Review: Incipio Atlas for iPhone 5
Incipio unveiled Atlas for iPhone 5 ($80-$90) at the 2013 CES, and we were so impressed with it that it won a Best of Show Award. The case is Incipio's take on the slim, ultra-rugged, waterproof case made popular by LifeProof with cases such as Frē. While it's essentially the same size -- just a bit thicker -- as LifeProof's iPhone 5 case, the materials and overall feel are different. The plastic and rubber case is made to withstand pretty much anything you throw at it, without adding serious bulk or complexity. Atlas ships with a cleaning cloth and headphone extender, plus, if you're in the United States, a one-year warranty on the phone itself, hence the slightly higher price for the U.S model. The case is available in four color combinations, and ships with a headphone extender and cleaning cloth.
Much like Frē, Atlas is a two-piece case, comprised of a front and back that snap together around the iPhone 5. It’s about twice as heavy—62 grams, compared to 30—but the weight is still so light that it’s almost imperceptible, and the material feels sturdier, too. Your iPhone first gets inserted into the front piece, which includes a small holder at the bottom that comes about half an inch up the back. The device fits snugly when inserted. Then, the plastic back with its rubber lining snaps in place over that. There are no O-rings to mess with; rather, there are just six connection points. Make sure the pieces snap together at each, and you’re all set. The removal process is simple, as you just pull away from the top corner above the silent switch, but it takes some muscle to do so.
As is necessary for this style of case, Atlas covers all of the iPhone’s ports and buttons. The Sleep/Wake, Home, and volume buttons are all protected by raised rubber. We like the way they feel, as they retain their tactility. The switch above the volume buttons proves to be somewhat problematic, but not hugely so. You have to push it more towards the bottom to actually move it back and forth. As for the bottom edge of the device, there’s a flip-open plastic protector. The microphone and speaker are exposed through it, and there’s an opening for the headphone port. It’s protected by a rubber stopper, but you can lift away the protector, remove the stopper, and then close it back up. You also access the Lightning port by opening the lid.
That speaker and microphone, along with the earpiece and rear microphone, are all protected by a membrane that allows sound in or out, but not liquid. Music playback is somewhat muffled, but still totally acceptable. As for phone calls, it’s a bit of a mixed bag. In our tests, outgoing audio was fine, pretty much indistinguishable from a bare iPhone. Unfortunately, voices coming through the earpiece were somewhat impaired by a tinny noise that sounds like the grate is somewhat loose. Despite this, you can still make out what the other person is saying without issue, and while the interference is less than ideal, it may not bother everyone.
Not surprisingly, Atlas does keep liquid out. We submersed the case for half an hour, and no water got inside. After removal, we did notice a little bit of water underneath the protective lid, but Incipio informed us “there are holes on the bottom lid that let allow water in all the way to the membrane. Some water droplets may splash or spread when the lid is opened.” A silicone seal prevents the liquid from actually making it to the Lightning port, and the case has been tested by third-party facilities to verify the company’s claims.
One of the most impressive features of Atlas is its crystal clear glass screen protector, which rests flat against the iPhone’s display. Although we’ve often found built-in screen protectors leaving us wanting, we are quite impressed with what Incipio has done here. While other screen protectors can sometimes leave a small gap they leave a small gap that can affect the touch-sensitivity of the display, and others can impact the quality of the screen image. Atlas’ protector is permanently integrated into the front half of the case, and there’s a small black bezel around it. The screen remains totally responsive, and you likely won’t even notice that there’s an extra layer. It also feels more premium than plastic does. We’re glad Incipio chose to go with glass.
The warranty is linked to the iPhone 5 you have at the time you register, and is non-transferrable. Registration is completed using a free app, where simply enter information such as your name, the IMEI of your phone, the case’s serial number, and your invoice number. The app also walks you through claims on the case or the phone. Incipio’s warranty is good for one incident of liquid or physical damage, and you have the option of extending the coverage to two years for an additional fee. It seems to be a good deal all around. Comparatively, LifeProof is now offering a $10 warranty, which brings the cost of its case up to the same $90 level, but there’s a $50 deductible for replacements.
From the look to the feel, from the screen protector to the warranty, Incipio got pretty much everything right with Atlas. The only real issue is with the earpiece, but that’s a minor problem, and doesn’t prevent this from being a great case. Yes, it’s expensive, and not necessary for everyone. But for those who want the high level of protection one of these cases can offer, while retaining the slim profile of the device, it’s the way to go. It can be used daily, and the reassurance that if something does happen to your iPhone, you’re covered by insurance, only adds to its appeal. Atlas is worthy of our high recommendation; it’s the best case of its style.