Review: Incipio Atlas Waterproof Case For iPhone 5

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We first saw the Atlas from Incipio back in January when we were trolling CES. We had a pretty extensive tour through the Incipio booth, as they were getting ready for the iPhone 5 Apocalypse by releasing a case to protect the iBaby from any and everything. LifeProof was going strong, and even though we love what we see from LifeProof, we were really intrigued with Incipio’s offering, mainly because of the water damage warranty that it comes with. At this time, it was really unheard of, although we do see some companies offering similar plans. But back in January we were stunned and stoked. So here we are, 6-7 months later and we’ve had a few days with the Atlas, we’ve drug it through the watering holes and swimming pools of Las Vegas and are here to give you our thoughts.

Design

The Atlas features a two-piece design making for careful installation a piece of cake. Instructions do ship with the device, but it’s fairly simple and you shouldn’t have any issues. There is a little notch above the mute toggle on the top of the device that you slide your fingernail into and begin to pry the case apart. There are 6 spots where the case connects, which is a lot nicer if to complete if you’ve used the any LifeProof case, no fussing with O-rings, making sure it is aligned perfectly. This is a simple snap and go type design.

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Once you pry it apart, you simply lay your iPhone 5 facedown into the front part of the case, and the back just snaps into place, starting from the bottom. It’s very simple, and there really isn’t anything else to it. This is something I really liked about the case, having used LifeProof offerings before, it was nice to have a quick and easy process. I’ll have more on that next week with my LifeProof Fre case is reviewed. There is one extra piece that is connected at the bottom corner via a piece of rubber, this covers up your ports at the bottom of the phone and ensures it is snapped and fully connected. As long as you make sure all of these points are securely snapped into place, you will have no problems with water getting in.

We really liked the design, it feels sturdier than other rugged cases we’ve tested and used. I’ve been a LifeProof fan for a long time, and I’ll admit that I love the feel of the Atlas above the Fre. The biggest win the Atlas has over the LifeProof Fre is the screen. Incipio has built in a tempered glass screen that has no gap between the iPhone screen and the glass of the case. This is a huge win, as this is one of our biggest issues with the LifeProof case (other than the Nuud cases). The Fre (and others from what we’ve read) have has a cheap feeling plastic, that in our usage makes the iPhone a lot more unresponsive. Yes, the Atlas is quite a bit heavier than the LifeProof and is a tad bit thicker, but the glass screen makes it worth the purchase over any other case, in our opinion.

Rugged Performance

This is probably the first time we really used a rugged case for what it is was meant to protect against. We took it in the pool, played beer pong with it, let our kids roam free with it and let it fall whenever life would allow it. I usually don’t go this extra mile as I really can’t afford a new iPhone and Norris’s AMEX is currently over drafted, so I usually just test the waterproof-ability with tissue and submerging it for at least 30 minutes. We’ve never had any of our LifeProof cases end up with water in them, so we decided to take the chance with the Atlas. I’m currently on holiday in Las Vegas, and am spending nearly every waking second with a drink in my hand by the pool. These two things are dangerous, especially around an iPhone.

I didn’t hold the iPhone under water for any long length of time, but I did use it not-so-carefully around the water. I let it dunk and get splashed on via my children. Let’s just say that if this was any naked or standard case, I would be screwed. It had numerous chances to withstand the liquid flooding over it. Luckily I didn’t let any of my precious alcohol spill on it, but I’m pretty sure it wouldn’t of mattered. For the waterproof part of the case, I am 110% pleased and satisfied. Even after opening the bottom cover and water splashing to the bottom of the device, it still kept the water out. I took the phone out of the case and not a drop of water made it inside. No signs of liquid spots – at all.

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To piggy back of the water portion of this review, let me say that no matter what you use your iPhone for, when you are soaking wet, it’s really hard to use. When water pools on the screen, it makes the responsiveness of the device nonexistent. Wet fingers are the same way, making the device fairly unusable. Obviously not many people out there are texting under water, but I thought I’d make sure you knew that, #firstworldproblems I guess ;)

The iPhone took a few tumbles to the ground, each time accompanied with a cringe by myself, but each time it came out without a scratch or dent. It’s amazing how sturdy this case really is, and it is definitely appreciated. I didn’t take it in the snow, as there really isn’t that much of it around here, but there is a lot of sand, and once I finally took the iPhone out of the case, there was no dust or sand to be found.

iPhone Usage

Ruggedness aside, you are still dealing with an iPhone 5. You love the design just as much as you love how perfectly it responds to every touch and swipe you throw at it. When using the Atlas case with your iPhone you don’t lose much of that at all. Because of the tempered glass it’s almost like you are using the iPhone’s screen itself. I did run into an issue with swiping up from the bottom of the screen though, because of the placement of the Home Button protection, if you have NC pulled down, swiping up at the middle of the the bottom of the screen is almost not happening. I’m used to always going for the pulldown tab, but I had to train myself to swipe up to rid myself of the Notification Center on the either side of the bottom of the screen.

All buttons on the iPhone are easily accessible and require no fidgeting or strength to use, except for the Mute Toggle which gave me issues here and there. It wasn’t all the time that I had issues muting or un-muting my iPhone, but it did it enough times that I thought I would mention it. The Headphone jack at the bottom is fully protected with a rubber plug, and because of how far in it sits, you will need the supplied extension chord that ships with the Atlas.

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The biggest issue with this case that really makes fully iPhone 5 usage is the speaker set up. There is almost no volume shouting from the mountains with this case on. I know that the iPhone 5 speaker isn’t something you would write home about, but this case really muffles and distorts it beyond belief. I found it completely unusable in any situation where there wasn’t complete silence, and in a household with 3 young children, silence was impossible. The receive part for calls I found distorted as well. When placing phone calls, I found myself asking the caller to repeat themselves. Sound coming out of everywhere with this case on is actually quite ugly.

The microphones for both calls and speaker/Siri interactions work quite well, surprisingly, considering how poor the speaker quality is. I attempted many phone conversations and rubs on the genie bottle that is Siri and didn’t find myself repeating that often. Every now and then it became an issue, but it was very rare.

All camera usage was spot on, until it got wet. The recessed cutout for the camera is pretty far down and small, so when anything (water, dust, etc.) found itself building up in there, it was difficult to clean out. Even a Q-Tip being forced into it didn’t always work. I was worried that the cover protecting the camera lens would create distortion or coloring issues with the camera, and that wasn’t the case, it was just how much crap built up in the cut out. I didn’t use the flash that often because of how friggin bright it is in the day time and night time here in Vegas, but when I used it here and there indoors I found no issues at all, which again is great for a fully protected case.

Final Thoughts

I’ve used LifeProof and Otterbox rugged cases since the beginning of iPhone time. I know that each will have their ups and downs, but overall the Atlas case by Incipio proves that it can rise to the top, or float to the top if you are using it in the pool, and crush the competition. This is mainly because of the screen, oh the screen. I know that LifeProof has released a Nuud version of their Fre case for the iPhone 5, which this might be a different conversation when we give that a try, but right now, keeping a full protection over your iPhone, the sturdy build and the gorgeous glass screen edge out the rest of the pack.

The Atlas ships in four different colors and retails for $89.99. This is $10 more than the Fre case, and the same price as the Nuud case. You’ll have a perfect response with the Nuud case from LifeProof over the Atlas, but you’ll also lose that protection on the screen. Keeping the price points, pros and cons on these cases, and what you can get from Otterbox, I honestly think the Atlas wins the battle. If you want a less sturdy feeling case but thinner and lighter, the LifeProof is for you, but I do suggest you give both a try, I think you might lean towards the Atlas case.

More: Incipio Atlas Case

Thanks to Incipio for the sample unit!

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About Author

Apple fanboy, alcoholic and video game player. I love all things 8-bit. I enjoy a good microbrew but love to drink the Pabst Blue Ribbon. I've been writing on blogs for a few years now, settling at Gadgetsteria.com in 2010, and now in 2014, Bitbitbyte.

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