Review: LifeProof Frē for iPad Air
"Why change a good thing?" seems to be the ethos at OtterBox-owned case maker LifeProof. The company's trademark "four-proof" case can stand up to water, dirt, snow, and drops, and its latest case, Frē for iPad Air ($110), very closely resembles the numerous iterations of the case that've been available for past iPads, including the recent Frē for iPad mini. In fact, in almost every major way, it's identical to that case; the size is the biggest difference. Because we've covered the case's variants so many times in the past, we'll keep this review somewhat brief; LifeProof has earned a strong reputation, and this case lives up to it.
Available with either black or white and gray borders, Frē is a two-piece case that snaps around the front and back of the iPad Air, offering total protection. It is made of a combination of rubber and plastics, including a large clear window on the back, and a permanent screen protector with a dimple corresponding to the Home Button. Once the installation is complete — a relatively simple process of snapping the pieces together, ensuring they’re connected all the way around — the tablet is ready for whatever you throw at it, including trips underwater.
Every part of the iPad is covered, buttons, ports, and rear camera included. Although the buttons, which are moved more towards the backside than on an uncased tablet, aren’t as sensitive as on the very best cases we’ve tested, they still work well. A simple oval-shaped cover allows the side switch to be flipped up and down, and a clear covering doesn’t interfere with the iSight camera. The headphone port is plugged up by a rubber stopper that can be removed as needed, but because of the depth of the case, some plugs won’t fit down to the port. As for the Lightning port, it’s accessible through a flip-open door. The speakers and microphones are all covered with fine mesh shields that let audio in and out as they’re supposed to.
The plastic screen protector obviously feels different than the iPad’s glass display, but it doesn’t have any effect on its sensitivity. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for how it looks: the plastic creates a slight rainbow-like prismatic effect. We’ve seen worse, but it is noticeable.
Frē can optionally be used with a strap—not included—that connects at each of the four corners, and a strip of material along the backside’s right edge can be peeled off for use with accessories such as a lid. A cleaning cloth is included, and so is a small translucent plastic triangle. This is used to pry open the case, and makes for a great addition to the package. Before, you’d have to use a coin or similar flat object to remove the case. We really appreciate having something included to do the job.
If you want to subject the iPad Air to the elements—especially water—and have it come out unscathed, Frē is the way to go. Yes, it’s an expensive case, and while the look has been refined, it does still add more bulk than most alternatives. But it does what it’s supposed to do quite well, and that’s no small task. It’d be great to see the prismatic distortion over the screen cleared up, but this is still a very good case deserving of our strong general recommendation. Not everyone will need or be willing to pay for such a level of protection, but for those who want a nearly impervious case, it’s a smart choice.