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First Look: LifeProof nüüd iPhone case

My phone is my companion and camera on many mountain biking, camping and skiing trips. It gets thrown into bags and shoved into sweaty pockets. It crashes when I do and gets used regardless of weather. I’m not particularly clumsy, but a phone used with gloves on tends to get dropped – into mud and snow if I’m lucky or something more solid if I’m not. The extent of protection for my phone is a ziplock bag for times when I expect it to get wet.

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The LifeProof nüüd case promised to let me use my phone with reckless abandon, without having to live with any expensive consequences. It claims to be waterproof, dirt-proof, snow-proof and shockproof, while leaving the touchscreen uncovered – crucial to the iPhone experience.

The plastic and rubber case comes in two halves. A dummy iPhone is supplied so a “dry run” can be done to test the case before you put your phone inside – a thoughtful touch. The case snaps together with a reassuringly firm click. You need a coin or key to prise the halves apart to remove the phone.

The case adds a little bulk to the iPhone, which I quite like. The rubber edge feels very secure to hold and use. The physical buttons need a firmer push to operate, but even the nifty ringer/silent toggle switch works reliably. LifeProof claims the Touch ID still works, but I couldn’t cover enough of the home button to record my fingerprint. Accessing the charge socket requires a cover to be clicked open. To plug in headphones, you need to unscrew a little grommet.

I had a couple of niggles with the touchscreen. The raised edge of the case made it slightly uncomfortable to use the screen one-handed, and I couldn’t access the very edges of the screen. Moving icons from one screen to another was very difficult and I couldn’t swipe upwards from the bottom to access the shortcuts menu.

I didn’t notice any significant reduction in call quality or signal strength with the case on. The camera lens is protected by a transparent cover on the case, but this didn’t have any noticeable effect on image quality.

So what about all those “-proofs”?

I continued to use my phone as normal, but I left the ziplock bag at home. This made my phone far easier to use. I took it to the coast and got it covered in sand and salt water, I dunked it in the bath, I used a snowdrift as a makeshift tripod, and I watched in horror as it slipped from my grasp while taking a selfie on my mountain bike. When it got dirty, I washed it under a tap. It shrugged off everything.

The LifeProof nüüd case does change the aesthetic and ergonomics of an iPhone. Cold metal is replaced by rubber and plastic, and the result is bulkier, more rugged and quite un-Apple-like. But for me, the protection and convenience it offers is worth it. It won’t be necessary or desirable for everyone, but if you’ve ever broken an iPhone, or think you might, then I think the nüüd case is worth a look.

Price guide: $99
Tested with iPhone 5S. Also available for other iPhone 5/6 and iPad Air/Mini models.

First Looks are trials of new or interesting products from the perspective of our product experts. Our lab-based tests offer truly objective product comparisons.

By Paul Smith.