FreeRunner for iPhone 5 ($35) is one of the most protective cases we’ve ever seen from SwitchEasy, and that’s saying something given that the company includes everything from port covers to film with virtually every case it sells. The recipient of one of our Best of Show awards at the 2013 International CES, we knew as soon as we saw it that SwitchEasy had a winner on its hands. Although not quite as “life-proof” as, well, a LifeProof case, FreeRunner provides more protection than almost any case at the same price, and plenty for the average user.
Made of rubber and plastic, FreeRunner feels similar to Tones, although it’s a bit larger in every dimension. Rather than fusing the two materials together in one layer, they’re distinct pieces that can be separated, although they don’t have to be. Rubber pokes through the plastic in a large polka dot pattern, which our editors found to be one of the more controversial elements of the case design. Some were fine with it while others found it to be unattractive—it really comes down to personal taste.
Six color combinations are available.
With SwitchEasy cases, we’re used to proper body coverage and button protection, so it’s great that FreeRunner builds upon that base. The back and sides are almost totally covered, with the only exceptions being an opening for the ringer switch, one for the iSight camera, and small, matching holes over the speaker and microphone grilles. Both the headphone and Lightning ports are accessible, but can be protected with integrated flip-open covers, keeping them safe from dust and the elements when not in use. SwitchEasy made the headphone opening very tight, so it’ll only be compatible with Apple’s headphones and those with similarly narrow plugs; the hole for the Lightning port is thankfully more accommodating. As we’ve come to expect from the company, the button protection is spot on, with perfect tactility.
The most interesting aspect of FreeRunner, and a first for the company, is the included touch-sensitive clear polycarbonate screen cover. The hard plastic protector snaps in place over the display, wrapping around the iPhone 5’s edges to hold it in place; perfectly centered FaceTime camera and earpiece holes expose those two elements. SwitchEasy includes two matte screen protectors, rather than the crystal clear versions it usually ships, plus a microfiber wipe and squeegee for installation.
The film is necessary to prevent bubbling on the screen, which can be more or less pronounced with each installation. It does, however, create somewhat of a prismatic effect, as most anti-glare films do on Retina displays. During testing, we noticed an ever-so-slight reduction in touch sensitivity, but only when we were actively looking for it. Use the phone normally and you likely won’t notice any difference.
One other element that generated some internal debate is the raised Home Button protector. Each FreeRunner comes with two black and two white rubber buttons that fit into a square hole in the screen protector, and stick up above it. While some of us liked the look and feel—it provides a very clicky response—others didn’t like the appearance and worried about it accidentally getting pressed in a pocket or purse.