Griffin Survivor + Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone 5 Review

Survivor + Catalyst Press Shot

Let me start off this review by admitting that I am somewhat biased when it comes to iPhone cases.  I carry my phone in my pocket at all times, I rarely drop my phone, and I rarely bring it near water.  With that in mind, I’ve always leaned towards bumper-style cases that are small enough to protect my phone and do not to add too much bulk to my pocket. Still, I think I’ve found a great option for those who carry their phone in their pocket and also want great drop and water protection.  The Griffin Survivor + Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone 5 is a waterproof, drop-proof case that’s built with a clear acrylic on the exterior. The use of this material is unlike most rugged cases that hide the iPhone’s design.  The ‘+’ in the product’s name is the result of Griffin partnering with Catalyst to bring consumers a beautiful combination of Griffin’s iPhone accessory expertise with Catalyst’s outdoor lifestyle design.

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Front view of the Survivor + Catalyst.

The exterior of this case is made out of polycarbonate on the frame and rear cover. The latches, switches, volume buttons, and power button are made out of nylon. The home button is made out of a soft, rubber-like TPE material. Inside the case are TPE shock-absorbing bumpers that help make the case drop proof.  To make this case waterproof Griffin and Catalyst used silicone O-rings throughout the Survivor.  I’m a huge fan of the design of this case because, while there is a lot going on with it, the case does not hide the beauty of the iPhone’s design.  The clear acrylic allows the iPhone’s minimalist design to shine through, while still providing as much protection as most of the other rugged phone cases.  The Survivor uses nylon latches on two sides of the case to keep it closed as well as a third latch to seal the charging port. The mute switch is operated by a nylon dial which needs to be turned in order to mute or unmute the phone.

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Close-up of the charging and headphone jacks.

I was very impressed with how little the Survivor + Catalyst impeded my daily usage of my phone.  Rugged cases are known to hinder use of the iPhone’s touch screen but I only felt minor problems around the very outside of the touch screen.  In addition there were no rainbow marks on the screen. (Lifeproof iPhone cases occasionally suffer this issue.) In addition I also didn’t experience any kind of bubbles along the touch screen. (This too is something I have seen with Lifeproof cases.)  The acrylic screen protector of the Griffin Survivor + Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone 5 really feels so finely engineered that it lays perfectly flat against your iPhone’s touch screen.  Another advantage to the all-clear case is that the front camera works as it does sans case and the sensor that turns the screen off when it comes into contact with ones cheek when taking a call works as well.

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Everything that comes in the retail packaging, including lanyard, and waterproof headphone jack adapter.

One of my favorite features of the Survivor + Catalyst is the fact that you don’t need any special tools to install and remove the case.  In fact, you can put the case on your phone in less than a minute.  All you need to do is open the latches on the side of the phone, separate the two pieces of the case, slip the phone into the case, close the latches, ensure that the silicone O-ring is placed properly, and finally open the charging port and squeeze what little air is trapped under the touch screen out and close the latch.  I know it sounds like a lot of steps, but it really is done in less than 60 seconds.

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Side of the case.

The Survivor + Catalyst comes with a large guidebook that tells you exactly what to do to prepare, install and care for your case.  Once you learn how to install the case, the first thing you’ll need to do is flood test your case without the phone being inside.  As the guide tells you, once your case is shut you slowly lower it into a container of water and watch for air bubbles.  If air bubbles come out of the case there is a problem with one of the O-rings. This is likely caused by a shift or twist in the O-ring or dust getting in the way. My case worked flawlessly and was submerged for 30 minutes without a drop of water getting inside.  That made me confident that when I take this case underwater it will protect my iPhone.

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Flood Testing my Survivor + Catalyst

Since I have already mentioned some of the differences between the Survivor + Catalyst and the Lifeproof Fre we might as well compare the performance of the two cases. Griffin claims that the Survivor + Catalyst will protect your iPhone from a drop of up to 6 feet.  The Lifeproof Fre claims it will work for drops of up to 6 feet 6 inches. Lifeproof has a slight edge there. The Survivor + Catalyst is rated for emersion of up to 9.8 feet. The Lifeproof Fre is rated for just 6.5 feet.  Here, the Survivor + Catalyst has a significant advantage.  As far as size is concerned, the Survivor and Lifeproof are almost identical, with the Lifeproof besting the Survivor by being just .05 inches less in thickness and width.  To be honest, it’s very difficult to tell the difference when holding both cases in your hands.

Width Comparison with the Lifeproof Fre.

Width comparison with the Lifeproof Fre.

Thickness comparison with the Lifeproof Fre.

Thickness comparison with the Lifeproof Fre.

I only have a few gripes with the Survivor + Catalyst. None are major concerns.  The mute switch is not very easy to use, the charging latch is difficult to get open at times, and Griffin warns that sunscreen may permanently cloud the clear acrylic.  The mute switch and charging latch difficulties are forgivable since the number one goal of this case is to protect my phone against water, dust and drops. If that means I need to work a bit harder to get my phone into and out of the case so be it. I cannot, however, imagine why they could not use a material that resists damage from sunscreen.  After all, if I’m using a waterproof case it is likely that I’ll be outside and need sunscreen on my face.  It seems like common sense that they would do everything they could to stop sunscreen from harming the case.

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Back of the case.

Overall, after using the Survivor + Catalyst for over a week, I can say that I am very impressed with how much protection you get and how little it interferes with my daily use of my phone.  As I said in the beginning of this review, I am always going to prefer a smaller, low profile case with less protection for daily use, but I will definitely be using the Survivor + Catalyst whenever I feel like extra protection is needed.  For those that like to have the extra protection on their case at all times, this is a great rugged case for you. You can purchase the Survivor + Catalyst directly from Griffin.  You can also find it on Amazon, here.

Check out the gallery for all of the photos I took:

MSRP: $69.99

What I Like:  Nice looking design that does not hide the iPhone’s design; Easy-in, easy-out design; The case does not impede use of the touch screen as much as other cases; Completely sealed against water and dust; Drop proof up to 6′.

What Needs Improvement:  The mute switch is very difficult to operate; The charge port latch is difficult to open, but this is understandable; Clear acrylic scratches easily; Griffin warns that sunscreen can permanently cloud the clear acrylic.

Source: Manufacturer Supplied Review Sample

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About the Author

Perry Brauner
I'm an architect by trade, but the overarching theme of my life has always been trying to keep up with the newest, coolest technology. Ever since I picked up an NES controller, I've been hooked on the latest and greatest gadgets, gizmos, and toys. Whether it's gaming, mobile phones, and accessories, or PCs and Apple products, I'm interested. I use many Apple products in my daily life, such as the iPhone, iPad, and my MacBook Pro. I've also built a few PCs in my day, so I'd like to say that I'm a pretty well-rounded techie.