, it needs to be removed sparingly. Essentially, the LifeProof folks recommend you snap it on/off no more than 50ish times. After that the seal can become weak. This is a problem if you have a wandering eye for cases (as I sometimes do). Once the LifeProof is on, it’s designed to stay on for a while. So I can’t take a break from the case, or only use it on bad weather days, without running the risk of ruining the seal. It is (effectively) all or nothing.

(Top to bottom: LifeProof, Phantom, Otterbox)

I know I started off with the negatives on this case, so let’s look at the positives. Rugged case usually means thick and bulky, and the LifeProof is definitely skinny by comparison. To use a body image comparison, a traditional Otterbox/Survivor/Phantom case is like the bouncer at a club, while the LifeProof is more like a Crossfit enthusiast. Both are tough, but one is more brawny and the other more of a mix of specialties. On a purely aesthetic level, I love the LifeProof. I think the style and feel are amazing, and I love the texture mix of rubber and plastic. When my iPhone is in the LifeProof I know it is safe.

The waterproofing appears to work well (I tested it before I put my phone in for the first time), and it definitely has its advantages. There’s the obvious reason, which is that I don’t fear sweat or rain ruining my phone, but I love that if my phone gets dirty I can just give it a good rinse. There’s something so awesome yet taboo about running an iPhone under water to clean it! Also, if you do it in the office bathroom it definitely confuses and surprises your coworkers! All joking aside, it is helpful for cooking and cleaning projects where I need step by step instructions on my phone. I can touch the screen, interact, get flour and food on it, and just rinse it clean without worry.

The big question is, do the pros outweigh the cons? It’s something I struggled with a lot in writing this review. I have started, deleted, and come back to it a number of times. I feel as though I should LOVE this case, but every time I feel like it has “clicked”, something strikes me as annoying again. I tried talking this out with a friend of mine who uses an Otterbox Defender, and she made an important point: How often did water/dust/impact, etc., really happen, and how much of the LifeProof was overkill given my soft suburban life? She fully admitted her Otterbox was big, sometimes too big, but she was looking for that protection after breaking her last phone. But she said that she wouldn’t pay the premium for the water protection of a LifeProof, since it was overkill for her needs.

I had a long drive today to reflect on that conversation, and it led me to a helpful series of considerations. One, did I want or need a solid case? The answer is yes, especially after I scuffed one side of my (at the time) uncased iPhone when I dropped it a few weeks ago. Ok, so if I wanted a solid case, the LifeProof stacked up well, since it doesn’t add much excess bulk compared to a Speck Candyshell or similar case, but it offers many more protective features. And since I am somewhat accident prone and fairly active, moving beyond the basic cases to the tougher levels isn’t a bad thing. That pushes my choices into the Otterbox Defender/Case-Mate Tank and Phantom/Griffin Survivor level. Compared to those, the LifeProof offers more protection in a sleeker package. Basically, for my needs, the LifeProof outclasses traditional cases with more options and less bulk.

Once I came to that conclusion, it wasn’t hard to realize I really do like the LifeProof case. It has some flaws, but no case is perfect. However, by halfway through my road trip today, I had pretty much talked myself into sticking with the LifeProof. What really sealed the deal was when I stopped to stretch my legs and walked into a rest stop, where I spotted the solution to my charging woes-a car charger with two USB ports. I was able to charge my iPhone in the LifeProof case using the regular Apple charger, and I didn’t have to worry about my battery running out mid-drive. Coincidence or just really good retail placement, it helped seal my decision!

Overall, I clearly like the LifeProof enough that the pros outweigh the cons. However, I strongly recommend evaluating your needs carefully before investing in a LifeProof case. Do you work in an environment where dust is a problem? Are you prone to dropping your phone in puddles? Are you looking for a thinner case than an Otterbox, but with a high level of protection? If so, LifeProof should be at the top of your list.

MSRP: $79.99 from LifeProof

What I Like: Skinny case for such tough protection; good-looking style; lots of support on their website; offers protection for just about any what-ifs

What Needs Improvement: Screen protector is a bit thick and glossy; dock connector is tight; limited number of removals before waterproofing may be compromised


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5 replies

  1. I also have trouble with screen protectors, so I’m with you on that one, Carly.

  2. I agree on every point you made. I found that the dock connector usually only was big enough for the original apple cord and so many of my 3rd party devices would not fit so I picked up a couple $20 dock extenders. Just another inconvenience. I between the headphone jack, dock connector and screen I decided to take it off but with that said I am thinking about giving it a second shot.

    • That’s exactly the process I went through. I had it on for a while, took it off, actually started a review explaining why I didn’t want to use it, came back to it again and finally have begun to accept it, flaws and all.
      There’s something comforting about having a solid protective case that doesn’t add bulk…there are just trade offs for it.
      This case is (almost) worth it for the demos alone. I offered to dunk my phone in a glass of water yesterday to prove it was waterproof!

  3. Just a quick follow up comment: if today is any indication of how the summer will be, the Lifeproof is definitely going to come in handy. I finished my long run today and my SPIbelt and lifeproof’d iPhone were both soaked!

  4. I too use a LifeProof & I love it. It’s very sleek and has good grip yet slides in and out my pocket with ease. I found a awesome solution to your dock connector problems as I experienced it too. Check out CableJive, they offer “dock extender” cables and adapters that work with LifeProof & ALL Cases and allows you to use your third party cables. I also have an iPod adapter in my vehicle but it only worked without the lifeproof case but after ordering an adapter from CableJive, i’ve had no issue and they have very fast shipping.

    To the headphone situation, I ordered a pair of Jaybird Bluetooth Earbuds for $99 and they’re good for running (my main reason for ordering) (they’re also sweat proof), and therefore I no longer have to remove the headphone jack waterproof seal, also the audio quality is outstanding with the 4S Bluetooth 4.0! :)