REVIEW – It’s fun to play outside, but nature can do a number on your precious smartphone! Today we’re checking out the FRĒ series from LifeProof for the iPhone Xs, Xs MAX, and Xr. It’s designed to keep the elements from ruining your day if you lead an active lifestyle. To the review!
What is it?
It’s an iPhone case that features an integrated screen cover for complete protection against dirt, water, snow, and shocks.
- 6.68″ x 3.58″ x 0.55″
- 1.6 ounces
- Rated to protect against drops of 2 meters
- Submersible up to 2 meters for 1 hours
- Sealed to protect against water, dirt, and snow (IP68 protection rating)
What’s in the box?
The package includes the case and setup instructions.
Design and features
The LifeProof phone case lineup is organized based on levels of protection. The FRĒ series is the max-protect option, with an integrated screen cover that seals the phone completely to protect against drops, dirt, snow, and water. It’s a two-part shell construction, with a rubber gasket that seals the housing against the elements.
While the unit is water tested prior to shipping, LifeProof recommends that you do a second water test before installing the case. You’ll snap the two sides together without your phone, close up the lightning port seal, and submerge the case in water for 30 minutes. If you see any liquid in the case after this, you will be advised to contact LifeProof for a replacement. I had no issues with water during my test.
Passing that checkpoint, I moved on to install the case on my phone. Here I noticed some installation challenges that made things a bit tricky. The instructions say that you can remove the case by popping open the charger port and using a coin to separate the halves… but there’s nowhere to stick a coin in there. I ended up using a butter knife in that slot you see to the left of the charger port, and did some damage. Kind of a bummer.
With the shells separated, you’ll insert the phone in the front shell first. It slides right into a pre-defined slot. The rear shell pops on top, and you’ll press firmly to get a super-tight seal. I did find that the rubber gasket could be a bit persnickety and took some tweaking to lock in on the rear case, but it wasn’t a huge issue.
If protection is your goal, you’ll appreciate the tank-like feel to the case once the install is completed. Your phone is locked in place with no waggle or shimmy to be found in the housing. The whole build feels solid, with tight seals throughout. It will add noticeable bulk to your phone, but not as much as I expected. You’ll feel confident in the case’s ability to take punishment.
Here’s a shot of the front face. Note that I have full edge-to-edge exposure for the entire front screen on iPhone Xs Max. I did find that there’s a *slight* gap between the case cover and the phone screen. It works fine for the most part, but there are times when I have to give it a double-tap or I have to press down harder to get it to respond to my inputs. I think that’s part of the trade-off for the extra layer of protection. The cover doesn’t impede the light-sensing feature of the phone that adjusts to the brightness of the environment.
The rear face provides clear ports for the apple logo, camera, and sensor elements. Checking out some reviews on Amazon I saw comments about picture quality being affected by these covers, but I did not notice any issue with picture quality.
The charger port is protected by a hinged cap that seals completely when not in use. It does a nice job sealing the port against the elements. If you’re using wired headphones, note that you’ll have to keep that port open for operation. Wireless headphones are the way to go here if you want to maintain that maximum protection against the elements.
Your buttons and switches are all rubberized and fully integrated into the phone case. The volume rockers and mute switch also incorporate a pair of tabs to protect against accidental brushes or knocks while carrying the phone. The mute switch uses a “reverse toggle” setup (“down” is up, and “up” is down) that takes some getting used to. Otherwise, normal operation is just fine for the volume rockers and the side button.
I did notice that the case does impact the use of the speakers and the built-in microphone. You’ll get some interference with the clarity of the speakers when playing music or using the speaker for calls, and others have reported that my voice sounds slightly muffled on phone conversations. Considering the level of protection, it’s actually pretty good… but that’s the tradeoff you get for a complete weatherproof seal on the phone. I’d recommend using wireless accessories for playing music and making calls.
What I like
- Excellent protection from shocks and all the elements
- Precise, solid construction
- Surprisingly lean for the level of protection it offers
What needs to be improved
- Installation and removal can be tricky
- Slight gap between the cover and phone screen can require extra taps in normal operation
- Muted audio is a tradeoff for the level of protection
Overall, I think the LifeProof FRĒ is a great choice for those who expose their phone to a lot of hazardous situations for professional or recreational use. Not only is the protection excellent, but it offers a stylish alternative to some of the industrial or military-inspired case designs that you see in this segment. There will be some performance tradeoffs, but I think the FRĒ handles them quite well considering the level of protection you’re getting…. not every phone in this class offers true waterproof protection. LifeProof offers the FRĒ in a variety of interesting color combinations so you can find one to match your personal style. Mine’s called “Tiki” (heh), and the lineup includes a variety of primary colors, pastel tones, a camouflage theme, and basic black. They also offer models for Galaxy and Pixel phones.