Greg Goulding assesses a range of waterproof phone cases to see how they cope with conditions at sea and during day-to-day life

It’s not unusual for a modern phone to cost upwards of £500, so when our hobby is to spend time around a phone’s worst nightmare it’s not a bad idea to seek some protection: water ingress is the biggest killer of phones, writes Greg Goulding.

We sourced a selection of phone cases, from a food bag for a couple of pence to an action camera case for £110, and put them through their paces to see how they perform, and if you really do get what you pay for.

Anything that claims to be waterproof has to be tested in the first place to gain an official rating known as an International Protection (IP) code: pre- determined challenges are set to see how well the product survives.

Following the IP are two numbers: the first represents the Solid Particle Protection and the second is Liquid Ingress Protection, the one we’re interested in. The tests are expensive and time-consuming, so many of the cases would only have been tested for liquid.

In these cases an X replaces the result for the particle test: the higher the number, the better the score. The lowest protection is one, which equals 10 minutes of dripping water, but for this test we’re looking for a score of at least seven, which equates to 30 minutes submerged 1m underwater. Move to level 8 and the depth increases to 3m.

Waterproof phone cases test

How we tested them

We fitted the cases to a phone and used it while sailing, in the yacht club bar and going to work.

To give a good overview of each case, we’ve looked at the build quality and finish, how they fit to a phone, usability when fitted including the screen, charging or listening to music, and price.

And despite the rigorous testing these would have gone through to get an IP rating, we still gave them a good dunking.

Aquapac

Aquapac waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IPX8
Compatible with: everything
Price: £20

Apart from the design, there is very little to distinguish the Aquapac soft case from the Overboard case (also on test). The plastic is similar in feel, being thick enough to offer protection without stopping any of the features. Unlike the Overboard, the phone could pick up a fingerprint, although it wasn’t a clear enough reading to always unlock it.

To charge or listen to music the phone does need to be removed from the case, via two pivoting levers. It felt a little too snug for the iPhone 6 we used for testing, although once in it left a handy area below that would be perfect for cash and coins. The case seemed to collect dirt a little quicker than the Overboard, restricting the clarity of the camera and screen.

A host of other sizes is available, although the generic size fits most phones. It comes with a lanyard, as does the Overboard, so it is ideal for putting round your neck when clambering into the tender.

Sound quality is perfectly fine, although the phone sits quite high up the case so the plastic clamp irritates by resting on the top of your ear.

Aquapac waterproof phone case

Lifedge

Lifedge waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IP68
Compatible with: iPhone 5/5s
Price: £39.99

Designed and manufactured in the UK, Lifedge’s waterproof case comes in a range of soft colours. It is made from a fairly standard quality plastic, but a rubbery outer frame protects against dropping and gives superb grip: particularly useful if the phone is left on a chart table, as it won’t slip even when the boat is heeled. The case is in two parts, held together with a clip on all four sides and easily slipping over the phone.

The screen plastic didn’t deteriorate during use, although the raised plastic made touching the screen in the corners a little tricky at times. The charging point is easily accessed via the bottom clip, while the headphone socket has a screw pin and comes with an adapter for headphones, although Apple’s original slim jack does still fit.

With the phone fitted, some of the gaps seemed slightly uneven, which always causes concern with waterproofing. Noise quality for receiving and sending was very clear. Its biggest let-down is only being available for the iPhone 5/5S models, although there is a case for the iPad.

Lifedge waterproof phone case

Lifeproof Nuud

Lifeproof Nuud waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IP68
Compatible with: Apple, Samsung and Android
Price: £79.99

The Nuud stands clear from the crowd with its unique (and slightly daring) lack of screen.
The surrounding plastic is of solid quality, and softer edges should protect it if dropped as well as offering extra grip for when the boat heels. It boasts the U.S. Military standard for drop and shock protection, rating at MIL STD 810G-516.6.

Effort has clearly been taken to retain the phone’s design, making it the sleekest hard case on test. The two-piece case splits easily, with a clip to allow access for charging. Like the Lifedge, an adapter is supplied for the headphone jack, but Apple’s slim headphones fit. There’s a window of soft plastic for the iPhone’s fingerprint recognition button, which works through the case.

As there’s no screen, there is no issue of crazing or condensation, although there’s also no protection against scratching. There were no sound issues when making a call. Lifeproof cases are rated IP68 – waterproof for two metres for an hour. It comes with a mock phone to test for your own peace of mind, and it passed in our test.

Lifeproof Nuud waterproof phone case

Overboard

Overboard waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IPX8
Compatible with: everything
Price: £18.75

Overboard’s grippy clear plastic bag is strong enough to withstand your phone being scratched by keys in your pocket, while not restricting access to any buttons. The plastic is too hard to allow the fingerprint button to work. The bag unseals at the top, with two buttons sliding out to lock
or in to unlock.

The grip from the plastic stops the phone from wriggling around too much, so the camera and buttons should always be in the right place, and not fall behind the coloured plastic area.

The case is sealed, so accessories such as a charger or headphones can’t be used at the same time. Air is also locked in the case, so depending on the phone inside the case might float. During our test, however, it sank with both an iPhone 5 and 6.

During the tests it kept the phone from getting wet, and at this price that’s all you can expect. The great point of these is that they’ll work with all phone-sized items, and you can even put vitals in the bag too, such as beer money when heading ashore by tender.

Larger versions are available for iPads.

Overboard waterproof phone case

Armor-X

Armor-X waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IPX8
Compatible with: iPhones, Samsung Galaxy range and Androids
Price: £47.99

Armor-X produce cases and mounts for a range of sports, so it’s worth remembering that this can fit to your mountain bike as well as your boat. The front is all clear screen, with just a thick border to protect from any bumps.

It feels well put together, and three clips on either side make for easy yet secure fitting. A small toggle pulls out to allow for charging, but there’s a screw in the place of the headphone jack. Unlike the others, this isn’t attached, so if it goes missing the case will no longer be waterproof.

With the front being a large screen, getting to the corner of your phone’s screen isn’t an issue. However, in places it feels like there’s a gap between the screen and the phone, making texting a little irritating at times. It is a simple case with no real unique features and Armor-X has priced it accordingly, leaving spare budget to buy various attachments. Sound quality was very slightly muffled, but still within acceptable parameters.

Armor-X waterproof phone case

Hitcase

Hitcase waterproof phone case

Waterproof rating: IPX8
Compatible with: iPhone 5/5s/6
Price: £109.99

The Hitcase isn’t just waterproof, but will also help turn the phone into an action camera. It’s big and made of tough plastic, but inside there’s a far softer second case which will protect the
phone from any bumps. The biggest concern is that it comes with a tool to open the case, which could be lost within minutes.

The screen isn’t a great fit, which resulted in failed attempts to type using the phone. Also, the inner lens fell out on our case, which meant it wasn’t waterproof for the test. There’s an external removable lens which is either wide or super-wide with the Pro+, which is the one we had: this allows the phone to take GoPro-style images and videos.

Being so well sealed, there was never any concern that it wouldn’t be waterproof under normal circumstances. In using the phone, the Hitcase restricted noise interference to a minimum.

Hitcase waterproof phone case

The ASDA sandwich bag

Asda sandwich bag

Waterproof rating: N/A
Compatible with: all phones
Price: £1.25 for 25

Those with a phone that isn’t compatible with mainstream cases, or who don’t want to spend the money, could go for our budget option of a sandwich bag. The bag’s clear plastic offers no real protection from drops, but the resealing mechanism is a proven design. The screen is accessible through the bag but is a little fiddly to use, with the bag constantly slipping under your fingers.

Impressively, the fingerprint technology still works. There is no waterproof access to the headphones or charger, but the sealer allows quick access.

The great thing about using bags is that they’re cheap: 25 for little more than £1 means you can use one for your phone, another for keys and a third for cash. They’re big enough to house even the largest phones and, while no official IP rating is given, they proved to be watertight during our splash and submersion tests.

Also, in a slightly embarrassing turn of events, the sandwich bag was the only ‘case’ in this test to float. Even making and receiving calls was clear enough. While we strongly recommend testing before use, it is without doubt better than not using anything.

Waterproof phone cases test

PBO verdict

None of the cases tested are bad buys, and much depends upon personal preference. It’s important to remember that a case has to be good, otherwise you won’t use it. We loved the Lifeproof’s non-existent screen, and the external lens on the Hitcase was great fun.
However, the Armor-X is a great case for half the price, while the waterproof bags from Aquapac and Overboard are worth having just for cash and keys. We’ve awarded the Best Buy to Lifeproof for its initiative to drop the screen, and the Budget Buy award goes to Overboard for pipping Aquapac to the post with price and for being so useful.

 

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