In a previous post I reviewed the Lifeproof case for the iPhone 4S. Since that time I’ve upgraded to an iPhone 5, and have been using the Lifeproof Fre case with that phone; that case is nearly identical to the 4S case. Both cases were very good but suffered from the same problems that have dogged all waterproof phone cases. Simply stated, they have to be waterproof. That means a variety of approaches to seal all the access points for water. On the iPhone, that includes the speaker, charging and microphone ports, the headphone jack, the earpiece….lots of things to protect. In spite of cases developed by Otter Box, Incipio, and Griffin along with Lifeproof, all have suffered from problems with muffled sound, leaking, interference with the proximity sensor, noisy locking clips, irritating Newton’s rings and decreased sensitivity of the screen. Most of these problems relate to the fact that all these cases have required a full sized sealed screen protector. And some of the cases, like the Otter Box Armor, are huge. As someone who’s on the water a lot, I’ve come to depend on my Lifeproof case and the accessory Lifejacket that allows it to float (I learned that lesson the hard way). I was excited to hear that Lifeproof was releasing a new iPhone 5 case (also available for the Galaxy S3) that seemed to be a totally different approach to the multiple problems. When Lifeproof developed a case for the iPad last year, they decided to try a case that didn’t need a screen protector, that was sealed against the glass to prevent water intrusion. They called that the Nuud case. Apparently it worked, and now they have released the case for the iPhone 5 and Galaxy S3. Like all the waterproof cases, it comes at a price ($10 more than the Fre, with a price of $89), but how much is peace of mind worth?
The case looks similar to the Fre case, and in fact is almost exactly the same size (important to me as it fits nicely in the Lifejacket I already had). Like their previous cases, the front and back of the case snap together, with an extended thin rubber O-ring that completely encircles the case where the two pieces fit together. The difference with this case is that there are two thin bands around the screen opening that seal directly against the glass. Thus, when you touch the screen with the Nuud case in place, you are actually touching the iPhone’s screen directly.
With this new and kind of daring screen change, a number of questions ran through my mind. First, was it actually waterproof? Would the lack of a screen protector be a problem in terms of avoiding scratches? How would the sound be? Would the proximity sensor cause problems? And probably the most important thing to me: would the screen be more visible on the water with Polarized lenses? Iphone screens, while they look very bright indoors, take a hike when exposed to direct light, and this is worsened by the use of screen protectors, especially when using Polarized glasses, which are necessary on the water.
Unboxing: The packaging is attractive and well-protected. Included in the package are the front and back halves of the case, an optional screen protector that can be applied after the case is installed, an adapter for using a standard headphone jack, a cleaning cloth, and a blue plastic dummy phone body. As you can see, the back half of the case is clear plastic and thicker than previous case backs. Also unlike the prior Lifeproof cases, the headphone jack sealing screw is attached to the case by a tether. With the prior cases, this piece was easily lost, and in fact the company provided an extra screw, assuming you would certainly lose one at some point.
A notice comes on the packaging that every case has been checked for water tightness at the factory. However, Lifeproof suggests a water test, which is done by closing the blue dummy phone in the case and then submerging in water for five to ten minutes. After drying the exterior and opening the case the inside should be perfectly dry. I did this twice and both times the inside of the case was dry. I installed the phone in the case and was ready to go. I chose not to install the optional screen protector. I am careful with my phone and although it is possible to scratch a glass iPhone screen, if you avoid keeping the phone in your pocket with keys and coins, scratching is unusual. Additionally, I really wanted to see what the screen looked like on the boat in bright sun, and I didn’t want the protector to interfere with the visibility of the screen. All the buttons (the power button, home button, mute and volume buttons) worked perfectly, as did the proximity sensor. Additionally, with no screen protector, the touchscreen was amazingly responsive. Finally, I was glad to find out that the case fit perfectly into the Lifejacket. I also used the phone for several calls, including trying the speakerphone and not only could I hear perfectly well, those I was speaking with noted no alteration or muffling of the sound.
On a charter a few days ago, I got to try it for the first time. There was definitely an improvement in the visibility of the screen. I have always found it very frustrating to not be able to clearly see the screen when lining up a picture or when answering emails or text messages. I would guess there is a 20% improvement in brightness. I always keep my screen at maximum brightness when on the water. The camera lens is covered with optical glass and the pictures I took were the usual iPhone 5 quality. This is a shot of one of our favorite redfish bars on a severe low tide.
I have been using Lifeproof cases since I got my first iPhone. The problems with screen visibility and audio quality were aptly dealt with by this new case. There have been a few situations on the web in which people noted some leaks when water testing the case. The same was true with prior versions. Strictly my opinion, but the cases and seals must be put on exactly as suggested. While there may be some problem cases, I have never had a leaking problem in any of my cases. I am less concerned about leaking, in part because I have Applecare+ which would replace the phone if it got wet. I do suggest doing the water test on the dummy phone just to make yourself feel better, but I’m confident that my phone will not leak. I have submerged it in water several times with no ill effects. Having said that, although some users have used the case extensively for taking underwater pictures, I do not use it in that manner. I have a small Panasonic Lumix camera that is totally waterproof and I am more comfortable using that for diving pictures. If you are looking for a slim waterproof case with excellent screen visibility, there really are no alternatives. I recommend the Nuud case for anyone who is around the water.