Review: LifeProof Frē for iPhone 5c
Once again, LifeProof is back with a new edition of its best-known case -- Frē for iPhone 5c ($80). Essentially the same as the Frēs that have come before, including the iPhone 5 version, it's a plastic case that snaps around the handset, creating a waterproof seal and protecting all of its buttons and ports. A frosted back allows the color of the iPhone 5c to show though, and a screen protector is built-in. A headphone extender is included, as is a cleaning cloth, not pictured. Because it’s virtually identical to the previous edition, the text of our review is based heavily on our original piece.
Frē splits into two interlocking pieces along the outer edge, roughly two-thirds in front and one-third in 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 positive. The screen is covered with a permanently attached piece of clear plastic. Our prior review of LifeProof for the 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 design carries over to this version. Except along the very top, even the lightest touches are registered properly, an important improvement. Instead of a window for the Apple logo, the entire back is exposed through the translucent back plastic, allowing the hues of the 5c to show through.
As is required by a truly waterproof case, Frē covers all of the iPhone 5c’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 click a little more, 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 from getting into 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. It’s attached via a plastic tether, which addresses the issue of just how easy it can be to lose otherwise. 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 designed to work normally, and they do.
This version of LifeProof’s iPhone case is well in line with the most recent generations. The price is still very 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.