Most people don’t need a waterproof case for their iPhone 6 or 6s, and even if they do, none of them are perfect. While the good ones are indeed waterproof, they won’t turn your phone into an underwater GoPro kit or a dedicated waterproof camera—you’ll want the real thing for anything more than occasional recreational photos in the water. What these cases do provide is peace of mind when splashing around at the pool, kayaking down a river, or hanging out at the beach. And in addition to keeping liquid out, a waterproof case prevents dust from making its way in, and most withstand drops to the floor better than standard cases. If that’s what you’re looking for, we found the best waterproof case for most people to be LifeProof’s Frē ($70). It fits both the iPhone 6s and the iPhone 6.
After 10 hours of research to narrow the field down to 11 finalists plus real-world testing in a pool and a rushing river in Vail, Colorado, we can safely say the Frē offers the best combination of performance, aesthetics, and price in a relatively small market. We’d feel more comfortable bringing this one to the beach or on the slopes than any of the other options we tested.
Unlike with some other cases, the iPhone’s buttons aren’t made more difficult to press through the Frē and the phone’s touchscreen sensitivity is only minimally affected. LifeProof offers the case in a number of colors, helping to broaden its appeal.In our tests, the Frē kept water out, which is clearly the most important quality for a waterproof case. It’s also the thinnest and lightest waterproof model we tested, so you can use it as your everyday protector if you need to.
If our main pick is unavailable, LifeProof’s Nüüd ($75) offers the same level of protection for a higher price, minus a protective screen cover—a rubber ring around the edges of the iPhone’s glass forms a seal to keep water out. This design offers the benefit of allowing direct access to the phone’s glass display while still keeping the case water-tight. It’s fair to have an initial gut reaction of fear when taking this case around the pool, but the setup does keep the water out, based on our testing. On the other hand, we wouldn’t feel as comfortable using the Nüüd in situations where the exposed screen might be prone to damage, such as when rock climbing or on a construction site. The version we tested is only compatible with the iPhone 6, but Lifeproof now has a 6s version that we’ll be testing.
The best choice for the iPhone 6 Plus isn’t small, but it keeps water out while allowing full access to the phone’s features.
For the iPhone 6 Plus and 6s Plus, Seidio’s Obex ($75) has all the positive attributes we look for in a waterproof case, including, of course, keeping water out. Like the Frē and almost all of the other cases we tried, it has a plastic screen protector built in and offers a high level of protection, but none of the iPhone’s functionality is degraded. (Why did we choose this one over the Nüüd for iPhone 6 Plus? While the Nüüd didn’t leak in our tests for iPhone 6, it did leak in our tests on the 6 Plus.)
Why you should trust me
I was the accessories editor at iLounge for a little over three years. During my tenure, I reviewed more than 1,000 products, most of which were cases. This number spans multiple generations of Apple products, from the iPhone 4 to the iPad Air and everything in between. I’ve probably handled more iPhone cases than almost anyone on the planet, giving me a particularly experienced perspective and depth of knowledge when it comes to the category.
Brent Rose, who conducted our tests for waterproofness, was the lead action cam reviewer for Gizmodo and has written about action cams for WIRED, Outside Magazine, Fast Company, and the Wirecutter. As part of his testing, he regularly takes cameras out of the lab and uses them in the ways in which they were intended: while surfing, mountain biking, snowboarding, kayaking, and more. So he knows what makes a rugged waterproof device.
Why use a waterproof case?
As we noted in our guide to iPhone 6 cases, an iPhone costs $200 to $950 in the U.S., depending on the configuration and carrier, and for most people—78 percent, according to 2012 testimony by Apple executives—that investment is worth protecting with a case.
Freak accidents can happen, and a phone can end up busted even if it’s in a case, but we think it’s overkill to spend money on…a waterproof case simply out of fear of those rare occasions.
Whether or not you need a waterproof case is different story. For the average person using his or her iPhone in non-extreme conditions, a good standard case is going to offer enough protection. Freak accidents can happen, and a phone can end up busted even if it’s in a case, but we think it’s overkill to spend money on—and having to deal with the extra bulk and inconvenience of—a waterproof case simply out of fear of those rare occasions. (Overly cautious people may disagree.)
Where a waterproof case is useful is for people who are particularly active, and especially those who spend a lot of time around water or in dusty environments, or who have the propensity to drop their handsets. Spend every day at the beach, on a boat, or skiing? Work in construction? Regularly hand your phone over to a drooly baby, or put it in the hands of an active toddler? Then this sort of case and its extra protection might be the right choice for you.
It’s important to remember, however, that none of these products’ warranties cover your iPhone itself. And, again, freak accidents can happen. You shouldn’t abuse your phone just because you have it in a more-protective case—it’s not worth risking damage to your iPhone if you can help it. And we don’t think these cases should be used directly in water for anything more than light swims—a GoPro or waterproof camera are safer ways to take lots of photos in the water.
How we picked and tested
Waterproof cases are pretty rare compared to the hundreds, if not thousands, of standard iPhone cases available. Rugged cases are more expensive to make (both in terms of the design that goes into them and the actual construction of the product), with higher expectations from those buying them. So it makes sense that many companies would rather stick to cheap cases with fewer promises.
It probably goes without saying, but a good waterproof iPhone case has to be, well, waterproof. You need to feel confident that if your phone meets water, the former isn’t going to end up soaked. (Apple’s warranty, like most warranties for consumer-electronics products, does not cover liquid damage.) As we wrote in our guide to waterproof cases for the iPhone 5/5s, “You want a rugged case to protect [your phone] from moisture and water to its rated depth and time, and then some, just in case.” As a bonus, any case that’s actually waterproof also protects against dust and dirt.
Chances are that if you’re subjecting your phone to water, you’re doing something where there’s also a risk of dropping or shock damage. While many standard cases will protect the iPhone’s body against minor shock, the screen is more vulnerable, so we look for either a raised lip around the screen or a protective cover over the screen.
A great waterproof case should also be as slim and light as possible, so as to not inhibit normal use. Ideally, the case could be used as an everyday protector, rather than something you use only when absolutely needed, because it’s much more of a hassle to place a waterproof case on and off than a regular case. We tested cases ranging from 34 grams to 135 grams in weight, and from 11.2mm to 17.5mm thick—the difference between the width of a USB plug and the thickness of a Retina MacBook Pro.
We took to Amazon, Best Buy, and iPhone-centric websites to find contenders that met our criteria. We were able to quickly rule out models that rip off other cases (most copy LifeProof cases) and those that prevent the use of the iPhone’s ports or buttons. We also dismissed cases with poor user ratings, especially those with reviews that reference problems with leaks. We also checked for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus versions of all the cases we tested for the iPhone 5/5s, although a number of those cases either don’t yet have 6 or 6 Plus versions, or have been abandoned by their companies. We were left with ten cases that we called in for testing; seven were for the iPhone 6, and three for the iPhone 6 Plus.
Once we received the 11 finalist cases, we tested each for ease of installation and removal. We also evaluated the quality of each case’s button coverage, including how much pressure is required to press the buttons through the case, and how the button overlays feel. We listened to music through the phone’s speaker and we made phone calls with the case on to test to determine the case’s effect on audio.
Wirecutter contributor Brent Rose then tested the cases in Vail, Colorado. He began with a simple submersion test, placing each case in a pool under three feet of water for half an hour.
Each case was loaded with a tissue as a way to indicate if water made it in: Tissue makes it easier to notice moisture than looking for tiny water drops inside a wet-on-the-outside case. (The open-face cases include plastic inserts specifically designed for testing the case before using it on your phone.) Three cases failed this initial test: Dog & Bone’s Wetsuit and Tigra Sport’s MountCase for iPhone 6, and LifeProof’s Nüüd for iPhone 6 Plus. We retested second samples of the Wetsuit and Nüüd cases; these both passed.
To test more-rigorous use, Brent had originally planned to drag the cases behind a kayak as he went down the rapids in Vail. Unfortunately, the kayak company wouldn’t allow it, claiming it would be “too hazardous.” Instead, he placed all the cases in a mesh bag and dunked them in Colorado’s Gore Creek, which was flowing rapidly at the time. He left them in the water for five minutes to approximate someone accidentally dropping their phone in a fast-flowing creek and then taking a while to find it. The same three cases that failed the pool test failed this one, with the others showing no sign of water intrusion.
We repeated tests with the new versions of LifeProof’s Fre cases—which add compatibility with the 6s and 6s Plus, respectively—in a kitchen sink, to verify that the company made no other major changes.