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OtterBox’s Armor Series Case For The iPhone 5 Is All Washed Up

The Facts

Company: OtterBox Product: Armor Series Price: $99.99 Compatibility: iPhone 5 Website: Date: June 25, 2013 The rugged case category for the iPhone 5 has definitely taken off in 2013. Late last year, Lifeproof was the only major manufacturer producing a waterproof option. But that changed at CES 2013. Major accessory companies like Incipio, Griffin Technology, and OtterBox unveiled their own competing solutions. OtterBox’s Armor Series has some particularly lofty claims. Along with being able to withstand a 10-foot drop from concrete and a whopping 2 tons of pressure, the company says the case can protect an iPhone in up to 6.6 feet of water submersion for up to 30 minutes at one time.

The Basics

[caption id="attachment_432806" align="aligncenter" width="314"]Two silicone hinges must be unlatched to charge your iPhone or plug in a pair of headphones. Two silicone hinges must be unlatched to charge your iPhone or plug in a pair of headphones.[/caption] The case is composed of two different pieces – a front piece and a rear silicone bed. Place your phone in the front pocket and then place the rear piece over it. It’s sealed with two zinc alloy latches on the right side to complete the waterproof seal. All buttons and ports are covered and protected. Charging the case or plugging in headphones requires unhinging one of two silicone plugs at the bottom. When closed, a non-permeable membrane and protective mesh layer allows sound from the speakers to move through the case.

Use And Feel

[caption id="attachment_432818" align="aligncenter" width="338"]Despite the small camera hole opening, I was able to take some great pictures with the case. Despite the small camera hole opening, I was able to take some great pictures with the case.[/caption] Saying the case is bulky would be an understatement. The case's weight, almost 4 ounces, isn’t the issue. Instead, the exterior size makes the Armor Series case much more difficult to hold. I’ve got fairly large hands, and at times, I had problems keeping a good grasp on the case. I also had issues with using the iPhone’s screen and placing phone calls. Because of the built-in plastic screen protector, you need to exert a substantial amount of force for your touch to be registered. At times, it became a big issue. While placing calls, I had trouble hearing the other party, and I was told I sounded very muffled and very hard to understand. Despite the case’s very small hole for the camera lens and flash, I was able to take some very nice shots with the iPhone’s camera. At least for a little while.

How Does It Stack Up?

I’ve reviewed my fair share of waterproof case solutions, and have always found that a local indoor/outdoor waterpark is the perfect place for testing. I’m able to take pictures not having to worry about ruining my expensive DSLR with an accidental drop into the drink. Every time I decide to take a waterproof case with me to test, I’m just a little more than obsessive. While most manufacturers recommend testing a case’s waterproof seal by placing it under water for 30 minutes without a handset, I submerged the Armor Series case in a bathtub for a little more than three hours. And there wasn’t a drop of water in the case. [caption id="attachment_432807" align="aligncenter" width="315"]Closing the two latches activates the "waterproof" seal. Closing the two latches activates the "waterproof" seal.[/caption] I placed my iPhone 5 back in the case before our first day at the waterpark, closed the latches, and was ready to have some fun. Everything worked perfectly in the water for the first two days. With the case on, I took a large number of photos of my children in and near the water. A few times, the case was submerged in a small amount water, but it was only for a couple of minutes at a time. And after each photo session, I dried the case’s exterior off and made sure everything was free of water. But on the third day, while in an outside pool taking a photo of my son, my wife made a remark that made my heart sink. There was water inside the case. At first, I couldn’t believe it. But after taking the case out of the water and drying the exterior off, it was plainly obvious. Somehow, a good deal of water had gotten inside the case. I was in a bind. As we were nearing the end of our vacation and about to check out of our hotel, I quickly turned the handset off. I then dried all the water off that I could see and proceeded to say a little prayer. When we returned home, I put the iPhone in a bag full of rice to dry any remaining moisture that wasn't visible. More than 24 hours later, I retrieved my phone and pressed the power button hoping for the best. And it was a success, the phone powered on and everything worked just fine, or so I thought. Just a few minutes later, I attempted to take a photo, and ran into a slight problem. The iPhone’s camera shutter refused to open. When I attempted to take a picture or video, I was greeted by only a dark screen. Looking through my photos, I realized that at least some water gathered inside the camera lens. [caption id="attachment_432814" align="aligncenter" width="540"]Yep, that would be water inside my iPhone's camera lens. Yep, that would be water inside my iPhone's camera lens.[/caption] So on a whim, I made an appointment at my local Apple Store’s Genius Bar. Thankfully, I talked with a very forgiving Genius who listened to my entire story. And since, for some inexplicable reason, the iPhone’s exterior moisture sensor was never exposed to any water, he replaced the handset under its warranty because everything else was working just fine. I consider myself lucky.

What’s Hot

  • Does a very nice job protecting the handset from anything you can throw at it (except water.)
  • I really like the included wrist strap.

What’s Not

  • It’s not exactly waterproof.
  • At times the screen protector makes using the iPhone nearly impossible.
  • Phone calls sound muffled on both ends.
  • It is so bulky that I don’t know anyone who could realistically use it on a day-to-day basis.

Our Advice

Well that’s pretty simple. Unless you’re an excessive risk taker, or someone who has nothing to lose, I’d skip the OtterBox Armor Series. If you must have a waterproof case this summer, Incipio’s Atlas comes with an included warranty for a repair or replacement of an iPhone 5. And Lifeproof, which was recently purchased by OtterBox, also has an optional total water protection program.


Aesthetic Appeal: ★★★☆☆ Wow Factor: ★☆☆☆☆ Build Quality: ★☆☆☆☆ Value: ★☆☆☆☆ Buy Now: $99.99 from OtterBox, or $72.95 on [gallery link="file"]  
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