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Friday December 21, 2012 12:23 pm

LifeProof Fre Review: Doomsday Proof

LifeProof Fre review

Some prefer to take it out in public naked. I seldom do, but sometimes I'm tempted to let it all out...my iPhone that is. Out of its case, of course. What were you thinking? 

I have been a LifeProof user since the iPhone 4S, and it was a pretty good case for the type of protection I got in return. So, getting the LifeProof Frē for iPhone 5 seemed like a no brainer. I'm not one of those extreme thrill seekers to whom the case is advertised for. I'm more of the dropping the phone on the sidewalk while trying to scoop up the pooches' excrement type of guy or the dropping the phone in a bowl of cereal while totally fixated by the back of the box kind of person. But I digress. You're here to find out how the LifeProof Frē performs, so read on and we'll tell you if it's good enough to protect your iPhone 5.

For whatever level of protection you need, the case boasts military spec IP-68 that is water-, shock-, dirt-, and snow-proof. The Frē is said to survive drops of up to 6.6 feet, while also being able to be submerged in water to depths of 6.6 feet. That makes me wish I had the LifeProof case back when I went on a cruise a few years back and sought some moderate thrills on a Rhino Rider. Turns out that pictures taken with an iPhone inside a sandwich bag was not such a great idea after all.  

Anyway, after years of collecting sports cards, I developed a disorder otherwise known as "I want my stuff to remain mint." Nevertheless, the iPhone 5 design only strengthened this desire. Therefore, I discovered that the LifeProof Frē is the best option for protecting my precious iPhone, hands down. I'm happy to see that the Frē is much slimmer than the iPhone 4S case, as it compliments the iPhone 5 design. I had some friends and family hold the iPhone 5 and they were enamored by how light it felt with the case on it, compared to iPhone 4S with none.

LifeProof Fre review lightning cable

The Frē comes with an integrated screen protector as part of the case that is about a micron above the actual touch screen of the phone. In my testing, the touch input is much improved compared to the past LifeProof case and the 4S. I'm not entirely sure if that is a result of the case itself or if it's Apple's new in-cell touch screen, which basically removes an extra layer by merging the touchscreen and the display layer into one. Either way, the results are a more responsive and accurate experience with the case. It works nicely almost all of the time, until I try to pull down the notification tray or the quick snap to the top feature in iOS while using the case. When I do that, it sometimes requires me to rejig the iPhone in my hand or I have to use my other hand, which defeats the purpose of one handed use that Apple was going for with the new four-inch display of the iPhone 5. It is not a big deal with me, but it is something to keep in mind.

Users of the LifeProof cases will know that the headphones jack is covered with a screw off cap. However, with the Fre it resides at the bottom due to Apple's relocation of the iPhone 5's headphone jack. Vanity seekers will be happy to know that the Apple logo is now visible with the Frē. To be honest, several years ago I would've been happy to see this. But I like the black ops look to the first generation LifeProof case better. Now, it kind of screams consumer!

LifeProof Fre camera

There's a huge caveat with all of this protection, which sadly prevented the phone from being what it is--a phone. While on a call, there's an intermittent sound that pulsates about every 10 to 15 seconds that is downright distracting, and interferes with the audio of the call on your end. One review accurately coined it as being like "a heart beat in your ear." The previous LifeProof cases on the iPhone 4/4S never exhibited this issue. So, as any geek worth his metal, I did some troubleshooting. I initially thought the iPhone 5's ear piece was busted. Therefore, I tested it without the case and found no noise; nothing but clear sound. As soon as the case was on, and the call was initiated, instantaneously the awful noise disruption was back disturbing my calm. This was tested with two Frē cases. Unfortunately, both with the same audio results. It appeared that the issue was with the noice cancellation feature being impeded on by the case.

A quick call to LifeProof was made and they came to the rescue. They sent me a revised replacement that had some subtle design alterations made in the innards of the case that eliminated the issue mentioned above. The result was crystal clear audio.

Now, there's some funky new technology in the iPhone 5, such noise cancellation, now located in the ear piece that may account for the initial noise problems. In addition, there's another mic on the back between the camera lens and the flash that once resided on top on the 4/4S. It was stated by Apple that both microphones work in conjunction for a new noise cancellation feature called "beam forming," which results in clearer calls. I'm not going to pretend that I know what all this technology means, but I'm pretty sure the first two Frē cases undermined it. So if you have this issue, don't hesitate to call LifeProof, as they'll be happy to help you as they did with us.

lifeproof fre side profile

In addition, I was worried about the back mic being completely covered despite Apple giving out iPhone 5 designed schematics for third party case makers. Only a small dimple marker is visible that does absolutely nothing. Perhaps, LifeProof intended on making a mic perforation but, for reasons unknown, skipped it? I'm confused as to why LifeProof didn't do a perforation for the back mic like they did for the 4/4S case. Still, it is of no consequence as the revised Frē handled audio as it should.

Also, I'm not entirely sure, but the ear piece at close visual inspection looks like plastic (later found out it's PET) and not the same material as Gore-Tex found in the past LifeProof case. Gore-Tex is visible on the bottom speaker grille of the Frē. In testing, it does not impede audio fidelity with calls. The audio of the bottom speaker is relatively the same, with or without the case. Although, I do agree that the Frē case gives it a tad more base. The front facing camera lens cover is, as I'm told, a layer of light control film; which is very cool indeed.

In conclusion, the Frē comes in two color options: all black, or white with gray trim. If you're into bungee jumping over shark-infested waters, or fear dropping your phone in a toilet, LifeProof has you covered, which is why we highly recommend the Frē. You can pick one up for $79.99.

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