Update:LifeProof has recently released a new iPhone 5S/5C case. This review only covers the iPhone 4/4S case but you should expect similar or better performance. They have also released a LifeJacket that wraps around the LifeProof case and solves the flotation problem mentioned below.
If you have ever owned a smartphone, you have no doubt experienced what we're about to describe. It is something that doesn't always duplicate itself the exact same way but something that usually comes from the same singular experience or event. It is the moment that you lose an otherwise solid grip on your device, when your fingers slip and it begins to fall.
A look of horror briefly flashes across your face as your stunningly perfect and beautiful iPhone 4/4S tumbles away from its once secure home in the palm of your hand. It flips silently through the air as it plummets toward the hard and unforgiving floor or tries to cool off in that refreshing bowl of liquid that can only be found in modern bathrooms.
It is at this exact moment that you lunge toward the phone in a frantic rescue attempt, often with reflexes quicker than those used to defend yourself. After all, for most people, much of our lives are now contained within those ever shrinking digital dimensions. As the rescue fails you stare in astonishment at your new flotation device.
Millions of thoughts pass through your head in a split second but in the end none of them matter. Your warranty doesn't cover neglect or accidents and so the $200 plus dollars you just liquidated from your bank account less than six months ago is gone forever. If only you had taken the time to secure it inside the LifeProof iPhone Case.
In the interest of protecting you and your shiny new investment, we have spent the last several weeks thoroughly testing the LifeProof iPhone Case to make sure it does exactly what the company claims: Protect your iPhone 4/4S from water, dirt, snow and shock. In other words, accidents.
Inside the box is one case that will fit an iPhone 4/4S along with a headphone adapter that will allow you to listen to music while still enjoying the protection that the case offers. Immediately we were impressed by how small and well designed the case was. If you have ever researched waterproof phone cases before then you'll remember the consistently bulky and downright ugly contraptions that many other companies offer as solutions. Not so with LifeProof.
This case adds 1.5mm to each edge of your iPhone and although it is a little odd to hold in your hand for the first couple days we quickly got used to it. What also takes some getting used to is operating the touchscreen and the various buttons with the case on. These aren't difficult but do require more pressure than you are likely used to applying to an iPhone.
Before you even attempt to put this case on your iPhone though, it is very important that you watch the instructional videos provided on the LifeProof website before using the case. It is normal to be nervous when trusting such an expensive device to a case that appears so thin and so the company instructs you to test the case underwater for an hour without the iPhone inside to ensure it is leakproof.
The videos also instruct you to clean your iPhone thoroughly before installing but don't obsess over this. It is important to remove any oils on the phone from your skin as well as other other dirt particles but you'll never get it perfectly clean. This step appears to be more for the touchscreen operation than for the protection that the case will soon afford. In other words, clean it, but don't go overboard.
Once the phone is installed nothing much will change. What we mean by that is you don't want to be the person who goes and launches it into a wall or throws it into the deep end of the swimming pool to test it out. There is absolutely no benefit to pushing this case to the limits on purpose. In fact, after a days, the biggest benefit we enjoyed was a real peace of mind knowing that our phone was safe.
We dropped the case from heights of 3 feet, 5 feet and 8 feet without issue although LifeProof doesn't recommend dropping it above 2 meters (6.6 feet). We put it under a rushing waterfall at one of our local parks here in Florida, threw it down a water slide and used it daily at the beach, swimming, in sand and anything else we could throw at it. Each time it succeeded in protecting our iPhone from any damage.
The one thing that will not work is operation of the touchscreen underwater but this is not a design flaw of the LifeProof case it is just the way Apple designed the touchscreen to respond. When you pull it out of the water though it works within seconds as water immediately rolls off. It does not need to be dried off before use and works even when covered with dozens of beads of water.
Pictures underwater are identical to those taken without the case due to a specially designed double AR coated real glass lens and although your touchscreen cannot be used to snap the picture, the volume up button works perfectly as part of the latest iPhone software update. The only issue we ran into was brief fogging of the lens when placed in ice cold water but it cleared up within seconds.
Likewise video recording also works underwater but do not expect to have useable audio other than the water slapping against the LifeProof Case. Again though this is not a complaint that you can have with LifeProof it just the way microphones work. You can expect a voice to cut through all that water and come out audibly on the other end, especially with a consumer mic like the one found in the iPhone.
Using the touchscreen does take some getting used to as the screen, at least for us, will make a slight tapping sound as the case contacts the glass underneath but this is quickly forgotten as you get used to it and certainly worth the minor annoyance for the protection that the case provides. It is also important to point out that the case negates much of the sensitivity of the touchscreen and it will now respond to towel wipes and accidental touches.
This case is designed to be put on once and never taken off so be aware of that when deciding whether to purchase. It is not something you pop on in the car before heading to the beach, this is fully functional and designed to protect from accidents which can happen anywhere at anytime. In fact removing the case frequently could lead to loss of protection over time according to the company.
It is important to note that many third party iPhone chargers will not fit inside the access point in the bottom of the case that is used to charge it. LifeProof does sell an adapter that extends the charge point outside of the case if you absolutely need to attach a third party accessory like a speaker but without it you should count on using only the included Apple adaptor to charge the phone.
We experienced no loss of signal for either WiFi, Bluetooth or AT&T while using the case and a bonus comes in the form of music playback as the back of the case doubles as a subwoofer of sorts and adds a bass booster depending on your EQ settings. If your music doesn't sound right the first time make sure to check these EQ settings as they dramatically affect performance and sound inside the case.
The front of the case does collect oil from your face and hands easily but can be wiped off with minimal effort using the enclosed microfiber cloth. In fact, one of the only major glaring flaws we found was the lack of a lanyard attachment. We'd love to see a future revision offer this functionality to add a small flotation device when using it in the ocean or a deeper body of water.
There are plenty of accessories available on the LifeProof website as well including bike mounts, waterproof headphones, belt clips and our personal favorite, the armband. During our extensive testing the armband held the phone securely in place, was very easy to take on or off and offered quick holster like access to the iPhone 4/4S inside the LifeProof case. The only complaint we had was drying time when it was completely soaked but placing it in direct sunlight alleviates this issue for the most part.
In truth there is no reason to not recommend this case. It is hands down the most attractive waterproof case we have found so far and being completely protected while still being able to operate all of the phones features make this an almost mandatory accessory for the iPhone 4/4S if you ever plan on leaving the house. It really is that awesome.
Full Disclosure: LifeProof provided one of their LifeProof iPhone cases and one of their armbands to Insider Perks without charge for the purpose of testing them and writing this review.