Review: Dog & Bone Wetsuit for iPhone 5 + 5s
It's impossible to look at relative newcomer Dog & Bone's Wetsuit for iPhone 5 ($80) without recalling waterproof, element-proof cases from bigger-name companies. In particular, this one has elements that are very similar to those of Incipio's Atlas and Lifeproof's Nüüd. Like those, it claims to be able to stand up to submersion, shocks, dirt, and snow. It also claims to be the "first topless waterproof mobile phone case," meaning there's nothing covering the screen, despite the fact that Nüüd was here for testing about a month earlier. It is a bit different from the others, though, relying on a malleable rubber "boot" sandwiched between plastic frames to keep water out, rather than a simple O-ring. Updated December 9, 2013: We've added details on a newer iPhone 5s version of the Wetsuit to the end of the review, below.
The boot is really the heart of the case. Not only is it the portion that comes directly in contact with the iPhone, it also houses the protective elements including membranes that keep water out of the speaker, microphone, and earpiece, as well as optically sound lenses that allow you to use the front and rear cameras. After wrapping it around the device, you’re left with only the display exposed; everything else, including the buttons and all of the bezel, is fully covered.
Installation of the outer components is surprisingly easy, requiring less effort than most comparable models. The front and back simply snap together, forming a seal all the way around, with a door at the bottom that can open to reveal the ports and buttons. Once assembled, Wetsuit is thicker than Atlas or Nüüd, and has extended corners that help protect against drops. The button coverage is properly executed, with everything including the Home Button maintaining a high level of tactility. Side switch protection is handled in a unique way: there’s just soft rubber over it, allowing you to manipulate the switch without actually seeing what’s going on underneath. On the back of the case, the rubber boot sticks out through the plastic, with a clear window exposing the Apple logo. We think it’s unnecessary and not particularly attractive, but at least the metal is protected.
Underneath the protective door, you’ll find incredibly tight openings for the headphone and Lightning ports. Unless you’re using Apple’s most recent earphones or Lightning cables, you’re not going to be able to make a connection. The aforementioned audio membranes are also under here, although openings in the plastic expose them so that you don’t have to open the door to place calls. In our audio tests, there was no major difference in quality when the case was installed.
Most importantly, Wetsuit keeps water out of your iPhone if it gets submerged. Dog & Bone ships the case with a clear plastic insert, labeled with an instruction sticker, that states a water test should be done before every assembly. The text states that “water naturally sits between the boot and the external case but does not penetrate the seals.” That is to say, you may see water between the plastic and the rubber, as we did. None of it actually made it through to the handset, though. As with Nüüd, the unprotected glass iPhone 5 screen can’t be used underwater, but doesn’t sustain any damage.
Compared to its closest, competitor, Nüüd, Wetsuit is a bit more complicated and a little thicker, but $10 less expensive. We’re impressed with the overall performance, and no real sacrifices had to be made for the high level of protection. The lack of anything covering the screen though is still an issue for us; even though it means there’s no display distortion, we’d rather see a company include a screen protector that works properly. If their prices were the same, we’d say LifeProof has a slightly better case, but the lower price earns Wetsuit the same general recommendation.
Wetsuit for iPhone 5s
In December 2013, we had the opportunity to test an updated version of Wetsuit designed for the iPhone 5s. The critical difference is a new rubber Touch ID cover, designed to provide compatibility with the iPhone 5s’s fingerprint sensor. Unfortunately, the nearly opaque rubber cover does not provide the sort of instant fingerprint recognition and scanning performance we’ve seen from other iPhone 5s-specific cases: even after following Dog & Bone’s unusual suggestion to re-scan our fingerprints for use with Wetsuit, we found that the scanning process was inhibited by the rubber cover, which sometimes worked and sometimes did not.
Under ideal circumstances—perhaps when Wetsuit’s rubber button cover is internally a little moist—the Touch ID scanner will work to re-scan and then detect a re-scanned fingerprint, but we had many scanning attempts fail before one worked. Once the scan worked, an iPhone 5s in Wetsuit did re-identify the same fingerprint accurately for unlocking, but that fingerprint won’t be identified accurately if you remove the case. Ideally, companies attempting to protect the scanner should follow LifeProof’s or Incipio’s models with thin, stable plastic surfaces that do not require finger re-scanning; Dog & Bone’s less than satisfying implementation of this feature drops the rating for this version of the case to a C+. It’s an otherwise good case, but if you’re buying it with hopes of using Touch ID with the iPhone 5s, you’ll likely find it to be a bit problematic. (iPhone 5s update by Jeremy Horwitz.)