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Six Colors

by Jason Snell & Dan Moren

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By Jason Snell

Vacationing with a waterproof iPhone case

Note: This story has not been updated for several years.

Turtles! Shot on iPhone SE.

Last week I was on vacation in Hawaii, and one of the things I managed to do was use a waterproof iPhone case for the first time to take pictures and video. Back in the day, when you rented snorkel equipment you’d also consider buying a waterproof disposable camera so you could take some pictures of fish. (Yeah, film! I told you it was back in the day.)

These days we all have photo and video devices in our pockets, but they’re not really safe to take in the ocean. (If you’re saying to yourself that the iPhone 7 is safe to take in water because it’s rated as splash resistance, I refer you to Serenity Caldwell’s horror story.)

What I did have was a Survivor & Catalyst Waterproof case that was designed for the iPhone 5… and an iPhone SE, which is coincidentally shaped exactly like the iPhone 5.

The case comes with a detailed instruction manual that tells you on every single page that you need to check the case and makes sure every gasket and o-ring is just so before you put your phone in it, all the better to avoid angry customers whose phones get swamped. I followed the instructions, did a dunk test with nothing in the case, and double-checked everything when I put the phone in the case.

But the results were great. While selfie-camera images were smudged by the front plate, images from the rear camera were spectacularly good. When out of the water, I could use the touchscreen through the front plate, so if I wanted to switch from still to video, all I needed to do was surface, wait a minute for the water to drip off my hand and the screen, and then swipe.

I found that the case was also convenient to carry around on the beach. Not only was the phone protected from the sand, but I could wade into the water without worrying that an accidental drop or splash from a wave would do damage to my phone. (The included hand strap was a help on that front, too.) A charging-port door also meant that I never had to take the phone out of the case once it was in there.

If you’ve got an iPhone 5, 5S, or SE, I can recommend the Griffin Survivor + Catalyst case, though I suspect they don’t make them anymore so they may vanish at some point soon. I haven’t tested cases for other models, but a search of Amazon shows that there are a bunch of similar cases out there for more current iPhone designs, both cheaper models and some pretty deluxe ones with support for deep dives. Get one that’s rated properly and completely encloses the phone, ideally with a special cutout for the camera so that it can take good pictures, or what’s the point?

I would never use a case like this on my phone all the time (unless I was in the water all the time, I suppose), but for taking to the beach—and under the water—on a vacation? It was priceless.

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