With model names like Preserver, Bravo, SLXtreme5 and Hydra, waterproof phone cases hold great promise for anyone who uses a smartphone on the water. It’s cool to use, unless it gets wet. We have seen several popular cases leak for undetermined reasons that are normally attributed to user error. Still, we think they are a good insurance policy against accidental impacts or dunking, but in our opinion, cases still don’t make your phone a good water toy.

How We TestedOperations

You could put your phone in a vault, but you couldn’t make a call. We looked for operating issues when the phone was in the protective case. One case we tested actually reduced signal reception, also resulting in reduced battery life.
3 points: No restriction of functions
2 points: Some restriction of functions
1 point: Functions critically handicapped when sealed

Ease of Installation
Let’s face it: Reading directions is not our forte. And some of these phone cases had some onerous details to cover. You’ll have to judge whether the benefit is worth the risk, but here’s how we scored them.
3 points: Easy intuitive install
2 points: Barely intuitive install
1 point: Engineering degree needed to install

Volume
Waterproof cases are notorious for muffling sound. We took A-weighted decibel readings of a voicemail message placing the Radio Shack decibel meter directly against the earpiece. Then we used the speaker phone and held the decibel meter 4 inches away. We repeated the tests with the phone in each case and logged the difference. Note: Decibels are logarithmic expressions. Two dbA are twice as loud as 1 dbA; 4 dbA are 16 times as loud.

Earpiece Scores
3 points: Under 10 dbA lost
2 points: 10 to 15 dbA lost
1 point: 16 or more dbA lost

Speaker Phone Scores
3 points: Under 10 dbA lost
2 points: 11 to 15 dbA lost
1 point: 16 or more dbA lost

Skid Test
Nobody likes to lunge for a sliding phone. We’d like some nonskid surface to help keep it in place. We put our phones in cases on an 18-inch acrylic panel and inclined them until they slid down.
3 points: More than 6-inch incline
2 points: 4- to 6-inch incline
1 point: 1- to 3-inch incline

Waterproof Test
We crushed Alka-Seltzer to make a “fizz bomb” and dumped a tablespoon of the powder into our cases before dunking them into our tank 36 inches deep for 30 minutes. None fizzed! Each got three points.

 

1.

Otterbox Preserver – iPhone 5s

Included: Wrist lanyard
$89.95; otterbox.com

Operations: 2/3
Ease of Installation: 3/3
Earpiece: 3/3
Speaker Phone: 3/3
Skid Factor: 3/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Case closes with positive snapping seals so there’s no question of a seal.
Charger port and earphone port covers are hinged to avoid loss.
Practically no volume loss and skid-resistant face are big positives.

Lows
Fingerprint window is occluded, but we improved recognition by rescanning with the case on.
We had no luck getting the mute button to function — a common gripe on forums.
The case back was slippery, losing grip on the 3-inch inclined acrylic panel we used as a test ramp.

SpecsWeight: 1.94 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP-68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: 6.6 feet
Installation cycles: Not specified

 

6.

Tigra Bravo Aluminum Case – iPhone 5 (iPhone 4, 4s also available)

Included: Waterproof headphone jack, spare cap and screws, assembly tools
$129.99; tigersport.com

Operations: 1/3
Ease of Installation: 1/3
Earpiece: **3/3
**Speaker Phone:
1/3
Skid Factor: 1/3
Waterproof: 3/3

Highs
Best screen contact and touch functions of any case; cool Humvee look.
Unlimited installation cycles.

Lows
The aluminum frame interfered with reception, lowering three bars to one and reducing battery life; Humvee heavy.
Installation is tedious.
The earphone bung has no keeper.
It’s slippery on hard surfaces.

Specs
Weight: 3.17 ounces
Waterproof rating: IP68 (6.6 feet)
Impact rating: Unspecified (6.6 feet)
Installation cycles: Unlimited

 

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