LifeProof Fre cell phone case

Test by Coy Starnes
Test item provided by LifeProof

LifeProof cases are designed to offer protection for several electronic devices.  I will be testing the Fre with my iPhone 5.  They don’t make this case for all of the products out there, but do cover several of the most popular.  However, they make cases for older iPhones as well as the iPad (including the mini and air) and iPod.  There are also Fre cases for the Galaxy S3 and S4 phones.  With that out of the way, let me introduce you to the Fre I am testing.

As already mentioned, my case is designed to fit the iPhone 5.  It offers both drop and water protection.  The water protection obviously means the case also will keep snow and ice as well as dirt and dust out of the case.  This might not seem to be a big deal, but I will admit I was surprised at just how dirty my phone had become after about a year in a similar case that was not waterproof.  It is also quite a bit thinner than my old case as can be seen in this side by side photo.

The Fre case is not quite as padded as my old case and the outer edge is more like a hard plastic as apposed to the rubbery feel of my old case had.  It is also probably why my old case is rated for a 10 foot drop while the Fre is only rated for a drop of 6.6 ft.  However, this review is not intended as a shoot out between the Fre and my old case.

I will say that since the Fre is designed to be waterproof up to 6.6 ft it is probably a better fit for my use since I do spend a lot of time around water, both at my job and during my leisure time, which includes quite a bit of kayaking and also wading or swimming down at the creek to cool off in the summer.  One potential problem though is that the case by itself does not offer floatation for my phone.  I have been using an AquaPac case that not only kept my phone dry, but also allowed it to float if I dropped it while kayaking.  The downside of using this “bag” style protection was that it made making and receiving calls difficult and also made taking pictures harder.  As a matter of fact, I would usually ignore a call until I could get to quiet water and take it out of the bag before returning the call.  The same for taking pictures.  I did see that LifeProof offers a Life Jacket designed for this case and it should solve both these problems. Unfortunately, it is showing up as out of stock at the moment.  I will try to see if I can find it locally or just wait until available again and order one.

I have already tested the “waterproofness” of the Fre.  I followed the instructions which indicated I should place the case in some water.  However, before that I had already put it on my phone so I had to remove it since they recommend testing it empty at first.  Now I know taking the case on and off my phone is pretty simple.  But back to my test.  Using a large bowl (I used my “popcorn” bowl) I held it under about 6 inches of water.  The empty case floats and I was getting bored just standing there holding it down with my hand so I did not go anywhere near the recommended 30 minutes. I could have placed something heavy on it, but I am satisfied.  I then checked the inside and it was perfectly dry.  Here is the Fre being held underwater.

Testing the Lifeproof Fre waterproof case empty
Testing the LifeProof Fre waterproof case empty

I then put my phone back in the case and reluctantly did one more dunk test in the same water and bowl.  Again, I only left it in for a few minutes, but the Fre kept my phone perfectly dry.

Testing the Lifeproof Fre waterproof case with iPhone 5
Testing the LifeProof Fre waterproof case with iPhone 5

I did get online and check out a few reviews of the Fre before I received the case I’m testing. Apparently a few things have changed for the better since most the complaints I read about seem to have been addressed.  I noticed one reviewer complaining that the plug for the audio jack was not connected and could be lost, it is now connected.  Another review complained about having to turn the phone over to hear audio very well since the speaker sound is designed to come from the back of the phone.  I laid my phone flat, but face side up on a table and could hear the audio portion of the video just fine.  I have had no problem hearing calls coming in either, and talking on the phone seems no different than it did with my other case, whether I am talking with the phone held to my ear or using the speaker mode. Another review stated that the screen protector was not great and had visible waves when viewing from an angle.  I can see a couple of small spots that look like a topo map with a hilltop at the center circle, but I would not call those waves; they look more like oil spots to me.  I have to be in fairly bright light to even notice them. Indoors I seldom see them, but do notice them more when outside. The same review complained that the text was not accurate. I’m probably not the best to test this out because with my fat fingers I tend to mess up a lot anyway, but I have already sent several text messages and noticed no difference.  One thing I did notice was that the switch that activates the silent feature, or turns the ringer back on now operates opposite of the way it did on just the phone or in my old case covered by a flap.  The reason for this is because when I pull up on the protruding switch I am in effect pushing down the actual switch inside the case, and vice versa.  Overall, I am very pleased with the LifeProof Fre case. Please check back in about a month and see how it is continuing to perform.


Update: July 2, 2014
I have been using the LifeProof Fre for about 6 weeks now and it has worked as advertised so far.  In addition to carrying it everyday (to work, town, church, around home etc) I have carried it on several backpacking, day hiking and kayaking trips.  I have dropped/knocked my phone off the back of the couch onto a hardwood floor several times.  I measured this particular drop at 34 inches so just shy of 3 feet.  It fell about the same distance off of my truck seat and onto a concrete drive once.  I have used my iPhone out in rain and it has remained waterproof but I took it to the next level by recording a few videos underwater.  Here is one video I took.  
I am really liking the way this case presents a slimmer profile of my phone compared to my old case since I carry my phone in my pocket most of the time.  I actually don’t know where the belt clip holster I got with the phone is right now.  The only negative I noted in my initial report was the small spots on the screen that looked like a TOPO map.  They have remained but have not caused any issues.  When I have an app open like Facebook or messages I don’t see the spots.  I also reported that I read some users complaining about the volume of the phone but I use the alarm fairly often and it wakes me up just fine.  I can hear the whistle I have set for when I get a text message and have no problem hearing videos or phone conversations when I set the phone to speaker phone.
Please stay tuned for my final update in about another month from now to see how the LifeProof Fre continues to perform.
Final Update: September 26, 2014

I have absolutely no complaints with the LIfeProof Fre. As already mentioned, I really like that the case maintains a slim profile but still offers adequate protection for the daily bumps and drops I have subjected my phone too.  It is truly a case (of) where less is more. I had planned to include a 3 day paddling trip in my final update which would have been a really good test for a waterproof phone case, but alas, the cook had to cancel and I wasn’t about to go without him. After all, he is the best cook I know.  But this review isn’t about my personal problems…  I have still used the Fre iPhone case daily for the past several months.  This has included more kayaking trips, both fishing and just recreational paddling. I took more videos with the phone while on the water but have not intentionally dunked it recently. However, I always seemed to manage to get the phone pretty wet while out in my kayak. I usually laid it somewhere handy on the deck  of my sit-on-top so that I could grab it for quick photos.  This led to getting the phone too hot once and the phone shut itself down just as I wanted to take a photo, however, I can not blame this on the Fre case.  I was always a little nervous just letting it ride  because I never did get the float made for this case.  I’m confident the Fre case would  have protected my phone if it fell overboard, but in some of the deeper water I seriously doubt I could have retrieved it from the muddy bottom. Fortunately, both my SOT kayaks are pretty stable and I would have had to really lean the kayak on edge to risk dunking it.  I did paddle my much tipsier touring kayak once and kept the phone zipped inside a pocket on my life jacket for the duration of that paddle. One last comment. I plan to upgrade my phone to the iPhone 6 Plus in a few months. I will be shopping for a case to protect it with and right now I don’t foresee using any case but the Fre for my new phone. Well the Nuud is also in the running.  I took a peak at the LifeProof website and they are still developing the case for the new iPhones. It did say “coming soon”.This concludes my testing of the LifeProof Fre iPhone 5 case.  I have really enjoyed using it and feel it is exactly what it says it is, LifeProof!

About the Author

I am from northeast Alabama where I spend a lot of my time divided among several hobbies that include  backpacking and dayhiking, canoeing and kayaking, and just getting out enjoying nature.

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