Nearly a full year has past since we published our review of the Fre waterproof case, and in that time LifeProof has been working hard to create the next revolutionary waterproof case for the iPhone 5. The Nuud is LifeProof's latest offering, an innovative waterproof case with screenless technology borrowed from the company's Nuud for the iPad - the first case to have pioneered this brilliant concept. And in doing so, LifeProof has fixed the most troublesome area that has affected every case model since the inception of the LifeProof case. The Nuud no longer requires an integrated screen protector which means you can now directly touch your iPhone's glass touchscreen without of course sacrificing invaluable waterproof prowess.
We waited a long time for this day to finally come, and so now we must put the Nuud through its paces in order to find out if it's really the best waterproof iPhone 5 case on the market. Check out our full review right after the cut!
As the most popular brand for waterproof iPhone cases, LifeProof certainly reminds us all why its name became a staple when looking around for a protective case that'll protect your device from just about everything that will be thrown at it. While the Nuud looks a lot like its Fre counterpart, it does have a few notable design differences that set the two apart mostly from a visual standpoint. But the first and foremost let's get to the Nuud's pièce de résistance - screenless technology.
The Nuud retails for $90, which is $10 more than the Fre costs and as of this review it only comes in white or black colors as oppose to the Fre's colorful selection. Then again the Fre was also initially offered in black and white flavors until eventually LifeProof included more colors.
LifeProof's Fre suffered from all kinds of issues which we've pointed our in our review. But what really irritated me as well as many others was the noticeable watermarking and air gap or pillow-effect between the Fre's built-in plastic screen protector and the iPhone's touchscreen. That created a mediocre touchscreen experience which for the most part felt like you were using a phone with an old, and now obsolete plastic resistive touchscreen. It was fine considering the Fre's waterproof capabilities and ultra-clear visibility along with little to no available alternatives at the time, but we wanted an improvement.
The Nuud has no built-in screen protector, yet it is fully waterproof just like the Fre is. It's also as protective as the Fre is, meaning that it'll protect your iPhone 5 against drops as high as 6.6 feet (2 meters), impacts, dust, sand, snow and water submersion in up to 6.6 feet of water enabling you to shoot breathtaking underwater footage. Nothing stands between your finger and that slick glass touchscreen which is really the pinnacle of waterproof cases.
Being able to use and touch the bare glass touchscreen is remarkable. I can honestly say that the Nuud case for the iPhone 5 is the only waterproof case that I could personally use. I'm not a fan of plastic screen protectors and an even greater detractor of the integrated variety as they rob your device of responsiveness. Each time I come to use my iPhone with the Nuud on knowing that it's a waterproof case, the feeling of touching the actual glass display is very gratifying.
It's worth mentioning that both the Nuud and Free cases are virtually identical in thickness on paper, as well as in how they each feel to use in terms of bulk. As slim as these may be as far as waterproof cases are concerned, the Nuud is considered to be a bulky case. Granted it is extremely protective and many wouldn't mind its added bulk when the positives far outweigh the extra bit of fat it puts on the slimmed iPhone 5. For size reference we put the Nuud next to one of our favorite everyday slim TPU cases, a Magpul Field Case. Clearly there's a difference, but it's noticeably so in length rather than thickness.
Another interesting advantage to being able to use your glass touchscreen naked is that the oleophobic coating on the glass repels water extremely well unlike the plastic-made integrated screen shields in other waterproof cases. Cleaning the screen is much easier too.
While there aren't any issues with responsiveness when using the touchscreen, the Nuud's plastic frame creates a bezel around the iPhone 5's display which come right up to the edge similar to how Griffin's Survivor + Catalyst waterproof case is designed. Using iOS 7 and its screen gesture features like swiping from the bottom or top edge to bring up certain controls can be tricky with the Nuud case installed. There's nothing we can do about it right now, but we're sure that case manufacturers will note these issues when iOS 7 is released to the public because as of this review, it is still in beta.
The front looks very similar to the Fre in that it entirely covers and protects the iPhone's bezel as well as any exposed area that isn't the actual 4-inch screen allowing you to essentially pick up a white Nuud case, and transform your black iPhone 5 making it look as if it were a white model. But the obvious changes are the materials used to create the Nuud's front face. Unlike the Fre's built-in colored plastic screen protector which is flexible, the Nuud features a hard and rigid polycarbonate frame that is slightly textured to have a grainy matte finish. This change allows the Nuud to encase the iPhone 5 as a frame using a rigid build with an underlining watertight periphery gasket.
Looking around the back we can see how different the Nuud is from the Fre's window-cut solid back cover. The Nuud's back cover is completely clear letting the natural beauty of the iPhone 5 show though in all of its two-tone glory. It looks sharp, but this part offers no grip whatsoever as it has a slick finish to it. A small attention to detail I'd like to point out though is that the edges around the clear glossy back are frosted and slightly textured so that they won't show any bad looking scuff marks like the clear plastic found on the Survivor + Catalyst waterproof case we recently reviewed. Also, the clear section of the cover is elevated by that edge so it won't scratch up with use each time you set your iPhone on a table or when accidentally dropped.
The iPhone's back-facing camera in particular is covered with anti-reflective glass similar to that of the Fre, and the the LED flash is isolated so that it doesn't bounce into your photo in low-light conditions. Everything works perfectly as if you weren't using a case including auto-focus. Video and photos look sharp and generally unaffected by using the Nuud even when used underwater. It shouldn't come as a surprise though as LifeProof's Fre performed just as well. Because capacitive touchscreen technology doesn't work underwater, you'll use the iPhone's volume button as a camera shutter button as well as to start/stop video recordings.
The exterior, primarily the gray part that surrounds the case like a bumper is made out of rubber and feels exactly like the Fre case when held. This is where the Nuud gets most if not all of its grip from. And because of this rubberized design, the Nuud feels great to hold compared to other waterproof cases excluding the Seidio Obex, which features a carbon-copied design in terms of material style.
The Nuud's interior frame features a clear rubbery gasket that creates a perfect watertight seal around the iPhone 5's display using LifeProod's screenless technology just by pressing tightly up against the glass surface. The usual rubber interior bumper-like lining is there is help absorb shock and vibrations in order to protect the iPhone from drops and impacts. The rubber also helps create a snug fit when the iPhone is inserted so that no wobble or play can occur. LifeProod's cases including the Nuud are designed and built with extremely low, form-fitting tolerances.
The Nuud's construction is identical to that of the Fre, and in fact you could use Fre parts sold individually by LifeProof on the Nuud such as a Fre back with the Nuud's screenless front to create a customized waterproof case. Note that LifeProof advises against using other parts with the Nuud.
The home button is made almost as a separate moving piece, and because of that it moves very easily. Then again it sort of feels flimsy, however, it does feel like you're actually pressing the iPhone's home button which is fantastic.
The Nuud is advertised to offer maximum sound output and clarity, however, we found that to be inaccurate yet again. While I do agree the volume of audio isn't noticeably affected, however the quality of sound from the bottom speaker is degraded. It vibrates through the back plastic cover as well as from where it should be coming out of which is through the waterproof membrane covering the speaker port. The sound is a little distorted and tinny somewhat which is very similar to previous LifeProof cases including the Fre and Obex. Covering up the back side will muffle the sound even more.
LifeProof's struggle with isolating and properly routing the iPhone's bottom-facing speaker is redeemed not only by the Nuud's awesome screenless feature, but also with improved call quality experience. Mic pickup quality is surprisingly really good during phone calls. I've had no issues with phone conversations as I sounded clear to others while audio coming out of the iPhone's earpiece sounded loud and clear as well.
For the most part the Nuud's functionality remained unchanged compared to the Fre. It features tactile and responsive buttons as well as an easy-to-operate integrated silent switch, all embedded in this rubbery compound that offers protection as well as a grippy surface for your fingers to hold.
Other small improvements over the Fre is the 3.5mm audio port plug which is now securely attached to the case itself so you can't lose it. Prior to this LifeProof included two plugs in case you were to lose one. The plug still needs to be screwed in tightly and no matter how slim your headphone jack may be, you'll still need to use the included adapter in order to plug it into your iPhone's headphone port.
The Lightning port is greatly recessed but also compatible with Apple's Lightning connector cable. LifeProof has made a compatible Lightning Dock Adapter which fits into the Nuud's recessed port essentially extending the reach allowing you to even dock your iPhone 5 with all kinds of accessories without having to remove the Nuud case. It is however a $30 accessory you'll need to purchase, and of course we would have liked to see this adapter included with a $90 case.
Inside the packaging we have a set of instructions on how to install and use the Nuud, together with a large microfiber cleaning cloth, a not-so-short weatherproof headphone adapter cable, an iPhone test dummy for use when water testing the Nuud for any imperfections, as well as a clear screen protector - more on that shortly. I never tested any waterproof case prior to putting my iPhone inside, but if you want to take extreme precaution then you might want to put on your quality control hat and test your case before actual use with a piece of paper inside instead of your iPhone to check for any potential leaks. As you can see, LifeProof water tests each Nuud case regardless.
You can add the included screen protector for additional scratch protection, alas you'll quickly discover that is it poorly cut and does not fit correctly as it does not cover the screen entirely. Unfortunately, you won't be able to use glass screen protectors with the Nuud.
Because of the Nuud's screenless design, installing it and removing your iPhone is a piece of cake. What once required a careful removal process is now done by simply pushing the iPhone through the frame without worry of breaking any built-in screen shield. The back cover simply snaps together like a plastic food container lid.
Conversely, the clear back piece can be removed by lifting the bottom corner which can be done without having to twist open using a coin as before. So yes, the Nuud is more easier to use than the Fre thanks to its more forgiving removal procedure.
So how does the Nuud compare to other waterproof cases? Back when we first reviewed LifeProof's iPhone 4 case, there literally weren't any waterproof cases to compare it to. But now the story is different. Now, there's a growing market of waterproof cases made by well known case manufacturers. The Nuud we find is the most advanced waterproof case currently available for the iPhone 5. Its integrated screen-less feature is unmatched by others. Its comfortable to use, great looking slim profile makes it a really great case that you actually want to use knowing how protective is actually is behind that unassuming sleek design.
As daunting as it might seem, it is as simple as it sounds and looks. LifeProof's screenless design works flawlessly and so far, reliable in its waterproof capability. The Nuud's screenless design is a breakthrough, and a triumph over all waterproof cases. It really is as good as you would think it to be. For anyone looking to seriously protect an iPhone 5 against water and drops, the Nuud is the case to get. Its slim profile and unhindered touchscreen experience and call quality makes it a comfortable and enjoyable ultra-protective case to use. Being able to reach and directly touch your iPhone's touchscreen while it is encased inside a waterproof case is invaluable.
As much as we were impressed by the Nuud's screenless design, it still needs improving on its speaker quality degradation. And while it wouldn't bother certain people, it will be seen as a nuisance by others. With that said, we think the Nuud case for the iPhone 5 merits a strong recommendation considering it's currently the best waterproof case made for the iPhone 5. LifeProod's Nuud is also the first waterproof case we felt was worthy of our Editors' Choice Award.