The Fre case is a two-piece, hard shell with edges that are wrapped in a plastic bumper for shock absorption and drop protection. Between the two halves of the case, there is a rubber O-ring seal where they meet on the inside, creating a dust and liquid barrier. A built-in, plastic screen protector and raised lip around the screen protects the glass from dirt and scratches, while the home button is covered with a slightly thinner, flexible film that allows you to use the fingerprint sensor without interference. The screen protector is flat and smooth, though it slightly diminishes the visible resolution. However, this does not impact functionality, and it remains fully compatible with all the touch capabilities of your phone including Touch ID and 3D Touch.
The buttons on the sides of the phone like volume, mute, and sleep are fully encased but usable via pass-through raised rubber buttons. For the headphone port, you’ll find a screw-in cap protecting it from dust and liquids. When that cover is opened, it’s tethered to the case, so you can’t lose it. Each case comes with a gold-plated, threaded headphone jack extender, enabling you to use waterproof headphones and keep your phone watertight at the same time. A snap cover with a rubber seal provides similar protection for the charging port. However, the opening for the Lightning connector is precision cut to the OEM cable from Apple, so if you’re using a third-party cable for charging, there’s a chance the connector may not fit the cutout under the cover.
Both the headphone and charging port covers must be tightly sealed in order for the case to be waterproof, and Lifeproof insists on testing this feature sans phone before you attempt to use the case in water. In our test, the empty case performed perfectly with no leaks when submerged for an hour in a bucket of water, though the Fre purportedly can handle up to an hour at a depth of 6.6 feet. One unavoidable impact of having your phone fully enclosed is that the sound transmission both from the speakers and to the microphone are somewhat dampened. At the expense of waterproofing, you may find yourself talking a little bit louder than you’re used to.
Opening the case by hand can be tough, which isn’t surprising for a case designed to be impenetrable. The user manual recommends twisting a coin in the separator notch to pry the corner up. Just make sure the cover for the charging port is open when you do this, or it will prevent you from separating the two halves. Once you get your phone seated inside and the case closed up again, you’ll notice that the extra weight and bulk isn’t all that bad. The case roughly doubles the thickness of the slim iPhone 6 and adds just over an ounce to its weight. It’s slightly smaller than the comparable non-waterproof Otterbox Defender case but is still built like a tank. Its utilitarian style can appear a bit plain when compared to the sleek metal finishes of the iPhone 6, but thankfully, the Fre has nine different colors to choose from including three graphics from its Realtree Collection.
While no case can guarantee that your phone will never break, the Lifeproof Fre has the most common hazards and weather conditions covered for maximum protection. With it, you’re truly free to take your phone wherever you go. Yes, even in the shower.