Following in the footsteps of many iPhone case makers, Ballistic has released its own “everything proof” iPhone 5 protector called Hydra Series Case ($80). It ships in four pieces, with a belt clip, rear shell, snap-in screen protector, and then a front frame that holds the rear and screen components together. Once installed, it covers all the buttons and ports, while keeping out water, dust, and dirt, as well as protecting against drops. Ballistic offers the case in five color combinations.
Compared to some of the waterproof iPhone cases we’ve previously tested, assembling Hydra is relatively easy, though you may have to go through more steps than with the simplest alternatives. It’s simply a matter of laying the iPhone in the rear tray, snapping the screen protector on over it—28 small clips hold it in place—and then fitting the frame onto six pegs around the device’s perimeter. With practice, the process takes about 30 seconds or less. The exterior of the case is plastic and rubber. In the hand, it feels somewhat bulky, but the dimensions are very similar to those of Incipio’s Atlas.
As is necessary for this style of case, Hydra offers full body protection, and this one includes a screen protector, unlike LifeProof’s Nüüd and Dog & Bone’s Wetsuit. The Home and volume buttons maintain their tactility, but the feel of the Sleep/Wake button is more dampened than we’d like. Along the same lines, the side switch works, but it’s hard to tell when you’re actually flipping it. We’re happy to see that the screen protector is one of the clearest we’ve seen against the iPhone 5’s Retina display, but it does decrease touch sensitivity in certain areas. As long you’re pressing with something more than the lightest touch, it’ll register. The headphone and Lightning ports are easily accessible through a door on the bottom of the case. Ballistic claims that a headphone port adapter isn’t needed, but the bottom hole is too small for anything save the thinnest headphone plugs.
We tested the case underwater, and it did keep liquid out; Ballistic is rated for seven-foot submersion, comparable to its main LifeProof and Incipio rivals. The screen becomes unusable when submerged, but this is expected. One downside to the waterproofing is the effect it has on audio quality. On both ends of a phone call, the sound was noticeably degraded. We heard a tinny vibration coming from the earpiece, while the person on the other end described audio as nasal, and stripped of all bass.
Ballistic’s take on this style of case is a good, but not great, effort. It’s attractive enough, reasonably easy to install, and most importantly, does what it’s supposed to do: keeps water out. We still prefer the look, feel, and warranty of Atlas, and would similarly give the edge to LifeProof’s Frē over Hydra, but Hydra trumps Wetsuit by a small margin. Overall, we’d call it worthy of our general recommendation. It’s not the absolute best option, but you’ll most likely be happy with it, especially if you don’t use your iPhone for a lot of phone calls.
Company and Price
Model: Hydra Series Case
Compatible: iPhone 5