iPhone 5(s) and SE

Otterbox Preserver vs. LifeProof Fre – iPhone 5S Cases


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If you’re looking for a lightweight rugged case and you want un-restricted access to the screen, go with the LifeProof Fre.

These two cases are just part of a small handful of iPhone 5S cases that are compatible with the Touch ID feature. There’s a reason why we reviewed these cases first is the fact that Otterbox owns LifeProof as of March 2013. There was a part of me that thought there was a chance that Otterbox might re-brand one of the LifeProof cases as their own. To our surprise, they did not.

Both of the these cases are waterproof up to 6.6 ft as well shockproof up to 6.6 ft. They’re dustproof as well and are rated to a variety of IP-68 ratings. Now, at MobileReviews-Eh.ca, we know that words mean almost nothing unless there’s some weight behind it and we can safely say, after conducting our own drop and water tests, these cases live up to their marketing hype.

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Even though it’s a bit thicker than the Fre, the Preserver feels tougher, has a better screen protector in terms of view ability and the Touch ID is less finicky than the Fre.

At MobileReviews-Eh.ca, we base our reviews on actual usage. We’ve gone and purchased both of these cases straight from Otterbox and Lifeproof to ensure that the units that we receive aren’t special. In fact, we’ve had Otterbox and LifeProof sends us replacement cases because we’ve had problems with both of our original cases. With the Otterbox, the earpiece speaker was severely muted and on the LifeProof Fre, the hole for the flash was not big enough.

We’ve rated both of these case and the LifeProof Fre comes in at 4 out 5 while the Otterbox Preserver comes in at 4.2 out of 5. Our scores are relative among cases so we rate them against the best case in the category. It may not be the most scientific method of rating but it provides us with guidelines so that we can talk about the cases intelligently.

Our Eh? rating is broken into three categories which are Design, Protection and Functionality. Each category has three scores which we’ll go through in detail below.


In terms of weight and bulk, the Otterbox Preserver is the heavier, bulkier case. However, given that the Otterbox Preserver is at least 25% thicker than the LifeProof Fre, it’s heavier, bulkier size is slightly deceiving given that the extra thickness isn’t consistent throughout the entire case.

Past the edges of the Otterbox Preserver, the back of the case tapers down. The thickness of the Otterbox Preserver is about the same thickness as the Fre at that point. That unique design features results in the Otterbox Preserver being thinner than it actually is.

The installation of the two cases are quite similar and simple. With the LifeProof Fre for the iPhone 5S, you pop your finger (or coin) into the bottom right corner (with the screen facing you) and turn. The Otterbox Preserver requires you to pop it open from the back, top right corner. After prying the two pieces together, you simply pop your phone back in snap the cases together.

It is important to note that the Otterbox Preserver has an installation procedure in terms of the installation of the back piece. The bottom of the case must be snapped first, followed by the top before snapping the middle.

Based on the feedback that we’ve received from our viewers, many of them think that the LifeProof Fre “feels” cheap. There isn’t much weight to the case and the plastic screen protector does seem flimsy. Now, we don’t disagree with that assessment but its important to note that through all the Fre’s that we’ve reviewed, we’ve drop several of them face first with iOS devices in them and they’ve all survived. From our observations, the materials that go into the Fre are both tough and lightweight and shouldn’t diminish the fact that the LifeProof fee is a tough, waterproof, rugged iPhone case.

The Otterbox Preserver feels like a tough, rugged, waterproof iPhone case. The inclusion of foam on the inside of the case, coupled with its thick edges makes the case look well built to the point where it seems to invite you to purposely drop the case. Through all the installs/uninstalls, we didn’t notice any sort of deformation of the material and going between the ocean, being dropped onto concrete, parking lot gravel, a rail road and a snow pack, the case shows very little wear.


Both the Otterbox Preserver and the LifeProof Fre are shockproof and droppable from a height of 6.6 ft and both cases managed to protect the iPhone 5S from suffering any visible physical damage during our tests. Despite how tough the iPhone 5S is, dropping it may result in a broken screen which, from a 3rd party repair store, may cost between $100 to $150 dollars to replace. Something to consider when the cost of these cases run between $80-90 dollars and you can basically drop them at will and to your hearts content.

We will note that in our drop test, we decided to skip the Otterbox Preserver like a rock in a lake. Except that our lake comprised of parking log, ice, a railroad track and a snow pack. From this skip test, the case did come apart but given how extreme the test was, we decided not to hold that against the Otterbox Preserver.

In terms of water protection, we give the edge to the Otterbox Preserver only because it included a wrist-strap. Now this may seem trivial in a water test but when you’re looking to bring your iPhone with you into the ocean or lake or some water sport, being able to tether your iPhone makes all the difference.

Another small, yet seemingly trivial thing is the waterproof seal on the lightning port hatch on the LifeProof Fre isn’t securely glued to the case (it’s suppose to be floating) which allows it to be lost. With our Fre for the iPhone 5 we did lose that piece but LifeProof was kind enough to send us a replacement part. Without this seal, the LifeProof Fre loses its waterproof ability.

In terms of screen protection, the Otterbox Preserver comes out on top. Now, we have no technical way to test the screen other than to ruin one of our iPhone screens but we can theorize how each case would protect the screen of your iPhone.

With the LifeProof Fre, as we mentioned earlier the, we’ve dropped our iOS devices face-first on to gravel (by accident) and we’ve had the Fre protect the screen in all those little accidents. However, given that the screen protector of the Fre extends over the entire screen, in the event of catastrophic drop, there’s a larger area for the screen to be broken.

On the Otterbox Preserver, the screen protector extends slightly past the touchable area with the rest of the front-facing part of the case being hard plastic. In the event of a catastrophic drop, the Otterbox Preserver would protect the screen a bit better than the LifeProof Fre.

In terms of accessing the iPhone inside each of the case, the Otterbox Preserver gets the nod again only because the Touch ID feature of the iPHone 5S seems a little less finicky than the LIfeProof Fre. Now we’re guessing that the material used to cover the Touch ID sensor is the same between the two waterproof cases, it’s the placement of the edges around the sensor on the Otterbox Preserver that seems to shoehorn your finger into the best placement for the Touch ID.

Accessing all the hardware functions of the iPhone is easily done between the two cases. The biggest difference is how you access the headphone jack and the lightning port. On the Fre, you need to unscrew a plug for the headphone jack and uncover the lightning port by popping over a latch.

On the Otterbox Preserver, accessing the headphone jack and the lightning port is done by prying open two latches. We’re not particularly fond of these latches and with the cables plugged into the iPHone, the latches seem to put a good amount of pressure on the cables. We’re guessing this might be ruin the cables in the long run but that’s something we can’t say for sure.

Screen Usability goes to the LifeProof Fre. As mentioned before, the Otterbox Preserver has plastic edges that stop outside of the touchable area on the iPhone which adds to the protection of the iPhone but makes it slightly more difficult to access the the different pull down menus of iOS 7 like the Notification center as well as the Command Center. It’s not a deal breaker as you’ll just end up being more intentional with your various swipes whereas for the LifeProof Fre, you can swipe like you would with a naked iPhone.

The Otterbox Preserver has excellent screen viewability when compared to the LifeProof Fre. The glare coming off the screen protector is minimal and there is no evidence of rainbowing which is a problem with the LifeProof Fre.

In terms of the rainbowing effect, the LifeProof Fre for the iPhone 5S better than previous Fre’s but the rainbowing effect is still there. Now, we’ve never been bothered by the rainbowing but some of our viewers absolutely despise it.

With all things considered, both of these cases are very capable rugged, waterproof and shockproof cases for the iPhone 5S. Given a choice between the two, we’d go with the Otterbox Preserver due to the better screen viewability, less finicky Touch ID utility and the build quality of case. But in the end, both cases are almost equal and its really up to personal preference which one is better for you.

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