In anticipation of a family outing to a Great Wolf indoor water park, I once again began pondering what to use for photos in an aquatic environment. In the past I had tried out waterproof compact cameras from Nikon and Olympus and found them lacking. Furthermore, we don't visit water parks often enough to justify putting down the $$$ for a camera that would see use at most once every few years. And they would find little use in a non-aquatic environment too since my phone has pretty much picked up all the photo duties that a compact had at one point years ago. One time I tried to make do with my iPhone in a "waterproof" zip bag. Which turned out not to be so waterproof so you could imagine what happened then. I had also tried out a LifeProof nÃ¼Ã¼d case with my iPhone 5 and unfortunately I don't recall at all how useful it was in action. At least I didn't wind up with a drowned iPhone. That, I would have remembered. Again, not something we use too often.
So this time, I decided to kill two birds with one stone again and try to find a waterproof case for my current iPhone 6. That way I'd get to use the iPhone's excellent camera and also not worry about having it walk off on me if it was just stashed with the rest of our belongings on a lounge chair somewhere. Surprisingly, it was rather slim pickings when it came to waterproof cases for the 6. There are some relatively cheaper ones available on Amazon but the reviews for them weren't particularly good or consistent. So I decided to stick with LifeProof and pick up their frÄ“ case. Not cheap, but I had some reward certificates to use at Best Buy.
Now the frÄ“ case is surprisingly thin for the amount of protection it claims to provide: 2 meters drop and 2 meters underwater for an hour. It's basically plastic and rubber construction with a fluorescent green rubber seal sitting in a trench that runs along the perimeter of the bottom half of the case. Getting your iPhone into the case is pretty simple: place the phone face down into the top half first and then snap the back half down over it. Push down all along the edges to make sure both halves are sealed together nice and tight, snap close the bottom latch and you're pretty much ready to roll.
The volume, lock and power controls are accessible via rubber nubs built into the top half of the case. The charge/sync port is covered by a hinged latch that also sports the green rubber seal and the headphone jack is protected by a sealed plastic screw. You don't need to buy any new charge/sync cable to work with the case (although the 30 pin to 8 pin adapter will not work) but you'll most likely need to use the headphone extension cable that comes with the case to use the headphone jack. The entire front face of the case is covered by a thin plastic scratch protector and surprisingly, TouchID worked fine across the screen as well. Prior to entering the park with it, I briefly tested the waterproof-ness of the case by just running it under a faucet for a few seconds. Seemed to be ok so off we went.
So, how did things go? As a waterproof case, the frÄ“ worked very well. For the day and a half I used it, no water got into the case. I mostly had it in my swim trunk pocket and didn't have to think twice about it. The deepest water it ever faced though was probably ~4ft in the wave pool. So I think for the most part it can handle a water park just fine.
However, usability of the phone was a different matter. The case and its built-in screen protector lets you utilize the touchscreen of your phone just fine... when it's dry. Once water gets into the picture though, things start getting flaky. Touchscreen gestures just aren't very reliable when the screen and/or your fingers are wet. Everything started working only part of the time. And when everything works only part of the time, what used to only take a few seconds to do, now takes much too long. First, TouchID stopped working reliably. So ok, I'll just swipe to pull up the keypad to punch in my PIN. Of course, swiping now doesn't work all the way. It'd recognize that I was swiping but stop halfway and bounce back to the lock screen. Only after multiple attempts (and probably as my fingers dried) did I finally get past the lock screen. Then once you're able to launch the Camera app, multiple screen presses are needed to make sure a photo is taken. At least you can hit the volume button to take the photo instead. But anyway, once your fingers get wet again (which isn't hard to do when you're surrounded by water), using that touchscreen becomes a chore again. So imagine having to go through that entire process every time you wanted to take some photos... Towards the end I was more inclined to just not bother.
In addition to the touchscreen woes, the camera lens recess in the case can also collect a drop or two of water. And when that happens, focusing becomes an issue and image quality drops as well. Trying to get those droplets out w/wet fingers doesn't always work but blowing into the recess seems to work ok.
So, if you REALLY want to take lots of photos in a watery environment and want to do so in a responsive/reactionary fashion, stick with a dedicated waterproof camera. While the waterproof phone case works to keep your phone dry, functionality takes a big enough hit to start making things more trouble than its worth. But if you just want to take the occasional shot and have all the time in the world to do so, then you'll be fine with this setup. Keep in mind that all the issues I came across is probably no fault of the frÄ“ case that I used. I think it's more likely the cause of water being everywhere. But I'd be interested to see if touchscreen usability is any less of an issue with LifeProof's nÃ¼Ã¼d case (currently still not available for the iPhone 6 yet). That case is also waterproof but leaves the touchscreen open to the elements. No scratch protector. So it'd be interesting to see if the absence of the screen protector makes any difference.
As for me, while I was disappointed with the results, I can't really complain too much. I think at a water park I'm quite ok with just lazing about in the water with the kids. Maybe I'll try a GoPro next time. Saw a young woman carrying one around which seemed like a good idea.