Review: LifeProof Frē for iPhone 5
LifeProof is a company that lives up to its name, offering cases to protect Apple's portable devices from water, dirt, snow, and shocks/drops. We've previously covered LifeProof for iPhone 4/4S and Nüüd for iPad, and now there's Frē for iPhone 5 ($80). Heavily based on the version for the last iPhone, it's the thinnest properly-tailored waterproof case we've ever seen for an iPhone. The company has addressed some key issues from the past, and the result is an incredibly protective case that's so interestingly assembled we could see people using it every day, regardless of the conditions they're in.
Frē splits into two interlocking pieces along the outer edge, roughly two-thirds in front, one-third back. From the outside, the components don’t look too special, but they create an airtight seal thanks in part to a rubber ring that runs along the inside of the back. We’ve never been big fans of the way the plastic case feels—somewhat thin and cheap—but the fact that it’s so light is a good thing. The screen is covered with a permanently attached piece of clear plastic. Our original review of LifeProof for iPhone 4/4S cited this as one of the case’s biggest problems, as air between the protector and the screen affected touch sensitivity. Thankfully that was resolved in a later production run, and the improved setup carries over to this version. Except for along the very top, even the lightest touches are registered properly, an important improvement. New this time around is a window over the rear Apple logo. We’ve never been fans of this aesthetic decision, but at least the material below is covered, rather than left open to the elements.
As is required by a truly waterproof case, Frē covers all of the iPhone 5’s ports and buttons, plus the speaker and microphones. This means full-time protection for the Sleep/Wake, volume, and Home buttons, plus an extended rubber nub over the ringer switch that allows it to be used. We’d like the buttons on the edge to be a little clickier, but they’re otherwise fine. Along the bottom edge and over the earpiece are special acoustic protectors that allow sound in and out, while preventing liquid or other materials to get to your phone. In our testing, there was very little discernible difference on either end when the case was in place, despite the presence of the protectors.
The headphone port is protected by a screw-in cover that has to be removed for case installation or removal. Because the port is so deeply recessed, LifeProof includes a headphone adapter that doubles as a way to hold an extra protector plug. Additionally, there’s a flip-open cover for the Lightning port that’s going to be a tight fit for third-party cables but works fine with Apple’s. Last but not least, the cameras and flash are covered. Again, they’re made to work normally, and they do. Lifeproof also includes a cleaning cloth.
This version of LifeProof’s iPhone case shows clear improvements over the prior version, but it isn’t without issues. The price is still incredibly high—two times the average price of a good to great case, and $30 higher than OtterBox’s Defender Series Case, one of the best heavy-duty cases out there. Frē of course offers more protection, including very important waterproofing, and that it accomplishes this in such a compact package is truly impressive. The price tag means that these cases aren’t for everyone, but for those who are frequently exposed to the elements, or simply clumsy around them, Frē makes a lot of sense. It’s worthy of our strong general recommendation.