For the first time, Seidio has set foot in our humble abode with its first waterproof case for the iPhone 5 dubbed the Obex. LifeProof is no longer alone in this rapidly expanding market of slim waterproof and drop-protective cases for Apple's iPhone. Seidio's Obex and Incipio's Atlas are the two most notable, and intimidating rivals that LifeProof is now facing, and for good reason. The Obex waterproof case for the iPhone 5 had to pull out all the stops in order to win over the hearts of new iPhone 5 users looking for that next best all-proof of a protective case. We're super excited about Seidio's Obex and some of the innovative improvements it brings to the table over one of the most favorable and notorious waterproof cases made by the one and only, LifeProof. Find out how well the Obex stacks up against the Fre in our full in-depth review after the break!
Seidio is a case company we never really thought much of due to the generic-ness of its case designs. Fortunately for Seidio, the Obex is quite a good looking case with an interesting design style that's somewhat reminiscent of Mophie's Juice Pack Pro, and perhaps it even shares a few cues with a few badass full-face helmets like Ruroc's RG-1 Core and the Mtek Predator. By comparison, LifeProof's Fre is just a much better looking case than the Obex greatly because is manages to stay true to the iPhone 5's original design. But if you're someone who could care less about staying true to that unmistakable iPhone design sense, then the Obex certainly has a different appeal I think looks great.
The Obex iPhone 5 case will set you back $80, which is exactly what you'll also be paying for LifeProof's slightly more mainstream Fre case for the iPhone 5. And while the Obex isn't being offered in a wide assortment of color choices like the Fre - it also comes in a all-black or all-white color option, so there's an appropriate color for every iPhone 5 users.
From a front prospective, the Obex has a tough persona, but the same can't be said when looking at the Obex's backside. Then again that isn't what you'll be staring at all day now is it. Borrowed from the Fre is a clear window that puts the iPhone 5's Apple logo on display. Although I'd prefer a cleaner look, the Fre's Apple logo cutout is better implemented and actually does a great job in complimenting the iPhone 5's design more than the Obex's confined circle which feels claustrophobic. iPhone 5 users have it easy though, have you seen what the Obex for the Galaxy S3 looks like?
In reality, Seidio's Obex is really no different than LifeProof's Fre case except for when you take a closer look at the inner workings of the Obex. Both literally have the same mediocre audio speaker performance despite having audio channels that should redirect sound out the front, but in practice both cases suffer from the same flaw in that the majority of the audio coming from the iPhone 5 actually emits from the back in a slightly degraded quality. But with that being said, the Obex does have a few massive advantages over the Fre and that has to do with its built-in screen shield. It's made out of thin PET plastic that unlike the Fre, is less susceptible to scratching from what I've found and sits more flush up against the iPhone 5's display.
But the most innovative feature about the Obex's built-in screen shield is that it does not create any watermarks on top of the iPhone 5's display because it utilizes a grid made up of tiny little dots that ensure there's enough space between the two elements in order to avoid oil streaking/watermarking which the Fre and other cases with a built-in screen shield suffer from. These dots are only visible or I should say noticeable under direct light once the iPhone's display is off. And the most surprising thing is that there's no visible degradation in the iPhone 5's Retina display and resolution whatsoever.
The second advantage is that the Obex picks up clear audio which isn't muffled nor distorted, and does not degrade the audio quality of the iPhone 5's mic with its special waterproof membranes when you're talking to someone over the phone or simple need to record a voice memo. After testing out the speaker performance and finding out it's not any better than the Fre, I was impressed the Obex passed one of the most crucial tests of all.
Coming back around, the Obex uses a glass lens cover with anti-reflective coating for its back-facing camera cutout just like the Fre does, as well as an isolated LED flash housing so that photos come out as sharp and clean as if you weren't using a case at all. There's also a small opening for the mic covered of course with a waterproof membrane not visible to the eye.
As for using the iPhone 5's touchscreen thru the Obex's innovative built-in screen shield, it takes getting used to. There's still a significant amount of an air gap between the plastic film and the actual glass display which causes the annoying sensation of using a resistive touchscreen; albeit it's less prominent than what you'd find when using LifeProof's Fre case. The Obex's built-in shield does not interfere with touch-sensitivity while doing things like swiping and scrolling, but on occasion I've found that I would need to press a little harder in order to register input much like the experience of using just about any case with a built-in plastic screen shield. The Obex does perform slightly better with its touch-sensitivity input than LifeProof's Fre, and exhibits less of a pillowing effect of the built-in screen shield with the advantage of having absolutely no watermarking to annoy the living life out of your OCD.
The Obex is as slim as the Fre and while it does feel noticeably wider and taller than the iPhone 5, it's just as comfortable to hold and use as the Fre. The back plastic has a grainy texture to it that tends to scuff up quickly, but it has no grip at all and feels rather slippery. Fortunately, the Obex does have a layer of TPU rubber that is seamlessly embedded into the design and provides a good amount of thumb grip as well as shock absorption. I do feel like Seidio should have paid more attention to grip because the Obex just doesn't have enough of it. Also worth noting, the Fre provides a better grip overall thanks to its tackier TPU rubber band. On the plus side every button is a pleasure to press on the Obex, especially the home button.
The Obex uses a pair of water-tight rubber flaps to seal the iPhone 5's ports while making them very easy to access when needed. But one of the few things that bothered me about the Obex was that it uses one of these to seal the mute/vibrate switch. Instead of implementing an integrated switch like LifeProof and Incipio, Seidio opted for this less reliable flap that while never came undone in our testing, potentially could with rough handling as it is shallower and easier to pull open than the rest of the rubber port flaps found on the Obex.
Taking a look at the bottom side we can see the Obex's use of a one-piece rubber flap that tightly seals the iPhone 5's ports against water and other elements. While I still don't like the idea of using a flap for the silent switch, the bottom rubber seal flap feels much more secure and a lot harder to accidentally flip open. There's also a latch cover that adds an extra bit of security before you get fully open the rubber flap in order to access the Lightning port. Instead of having to twist a cap to get to your headphone jack, you've got direct access to the individual 3.5mm port by simply lifting open the Obex's rubber seal flap.
The opening isn't as recessed as it is on the Fre, and thus requires no adapter. I've been able to plug in a slimmed down L shaped 3.5mm audio plug without any issues at all. But be warned, not every audio plug will fit with the Obex installed. The great thing about the Obex is that each of its rubber port flaps are removable and can be replaced if lost. Seidio includes two extra onces just in case you lose the ones pre-installed. Losing these isn't very easy however as they do attach within the case.
To state the obvious, the Obex's claim to fame is its waterproof design which is rated at IP68, meaning you can fully submerge the Obex under 6.6 feet (2 meters) of water for up to 30 minutes at a time. It's not going to be sufficient for scuba diving and other deep sea endeavors, but this is the current acceptable waterproof-depth standard for these type of cases. And if you're just going to be snorkeling and shooting video footage underwater, the Obex is a fantastic tool with modern creature comforts of a regular protective case.
Extreme sports aside though, the Obex can obviously be used for when you find the need to keep your iPhone 5 protected against any type of water oriented activities whether it be rafting down a river or simply a want peace of mind knowing the most feared element of all won't damage your beloved iPhone. We put the Obex thru some testing because AppleCare+ has got our iPhone 5's back in case something horrible goes wrong, and fortunately for us and the Obex, it has proven itself to be as waterproof-worthy as they come.
Waterproof protection is great and all, but like all good LifeProof wannabes, the Obex is also rated to meet and even exceed military standards in that it will also fully protect your iPhone 5 against accidental drops from a height of up to 4 feet (1.2 meters), and of course the usual like dust, sand and scratches. For such a slim case, I have to say the Obex offers a bunch of rugged protection with little features sacrificed in the process. I've got full confidence in the Obex in case I do end up dropping my iPhone from a realistic height. The screen is protected with a screen shield plus a considerable amount of raised overlay, so in a worst case scenario of a direct fall screen side first, the Obex covers every vulnerable point.
Opening the Obex into its two-piece self reveals an eye-catching red rubber gasket which seals the two parts against water, moister and other small particles. This rubber O-ring of a gasket lines the Obex's side where it's nestled inside a grove running around the entire perimeter of one of the two halves of the Obex. This isn't much of a problem as it is a minor annoyance, but Seidio failed to ensure that this red O-ring will indefinitely secure itself in its rightful place instead of lifting each time you pry the case open. Again, not a big issue as long as you're careful in making sure this O-ring is always seated in its groove before closing the case shut.
Installation is fairly easy, requires little to no effort and should be familiar to you if you've ever used any of LifeProof's cases. You'll need a coin to help you twist open one of the defined corners of the Obex just because of the tight seal created by the waterproof design. You just need to make sure that you snap the Obex together all around like some plastic food container while ensuring that the rubber port flaps are secured into their respective areas.
Seidio made a robust holster for the Obex with a secure locking feature and a spring-loaded mechanism with belt clip swivel adjustments that's a pleasure to use considering a lot of case holsters are a hit or miss. It's sold separately for $30, but if you opt for the Obex plus holster kit, it'll only cost you $10 more at $90 for both.
I've been using the Obex for around a month now, and I could honesty say that I'd have no trouble continuing on using it, but personally I've got no need for such a protective case and would much rather put back one of my favorite cases for the iPhone 5 - the Magpul Field Case. What that really means is that the Obex is good enough to be used as an everyday case if you really need constant protection against water, sand or dust. There are the usual caveats that come with these type of cases though.
If you're looking to use the Obex as your daily driver just so you could be on the utmost safest side of having your iPhone 5 protected against all hazards, you'd have to give up on that super smooth naked glass experience for a bit of resistance from the Obex's built-in plastic screen shield. And that's not something everyone is willing to give up. But if you're looking to get the Obex as a means of having an interchangeable waterproof accessory for those extreme days, then you should look no further - unless of course we tell you otherwise when we review a superior alternative in the near future.
While it isn't perfect with drawbacks like poor speaker performance, lack of grip, questionable reliability of the rubber silent switch flap, limited compatibility with third party accessories namely Apple's bulkier adapter cables -- Seidio's Obex is recommended for its solid performance in a two-way call quality, usability and of course waterproof protection all packed into one attractive alternative to LifeProof's Fre.