Protecting your phone from water during outdoor activities is challenging, especially during the summer months when many of us are active around pools, the beach and more.
In my home state of Hawaii, many people choose to live here because they love the water. It’s a water centric kind of place where water activities can be easily indulged all year long. We even have daily weather reports that feature surf conditions.
That is why you so frequently see waterproof LifeProof smartphone cases in Hawaii.
I was slow to come to the party, keeping my phone tucked away someplace safely dry when I went out outrigger canoe paddling. But I can tell you that once you become accustomed to taking your phone with you into the water, you can’t go back.
I tested both the LifeProof Fre and the LifeProof Nuud iPhone 5s cases in a variety of locations on Kauai, including on the ocean, at the beach, in the pool, and while biking.
LifeProof Cases are available for a number of devices, including Apple iPad and Touch, iPhone 5, 5c; as well as Samsung Galaxy s3, s4 and s5.
I looked to see what customers were saying about these cases online. I noticed that there were queries as to which one they should choose. I also found questions about maintenance, return policies, opening cases and operation of devices with the cases installed. This article addresses these concerns with reviews of the products I tested as well as tips offered to new users.
Weight and Bulk
Both the Fre and Nuud are light weight and don’t add much bulk to your phone.
In contrast, a friend showed me his Snow Lizard case and it was massive in comparison. I’m sure a more bulky case makes users feel very safe, but it seems unnecessary.
Inexpensive Waterproof Case Options
I read so many unhappy consumer reviews of a number of inexpensive iPhone cases that claim to provide waterproofing. Given how dependent I am on my iPhone, I would be terrified to put my phone in one of them.
The LifeProof Fre or the Nuud, Which is Right for You?
Overall, I liked both of the LifeProof cases.
It seems rather magical that your glass iPhone screen is exposed with the Nuud – but your iPhone is indeed protected, not only from water but from dirt and sand.
Keep in mind in making your choice that you may decide not to remove the case frequently. You are likely to be living with the case on a daily basis.
This was my first day of heavy sand exposure with my Nuud case and I had a moment of uneasiness looking at that sand on my phone. But it was easy to rinse it off, shake and wipe dry with a soft cloth.
Why get the Fre?
– Slightly less expensive than the Nuud. The Nuud is $89.99. The Fre is currently on sale for $71.99 in 5 colors on LifeProof.com.
– If you prefer to use a screen protector, even though the Nuud provides one as an option, it makes more sense to choose the Fre.
– If you are currently using a slip-on case that completely encloses your iPhone, you probably feel you need that level of protection for your screen.
– If you have big fingers there is a visible difference between the two models – the home button is completely exposed on the Fre while a small bit of it is obstructed on the Nuud.
Why get the Nuud?
– You are in direct contact with your iPhone screen.
– The back of the case is clear (on the white/clear case), revealing the cool color of your iPhone.
– You will dazzle your friends the first time you tap your fingernail on the glass of your phone and tell them the case is waterproof.
Other than that, the cases are similar. Both now have the headphone jack cover tether. The fingerprint ID function works on both the Fre and the Nuud but you should program it before you put the case on.
Personally, having used both cases, I like them both but I prefer the Nuud. I have never put a screen protector on my phone. So it is quite dependent on your personal preferences for that level of protection and how roughly you handle and store your phone.
Water Damage Insurance for Your iPhone from LifeProof is only $10
If you live in the USA, this seems like a real no-brainer. The Total Water Protection Program insurance is good for a year. The deductible, should you need to use the insurance is $50 so the total cost is $60.
Your LifeProof case must have been purchased either from LifeProof.com or a Verizon corporate store at this time. Available only for purchases within the USA.
You must have validly registered the LP Case and Eligible Device, in accordance with the Registration Process… within 14 days following your purchase of the LP Case from Verizon or 21 days following your purchase of the LP Case from LifeProof.
When you purchase your case from LifeProof.com you will notice that there is a section under the color choice where you can “add optional accessories.” Click for a check mark on the $10 Total Water Protection Program for phones. (slightly higher for iPad).
You will need to use the device you are covering to sign up for the insurance (not your computer). This is done directly to the LifeProof website at twpp.lifeproof.com. If you are having trouble doing this, you can contact the TWPP customer service department at 877-394-6001.
The original packaging is not required for registration as long as you have kept the registration card from the packaging with your 9 digit Program Registration Number. If you purchased directly from the LifeProof website, make sure you keep your Total Water Protection Program Confirmation e-mail with your 9 digit registration code.
You will need:
1) Your original receipt for your LifeProof case purchase. You will need to enter in your purchase date as well as upload a photo of your receipt if you bought from a Verizon Corporate Store. (If purchased directly through LifeProof you will need your original order number instead of a receipt)
2) Your Program Registration Number. You will need the 9 digit code printed on the card found inside of your LifeProof packaging. (If purchased directly through LifeProof this code will be located in your Total Water Protection Program Confirmation e-mail)
3) Your LifeProof Case. They will need the front and back serial numbers printed inside of your case.
4) A screenshot of your device’s about page containing the IMEI/ Serial Number/ MEID.
Talking on Your iPhone with the LifeProof Nuud Case
Both the Fre and Nuud come with a screw-in adapter for your headphones. The adapter has an integrated gasket that ensures a very solid waterproof connection to the case. If you plan on using headphones extensively in proximity to water, you should consider purchasing third-party water-resistant headphones.
People were complaining that they could not hear me when I used my headphones before I started using the adapter. I was using the standard iPhone white headphones. I was about to test different headphones when I realized I should just use the adapter. What I realized from using the adapter was that when I wasn’t using the adapter, I just wasn’t being careful to make sure that the headphone jack was fully seated. The adapter guarantees that so it is simply easier to seat firmly. The adapter also completes a waterproof connection to your phone.
I tested FaceTime video conferencing using the speakerphone. Even though I was out on the beach and did not have access to wifi, it worked fine.
The New Tether for the LifeProof Headphone Jack Cover
When the Nuud was introduced, it came with a tether for the headphone jack cover (as you see in the adapter photo just above). This was a notable improvement as people were losing the headphone jack cover on previous models.
Today both the Nuud and the Fre come with a headphone jack cover tether. The Nuud was introduced with the tether, the Fre was updated with the introduction of the 5s in September 2013 to include a tether.
Be Careful with LifeProof Amazon Purchases
Most Amazon sellers are not authorized by LifeProof and may be selling counterfeit or used cases, which could negate the LifeProof warranty and may cause damage to your phone.
Also beware eBay, CraigsList, flea market purchases, and that guy on the street who says “pssst, wanna buy a LifeProof case”? The fakes are hard to spot unless you know what you are looking for.
Choosing Where to Buy Your LifeProof Case
You can buy a LifeProof case at LifeProof.com and select retailers including BestBuy, AT&T, Verizon and Target. If you choose to return your LifeProof case within the first 30 days satisfaction guaranteed period, or because of issues with your case during the one year warranty period, you will be returning it to the offline or online store you bought it from.
If you have had good experiences with the retailer of your choice, you can depend on them to take care of you as they usually do.
Note however, importantly, you can only get the LifeProof Total Water Protection Program if you buy directly from LifeProof.com or a Verizon Corporate store.
To prepare for a possible return of your case to LifeProof or your retailer: Be sure to keep your receipt. It should have the logo of the store on it. You will be asked for the serial numbers taped inside the front and back of the case. Check to make sure these are there when you receive your case. These two numbers are different. I also recommend that you keep the original package which has an SKU number on it. There will be steps to ensure your case is not a counterfeit. Given the number of these out there, this is necessary. Make sure to get an RMA number from the retailer you are returning it to and write it on the outside of your package.
You Will Want LifeProof Case Accessories
If you are taking your iPhone out onto the water, you will want to attach it to to yourself somehow. The case with your phone inside is not buoyant enough to float on its own.
The LifeProof Lifejacket floatation device is not just for floating in the water – it also allows you to attach a lanyard to your phone as an alternative to an armband when you are out on the water and you need your hands free for paddling, etc. The Lifejacket comes with an attractive quick release LifeProof lanyard and wristband.
LifeProof made the Lifejacket day-glow orange so that it would be easily visible if it ever got away from you. Although light-weight for comfort, it appears to be durable and solidly built. All buttons and features of your iPhone are accessible while in the LifeJacket, including your speaker and microphone.
Many of us live in environments where rain can appear unexpectedly. Hawaii is definitely one of these places. The LifeProof armband is very comfortable. It is easy to reach with one hand to pull out your phone, use it and slip it back into the armband. It is adjustable to the size of your arm. The same armband works with the Fre and the Nuud for the 5s.
If you enjoy biking, you will probably want the LifeProof bike mount. Though you can also use the arm band, the bike mount allows you to easily monitor GPS and use other Bluetooth features – such as a health monitor – that you may want more continuously in front of you. As with the other accessories for the 5s, this accessory works with either the Fre or the Nuud.
Other accessories for the 5s iPhone LifeProof case include a car mount and a belt clip. LifeProof also has accessories for other LifeProof cases for the iPhone 4/4s, iPhone 5c, iPhone 5 and iPad.
One essential accessory I use that is not on the LifeProof site is the inexpensive waterproof bluetooth Boom Swimmer speaker.
Installing and Removing Your LifeProof iPhone 5/5s Nuud Case
Your user manual is here. Just select your product.
The case snaps easily onto your phone. But do follow the directions to make sure that your phone and the case are clean before putting it on. LifeProof includes a microfiber cleaning cloth in your package to help you remember to do this.
Make sure that the O-ring and seal are in place and free of dust, dirt, hair and debris
Make sure that the integrated gasket is free of dust, dirt, hair and debris
If either the front or back is dirty: rinse it in warm water and shake off moisture
Check to make sure that serial numbers are taped into the back of the front and the back of the case. These numbers will not match each other. If these are not there, you may have a counterfeit case.
Testing for WaterProof with the LifeProof Nuud
LifeProof includes an iPhone 5 shaped blue plastic insert marked with the assurance that your LifeProof case has been tested to make it easy for you test it once again. It is not without trepidation that many of us dunk our iPhones in water for the first time, so having a way to test the case without actually using your phone is a relief.
Installing and Removing Your iPhone 5/5s LifeProof Fre Case
Please note that the Fre case in this video does not show a tether for the headphone jack cover, but the latest Fre LifeProof case does have a tether. This improvement was made at the time of the introduction of the 5s, in September 2013. Previously the headphone jack cover was a separate item that was not attached to the case itself.
Silence Switch on Both Fre and Nuud LifeProof Cases Toggles
It is not immediately obvious that the piece of rubber covering your silence switch easily toggles back and forth between silent mode and ringer on.
Note that it switches in the opposite direction what you are accustomed to on your iPhone, eg push UP for mute. But you will quickly adjust to this.
Use your finger or thumb pad, not your fingernail.
Using the LifeProof Cases Underwater
The submerged depth limit is two meters (or 6.6 feet), so these are definitely not deep-dive devices. This is sufficient depth protection for snorkeling and most water play.
Please note that any touch screen will not respond underwater because of the way the touchscreen electronics work – it’s similar to the problem you face using a touchscreen with gloves on.
To take photos, press the volume up (+) button on the side of your case.
To take video, start the video before going under. Your microphone will work normally.
Do not depend on utilizing wireless signals when your phone is underwater.
When you come to the surface, some water may be trapped on the outside of the camera lens. A quick shake of the phone should remove it instantly.
It is usual to see a small stream or bubbles escaping from the microphone or speaker vents when you first submerge your phone and case. This is normal and should not indicate a problem with the water seal.
Several reviewers note that the case’s glass covering for your camera lens is excellent. In fact, several underwater photography experts have reported that it’s actually better than some deep water camera covers. Therefore, your underwater photos should not exhibit significant distortion.
After using the case underwater in chlorinated or salt water, be sure to wash it off.
You Will Probably Not Remove Your LifeProof Case Often
When I first began using the case, I thought I would just use it when I was going out onto the ocean. But I discovered that the case is quite comfortable to use in spite of it’s advanced functionality. I am in wet conditions much more often than I expected. If you have children or grandchildren, your phone is now far more childproof than it was before.
The number of health and sports Apps for the iPhone will continue to expand – along with the opportunities to use your phone during outdoor activities. Whether you are out running with your phone, you are working hard and perspiring, or you find yourself training in the rain, there are many reasons a LifeProof case makes sense on a daily basis.
Then there are our “oops moments.” The spills, the dirt, the drops that we want to protect our iPhone from.
If you are taking the phone underwater, LifeProof does recommend that you test it every three months, so you need to take the cover off then.
When I come out of the ocean after paddling, I wash the salt water off of everything, please do the same with your LifeProof case.
Clean your case liberally with clean fresh water to rinse off all salt, dirt, sand, or chlorine. Shake off excess water and dry with a clean, soft cloth.
Do not use abrasives, solvents, bleach, petroleum, or oxidizing agents on your LifeProof case.
• Keep O-rings, covers, seals and/or gaskets clean
• Water test before planned water use and retest every three months
• Rinse with fresh water after exposure to soap, chlorine or seawater
• Backup your device’s data regularly
• After major impacts: Inspect for damage and ensure case, ports and covers are sealed.
In the past, LifeProof has advised that you really don’t want to be constantly taking your case on and off because the closure is very precise. However, this advice is two years old and applies to a prior generation of cases. LifeProof has not included this warning on the latest model cases introduced summer 2013. Do keep in mind that if you are taking the case on and off, you should make sure that the seals are clean when you reinstall the case, and if you are putting the case on to take it out into the water, then you should water test the case first.
Should I Worry About Negative LifeProof Reviews?
On the popular Wirecutter review site, they proclaimed the LifeProof Nuud “the best waterproof iPhone case.” One of the comments accused the writer of writing a bogus review saying he had seen so many bad reviews on Amazon and Apple. The reviewer answered:
User reviews are notoriously poor at evaluating stuff like this. That’s because every person whose case fails will write a negative review whereas many people whose cases work fine can’t be bothered to. LifeProof is the most popular waterproof case brand. More cases=more failures=more complaints.
There is also the factor that there are a significant number of fake LifeProof cases out there. Be very careful where you buy your LifeProof case from. (LifeProof.com, BestBuy, AT&T, Verizon and Target are your best bet).
If you are a worrier, get the outstanding Total Water Protection Program insurance that LifeProof provides! It’s only $10 and if anything unexpected happens, your iPhone is covered for only $50. You can only get this insurance is you buy directly from LifeProof or a Verizon Corporate Store. Please see the details above. I already had my iPhone insured through AT&T for $10/month, so I am covered. Back up the notes, photos and videos on your iPhone regularly (you should do this regardless of water activities).
A Few Photos and Video I Was Able to Take In the Ocean Thanks to Having a LifeProof Case
I went on a kayak whale watching trip and shot the following video. The full story is here. This was captured with a LifeProof Fre for iPhone 5s.
I think it is obvious from my personal photos that I am genuinely enjoying LifeProof products myself. I have recommended them to close friends and family. I sincerely hope that my information and tips will help you have the best experience possible should you be in the market for a waterproof phone case.