LifeProof iPhone 4/4S Case: An In-Depth Analysis

While mobile gaming may not be as hardcore as it is on the consoles, there’s no denying that Smartphones are becoming a legitimate entertainment platform. And just like a console gamer, mobile enthusiasts need the right gear to play at their best. There’s a few areas where (most) mobile devices fall short: ergonomics and comfort, durable build, and sound quality. Many cases are simply built for giving your device a little more protection, but don’t address many of the issues more heavy-duty gamers might need.

So my interest was piqued after I got my hands on LifeProof’s iPhone 4 case. While not advertised as a gaming accessory, there’s more to the LifeProof than meets the eye. The company advertises the case as being dirt, water, snow, and shock proof, and at first glance, the case certainly looks like it can handle anything thrown at it. I wouldn’t say I’ve done any extreme testing, but after putting the case to the test against water and shocks, I’m very impressed. LifeProof shows images of users taking underwater photos on their site, and if you’re the adventurous type who wants to game in a pool or bath tub, their case will work for you. The case comes with a notice that you need to test the case’s waterproof seal before putting your phone in it, and all of the instructions are outlined on LifeProof’s site. Interestingly enough, the case is slimmer than you might expect – noticeably slimmer than the tank-like Otterbox series of cases.

The LifeProof case comes in a beautiful assortment of colors for just about anyone.

For gamers, this covers the first necessity mentioned earlier – ergonomics. The iPhone 4 is a bit small in my hands, and I begin to feel them cramp after a fairly short game session. On the other hand, Otterbox’s cases are also quite bulky and a bit too big for long gaming sessions. But for me, the LifeProof case fits just right, and while holding it landscape like a controller with the Home Button on the left, it feels perfect. The phone’s polycarbonate and elastomer material feels just right, providing the grip of a console controller without feeling “grabby” like rubber, also making it pocket-friendly. As for the build quality, the case is a tanker – it can take drops, thuds, and crashes and still keep your phone secure and untouched. Any mobile gamer will appreciate the case’s ability to keep their device safe. However, I won’t comment on its ability to protect your phone if you throw it in frustration, and I don’t recommend you do – it’s just common sense.

So the LifeProof case covers two bases – durability and comfort. That only leaves sound quality, and your mileage may vary here depending on your taste. The LifeProof case is built with what they call the “Sound Enhancement System” – the case changes the way sound travels through it, making bass and low tones more pronounced but silencing treble and higher tones a bit. In a quiet environment, this is a nice improvement, as strong bass is a tough thing to find on a smaller mobile device. However, you’ll find in louder places that sometimes you might even miss notification sounds when the phone is in your pocket. This can be remedied somewhat by opening the case’s door that covers the charging port, but this makes holding the case landscape more uncomfortable and breaks the case’s water-tight seal until the door is closed again. The case will also noticeably vibrate while playing sound and music, which is a feeling some users might have to get used to. Given the way sound travels through water though, a more adventurous user might want to try playing music while going for a swim for a really interesting experience. The case’s speakers, microphone, and earpiece are all protected by a special material that allows sound through but keeps water out. For the most discerning of gaming audiophiles, the headphone cap can be removed to allow access to the headphone jack. For headphones with a larger or oddly-shaped plug, the case also comes with an adapter that substitues the headphone cap, allowing any pair of headphones to connect through the case.

For the purposes of this review, I mainly tested the case with two games – Punch Quest (review found here) and Extreme Road Trip 2. Punch Quest’s audio mostly ranged on the higher end of the spectrum, so overall the sound was more muffled, though some punching noises had a little more “oomph” to them. The game’s controls are simple, but were very responsive, even through the case’s screen protector. Since Punch Quest often demands lightning-quick reflexes, I appreciated the better grip and feel the case provided. Overall, despite the sound trade-off, Punch Quest was much more enjoyable with the case than without. However, Extreme Road Trip 2 was a much better experience overall. The control benefits were certainly welcome, but the case’s acoustics paid dividends with Road Trip 2’s mostly bass-filled sound effects and music, making the case a huge improvement to the game across the board.

Some concessions need to be made for the protection the case provides.

A few last details round out the package. The case comes in a variety of colors that look great regardless of whether you have a black or a white iPhone 4/4S. All of the phone’s controls are completely accessible, including volume and Home buttons, the silence switch, lock button, touch screen, and front and back cameras, as well as the LED flash. The case includes a built-in screen protector, and while it feels a bit more grabby than the screen by itself, it is by no means obstructive and feels totally natural. The glass covers over the cameras are crystal-clear and take photos and videos as well as a naked iPhone. The only two mild inconveniences are in the form of the headphone screw-in cap (which can be tedious to switch in and out) and the door cover for the charging port, which doesn’t fit all chargers like a naked iPhone would. My car charger’s larger-than-stock connector didn’t fit in the case. These are two necessary evils to maintain the case’s waterproof seal, however. LifeProof offers an adapter for sale on their site to fit all chargers, but some may be peeved at the need for an extra purchase, especially considering the case’s already-substantial $70 price tag.

When it comes down to it, the LifeProof case isn’t really a gaming case. More than anything, its appeal to gamers is more of an accidental result of its build quality and features. However, this doesn’t diminish its value as a great case for everyone, whether you do a lot of heavy-duty mobile gaming or not. At $70, it’s a pretty hefty investment, but you definitely get what you pay for, and those who can cope with the case’s acoustic characteristics will find the LifeProof is one of the best available on the market.

Special Note: The LifeProof case is also available for the iPhone 5 and iPad. Android users, don’t fret: a LifeProof case for the Samsung Galaxy S III is in the works!

A special thanks to Jonathan R. Wegner and Natalie Barreiro for providing us with a LifeProof case for the purposes of this review!