Looking for some watertight protection for the summer pool and beach season? Check out these waterproof iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 cases.
Known for its ultratough cases, Ballistic has finally added a waterproof model to its lineup, the Hydra, which is available in a couple of colors. It has couple of layers to its construction, plus a few gaskets to seal off the headphone and Lightning ports. From my tests, it seems well designed, not too bulky, and it comes with an optional holster. But I'm not sure it beats the LifeProof for the same price ($80).
If it has one drawback, the headphone port is pretty small, so many headphones plugs won't fit inside the hole. Also, you have to bend a piece of rubber every time you access the Lightning and headphone ports, which may lead to that rubber cover cracking over time, although Ballistic's head engineer Fernando Tages says his team tested the Hydra case ports covers to 1,500 open and close cycles (one cycle is opening then closing it). The testing included a water proof test after the 1,500 cycles.
Compared with the LifeProof case, I did find it slightly easier to get the phone out the case. That can be important for someone who doesn't plan on using a waterproof case every day.
Note: The Hydra is scheduled to ship in the next few weeks (July).
Cascade Designs makes a number of different waterproof E-cases for various devices, including the iPhone 4S and iPhone 5 (as well iPads and Android devices). They have an IPX7 certification rating, which means they meet the standard of withstanding submersion in 1 meter of water for 30 minutes.
The good thing about this type of SealLock case is that it isn't so tied to a specific phone model. That means it will most likely work with future iPhones as well as iPod Touches and other phones. Out of the water, you can also operate the touch screen through the plastic cover and the back of the case is translucent on top so you can take pictures or shoot video.
Note: A higher-end version of the case adds a jack for headphone use for $10 more.
Concord Keystone's been making tough iPhone cases, including a waterproof model, for a while. But the Eco Slim is a less bulky solution than its previous Eco case for iPhone 4/4S. Its one big downside is that you can't access the headphone port, so you'll have to use Bluetooth headphones if you want to listen to music while using it. Available in multiple colors.
As its name implies, the DriSuit Endurance is like a dry suit for your iPhone. Its unique feature is that it has a Fluidic Touchscreen Membrane,
which "contains a nontoxic liquid that allows for all functions and applications above or below the surface of the water." Normally, touch screens don't work underwater, though you can use the volume button to snap pictures underwater. The Endurance is available in both iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 versions.
The Grace Digital Eco Pod is pretty bulky, but it's designed to hold a variety of smartphones and other devices so it's more of a universal case (it also stores credit cards and keys). It's available in an orange version as well.
Several Ziploc-type contraptions are available for fairly affordable prices if you want to temporarily store your iPhone -- or another smartphone -- in a waterproof pouch (yes, your touch screen will work through the plastic front window). This model is sold under a couple of different generic brand names, but the Frieq is well-priced at $10.
The Incipio Atlas, which comes in multiple colors, offers a relatively trim design for a waterproof case. I like how it looks and that you can open the bottom of the case and remove the plug from the headphone jack when you need to listen to music. But if you want the case to be waterproof, you will have to seal off the jack. One other small gripe: I wasn't in love with the plasticky feel of the case -- it's definitely a tough case, but the Lifeproof case has a better feel to it. That said, Incipio does offer a limited warranty against water damage. You can check it out here.
Griffin's Survivor case has been a popular tough case over the years, and now Griffin has upped the ante with a waterproof model for the iPhone 5. It has a fairly trim design, but like with a lot of these cases, a majority of headphone plugs won't fit into the recessed headphone jack on the case.
Joy Factory's aXtion case isn't available yet to U.S. customers, but I played around with it at the CES trade show in Las Vegas last January, and it seemed like a fairly slick waterproof case for the iPhone 5, so I'm including it in the roundup for folks to check out. The company's step-down $49.99 aXtion Go case, which is water-resistant but not waterproof, is due to ship in July, so hopefully the aXtion Pro will be available soon.
Liferoof, the fast-growing San Diego company that was recently acquired by OtterBox, was a pioneer in the waterproof case arena with its highly rated waterproof/shockproof case for the iPhone 4/4S. That model's still for sale and has undergone some small tweaks over the course of its lifespan. The company's Fre case for the iPhone 5 is a bit trimmer than the Lifeproof for the iPhone 4/4S. But because the iPhone 5 is longer than the iPhone 4S (and the case is, too, obviously), it ends up weighing the same.
While there are some other small design improvements, the biggest change is the translucent plastic window on the back that allows you to show off the Apple logo. And while you can access the headphone jack, many headphone plugs won't fit into the jack, so you'll have to use an included dongle (it's easy to lose).
The Lifeproof is still my favorite waterproof case, although it's not perfect. You should be aware that there are plenty Lifeproof knock-off cases floating around and they should be avoided (many look a lot of like a real Lifeproof case, but they end up not being waterproof).
Note: Lifeproof also makes a number of accessories that are designed to work with its cases. These include armbands, bike and helmet mounts, and a flotation accessory.
LifeProof's Fre case for the iPhone 5 has an integrated screen cover. Some people don't like that and prefer a "bare" screen for optimal clarity and touch sensitivity, so LifeProof created a Nuud case for those folks.
Like its Nuud case for the iPad, this Nuud case leaves the screen exposed but a rubber gasket sits very snugly on top the screen, sealing the phone and making it waterproof. So while this one may not offer the same kind of screen protection as the Fre, it can take your iPhone underwater and is also shockproof and dustproof (just don't hit the screen with anything).
The one drawback of all LifeProof cases is that the headphone port is small and won't except most headphone jacks, so you'll probably have to use the included dongle (Apple's Earpods will fit without the dongle). In recent iterations of the case, LifeProof has attached the screw-on cap to the case, making it less likely you'll lose it.
Note: The LifeProof Nuud is scheduled to ship in the next few weeks (July).
Mophie is known for its battery extender cases, but it also makes the Outride, an action-sports waterproof case for the iPhone 4/4S that has a built-in wide-angle lens. An Outride for the iPhone 5 is scheduled to be released in July.
It's worth noting that the headphone jack is sealed in and the flash for the camera is blocked by the lens.
The Optrix XD5 is another action-sports case that's designed to turn your iPhone into a GoPro-type video camera (it has a built-in wide-angle lens). A previous version is available for the iPhone 4/4S for less money.
The Defender Series used to be OtterBox's toughest case, but now the waterproof Armor Series, which comes in three different colors, is the company's toughest. I like the slimmer design of LifeProof's waterproof case better, but the Armor is a beast of a case and you can access the headphone jack without using a special dongle. That said, I didn't entirely trust the seal on the little door that covers the headphone jack. But OtterBox says the case is rated to be underwater as far down as 6.6 feet for up to 30 minutes.
While Armor case lists for $99.99, you can find it online for around $75, which is about what the LifeProof costs (Note: OtterBox recently bought Lifeproof, but for now both brands will coexist). A version of the case is also available for the iPhone 4/4S.
The Seido Obex is a very solid entry in the waterproof case arena, with a fairly trim design and attractively rugged styling. You get adequate access to the headphone jack and charging port, and the case is MIL-STD-810G tested to withstand drops of 4 feet. Oh, and there's a little window on back (like the LifeProof) that lets you show off the Apple logo. Of course, some people couldn't care less about that.