The iPhone 5 is designed to be sleek and attractive to the eye. Unfortunately, this design comes with some noticeable flaws as demonstrated by Molly Wood during a CNET torture test (video below). A single shuffle puck across the pavement caused her iPhone 5 to become riddled with scratches and scuffs. In fact, the laser-chiseled edges that make the phone look so elegant became sharp and rigged.
To protect your iPhone from this common fate, you’ll need to invest in a case and/or screen protector. This is one reason the iPhone protective accessory market is so abundant with different (often overpriced) options that promise to keep your phone safe in the likely event of a drop.
In the spirit of keeping my shiny new iPhone 5 safe, I decided to test out a handful of cases that each promised to protect my iPhone.
The iFrogz Breeze is the weakest iPhone case in this list. It doesn’t protect your phone from particularly nasty falls, come with screen protection, or defense against water and other liquids.
What it does, however, is provide a reasonably easy-to-grip case that won’t slip out of your hands very easily. It feels rough to the touch, though it actually won’t act as an abrasive on the back or sides of your iPhone. It slips on very easily, stays on well, and is easy to and maintain.
One downside I found with my experience in testing the iFrogz Breeze came when I removed the case. It left a weird residue on the phone that wasn’t easy to get off. There was a shadow that survived three cleanings with an alcohol swab before it finally disappeared.
For the price, the iFrogz Breeze is an easy pass, unless your biggest concern with a case is bulk and grip. The style is similar to numerous other cases on the market. The Breeze does a great job of not adding a lot of bulk to your device while making it easier to hold on to.
The biggest and bulkiest case on this list is definitely the Otterbox Defender. It also offers the best protection from drops and other dangers of everyday use. The Otterbox Defender isn’t waterproof, but it does defend your device from the occasional splash or heavy rain commonly encountered during day-to-day use.
This is a bulky case that comes in two parts. An inner shell secures your iPhone in place and makes up the clips on which the rest of the case attaches. An integrated screen protector will keep your screen safe from scratches and scrapes. Over all, it looks quite good. There is an occasional rainbow effect that occurs as the plastic shifts. It’s not terribly distracting, but much more noticeable on white screens.
An outer rubber ring fits around the edges of the iPhone 5 and provides much of the shock absorption and liquid defense. This component fits snugly on the inner piece with minimal give. It’s actually fairly difficult to take this piece off after it’s put in place.
The final piece is a belt clip that doubles as a stand. It’s big, and extremely difficult to fit into a standard pocket. It works fine as a stand, but it doesn’t remain particularly stable.
This is probably the best case for anyone that lives an extreme life who wants to be prepared for a phone drop from a second story window.
Body Glove DropSuit
The Body Glove DropSuit is my personal favorite out of the group reviewed here. Not because it protects the iPhone 5 better than the rest (it really doesn’t), but because it is easy to hold and quite capable of helping your phone survive an otherwise nasty fall.
The Body Glove DropSuit itself is fairly basic. The case is a semi-rigid plastic molded with raised sections around the rim and back that offer a buffer between your phone and the elements. It comes in a few colors, and the ribbed back makes gripping in your hand comfortable.
The DropSuit conforms nicely to the iPhone. It’s snug enough not to shift around, yet surprisingly easy to remove when you want to clean the device.
The Lifeproof Fre is perhaps my least favorite case in this group. The price is substantially higher than any of the other cases in the series. At about $90 retail, the value per dollar wasn’t anywhere close to where it should be for the price.
When I took the Lifeproof Fre home, I noticed some instructions advising users to test the waterproof sealing on the case prior to use. I did so, and the case filled with water after the allotted hour. It was a disappointment. I had purchased a defective unit. Sure, this might be one out of 100, but it didn’t encourage me to buy another and try again.
What I did like about the case was just how much thought was put into accessing various ports and hearing the speakers through a waterproof seal. It surprised me just how well the speakers and microphone worked through the white porous material that covered these components. That isn’t to say call quality wasn’t effected by this. Audio came through slightly muffled as though you were playing music through a cardboard box. A special audio cable allows users to plug their phone into an external speaker while underwater. That’s a bit much for most folks, but you never know when you might want to listen to music while scuba diving.
I wasn’t terribly impressed by the screen protector. It made the iPhone 5 Retina display look grainy, much like many far cheaper screen protectors also do. If you do find yourself looking for a waterproof solution, be sure to test your case before trusting it to your iPhone.
Over all, there are plenty of great options out there for iPhone 5 users looking to keep their phone protected from the elements. The ones I tried varied greatly in both price and quality, though there are literally thousands of cases available on the market to choose from.