Review: Innopocket Amphibian Case for iPhone 5
Companies producing waterproof cases often seek to strike a balance between usefulness and cost. For $80 or $90, you can get a very good or great iPhone 5 case that'll survive being submerged in water, but can also be used all day, every day without getting in the way. Innopocket's Amphibian for iPhone 5 ($30) falls at the other end of the spectrum: it's inexpensive, but far less elegant than something like Atlas from Incipio. The design is very similar to the iPhone 4/4S model we saw two years ago, and according to the company, has been IP68 waterproof-certified, so it's capable of surviving depths of up to 10 meters for 30 minutes.
The last Amphibian we covered was made up of five separate pieces, whereas this one has four. At the core is a clear plastic shell, which could be used as a standalone case if you’re alright with such minimal protection—we’re generally not. Next comes a plastic sled, which the shell simply rests on, but doesn’t snap or otherwise attach to. The layer after that is really the defining piece of Amphibian: a rubbery membrane that covers pretty much all of the iPhone. An opening on the back has enough give to allow you to force the device and the two layers of plastic in place. It’s not especially difficult, but you do need to ensure that the plastic pieces stay together during the process. Finally, a thicker hard plastic backplate with a yellow O-ring and two large silver buttons screws on to the back. They can be finger tightened pretty far, but a coin or flathead screwdriver can be used to ensure a tight seal.
Once installed, Amphibian completely covers the iPhone 5. Because the outer layer is a bit larger than the inner one, it may not line up perfectly each time. There’s no port access at all, and music playback is a little muffled, but still audible. You can, however, still use the top and side buttons. An oval-shaped hole in the outer plastic layer allows you to get to the volume buttons through the silicone rubber, and a raised segment of the material presses down on the Sleep/Wake button.
The Home Button’s usability isn’t compromised at all by the layer of material over the screen. Over the rear camera is a large, round screw-on protector, with its own O-ring; it’s less than totally obvious why Innopocket added this additional complexity to the design, but manufacturing or replacement of the clear hard plastic camera cover might have necessitated it. Additionally, the protector covers the flash. “Please use external flash, if you want to take photo in the dark the internal flash will have backscatter problem with the case,” Innopocket oddly warns, as if there are external flash options for the iPhone 5.
The rubber covering the screen does allow full use of the touch controls, but it looks and feels pretty weird. Some of it clings to the display, while other parts don’t, creating a distortion that’s rather unpleasant, and not complementary at all to the iPhone 5’s Retina display. While it doesn’t decrease the touch sensitivity at all, which is a good thing, the feel of the material is the exact opposite of what we want from a protector. It has a lot of drag, and the material attracts dust and other particulates, making it feel even worse. The good thing is that the rubber keeps water out at a low cost. Innopocket says that you can use the screen underwater if you let a pocket of air in, but doesn’t say how to, and in our testing, we weren’t able to use it. Amphibian thus lets you activate the Camera app above water, then snap photos or record videos using the side buttons, but isn’t good for actually accessing on-screen controls while submerged.
There’s no debating the fact that $30 is a really good deal to keep your iPhone safe from water, and protected from bumps and scratches. Unfortunately but not surprisingly, Innopocket makes you deal with a lot of sacrifices for the price. Amphibian is somewhat unwieldy, makes your iPhone’s screen look unattractive, and is complex to assemble. When put together, it prevents access to some of the handset’s features, and really takes away from the overall experience of using the iPhone. This is counterbalanced by the reality that you can’t get the same degree of underwater camera-ready waterproofing for such a low price anywhere else. That’s why Amphibian earns a caveated general recommendation. It’s not a good case above water, but for occasional submersions—particularly for photography or videography—it delivers solid waterproofing for the cost.