Ghostek’s waterproof Atomic 3 keeps the iPhone 7 safe, but causes audio problems

Since the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus added IP67 water-resistance to their feature set, we often hear people asking whether or not waterproof cases add any value. The short answer is: Yes, it’s never a bad idea to add extra protection to your device. One of the benefits of using a waterproof case like Ghostek’s Atomic 3 is that you get protection all-over, including the screen, which most slim cases don’t offer. Also, if you’re a rough and tumble explorer or frequent traveler, you’ll want a case that can handle tougher situations than everyday hazards, so using a rugged case also makes perfect sense.

The Atomic 3 features a durable aluminum bumper with reinforced corners to form a strong layer of drop and shock protection around your phone. The metal frame’s matte finish comes in five colors: Black, silver, red, pink, and gold. A frosted poly-carbonate back plate fends off scratches and dents while a gasket-lined film screen protector guards the glass and seals out water. As with nearly all rugged cases, the Atomic 3 is bulky and one of the largest we’ve used even when compared with Otterbox and Lifeproof cases. What you get though, is twice the military-grade standard for drop-protection, and a case that won’t bend or shatter.

Installing your phone is almost too easy. The flexible screen protector peels off the front of the case, allowing you to simply drop your phone in and seal it right back up when you press and run your finger along the gasket around the screen. Can something so simple really be watertight? We dropped the case in a bowl of water to find out and indeed, when we pulled it out 15 minutes later, it was dry as a bone inside.

The one complaint we have with the screen protector is how it leaves an air gap between the glass of the screen and the plastic film. It makes the screen appear a bit hazy, and the extra tactile sensation of pressing through the gap might be annoying for some — it doesn’t impact screen responsiveness, and it does leave enough room for you to use an additional tempered glass screen protector if needed.

As for the other external features, the fingerprint scanner responds well through the plastic film over the home button, and the camera and flash performed as expected without noticeable impact to image quality. We really like the rotary crown over the mute switch which allows you to mute or un-mute the phone with a simple twist, rather than trying to flip a tiny switch with your fingernail. The buttons over the volume and sleep keys, though small, are as easy to use as the ones on the naked iPhone.

Along the bottom, however, is where we ran into a few issues. The rubber door over the Lightning port does such a good job sealing it off from dust and water that it was sometimes more of an effort to open it for charging than taking the phone out of the case. The cutout’s narrow profile also prevents some third-party cables and connectors from working with the case. Call quality and audio were less than impressive, as well, thanks to the mic being covered. Sound through the top and bottom speakers carried noticeable graininess, likely due to vibrations in the air gap between the screen and the film protector.

For us, the audio issues and screen gap make the Atomic 3 a case to skip for day-to-day use. However, when we need a rugged case for a hike or traveling where we’ll be around water, the Atomic 3 is an easy choice because it’s quick to install, and we know the phone will be protected. It’s available now at various online retailers for as low as $55.