I love winter. You really have to on some level to stay sane through the these months in northern New England. Even with Blizzard Nemo fresh in our minds (and our driveways), we still forget how all the snow sleet and rain can do a number on your mobile gadgets if you aren’t careful — and of course, no one is ever careful enough. Thankfully SEIDIO, a company we’ve had good experiences with in the past, recently released a new waterproof case called the OBEX. Best of all, it isn’t just for the iPhone: they have a model for the Galaxy SIII!!
We just so happened to get one of these cases in for testing, so I’ve been running the OBEX through its paces for the last month. If you aren’t familiar with the OBEX, which started shipping in fall 2012, SEIDIO’s summary video below gives a great introduction. After you’re up to speed, we’ll dig into the review.
The OBEX is definitely full spectrum protection for your phone, but since you’re probably here because it is waterproof, I’ll cover that first. Just as advertised, the OBEX is indeed waterproof; I ran a 10 minute soak test with folded paper towels sealed inside the case, which the OBEX passed with flying colors.
The Red Case Gaskets Provide a Continuous Seal Around the Case
The two piece gasketed shell provides a complete seal around the phone, and seals tightly as you press the two halves of the case together. It was somewhat hard to appreciate how tight the seal is as you press it shut because it doesn’t take too much force, but rest assured that there is more than enough pressure on the gasket to prevent any seeping or air loss up to considerable depth. You get a much better idea when you try to pry the case open, which you can just barely manage by hand.
The plugs over the USB and the headphone jack also seal quite well. I have always been more concerned with the port plugs than the case itself. I’ve heard a few incidents where LifeProof cases had hit the water and had the docking connector port cover pop open, effectively undoing all the wonderful waterproofing the case would have provided otherwise. Needless to say, this made the port plugs the weakest link and a must check for the OBEX.
SEIDIO did a very good job in that respect. Both the headphone jack and the USB port plugs are about 1/4″ deep with a double gasket, providing a very positive seal with little chance of being pulled out inadvertently. The USB port plug also has a cover that clips down on top of it to keep it securely in place, making it near impossible for a fall to jostle the plug loose. I was very pleased with the design and performance of both plugs.
Though less obvious but equally important, the screen, speaker, and microphone membranes also held up very well. There was no moisture leaks through the speaker or microphone membranes during soak or spray tests, and the screen membrane was defect free and felt fairly durable, at least as sturdy as the screen protector on the Otterbox Defender (Which is a good thing).
In summary, I most certainly trust my phone in the OBEX after my experience and testing. Not one drop of water made it into the case during any testing.
Now lets get back to the more traditional function of your smartphone case — protection from physical abuse! Somewhat over looked in all the waterproofing hype is the every day protection the OBEX provides.
Ribs and Padding!
The OBEX at first glance is fairly well equipped to handle impacts. The case is made of what appears to be fairly thick ABS plastic with internal stiffening ribs to shore up the back of the case and a series of foam rubber pads that cradle the phone tightly. As is typical of SEIDIO’s impact absorption approach, the hard outer shall takes the brunt of any impact while the internal rubber cushioning reduces the energy transfer from the case to the phone. I was a little concerned that the rubber padding selected for the OBEX was too stiff to absorb as much impact energy, but after quite a few incidental drops (some as high as 4-5 feet), I’m much less concerned. I still would like to have seen some softer, thicker padding but so far I can’t really complain.
The screen is also well protected with the OBEX. The case features a raised bezel to protect the screen should it fall face down on the ground (except onto pointy rocks… no case protects against that), as well as a built-in screen membrane that provides protection from scratches. Though the SIII sports a Gorilla Glass screen, I’m still an unbeliever and don’t trust it to maintain the shiny defect free condition I so desperately need.
One advantage the OBEX holds over many other protective cases like the Otterbox Defender, or SEIDIO’s own CONVERT, is complete protection from sand, dust and dirt. Even the best cases I have tested and used over the years have serious issues with accumulating fine dust that leaks in around all the various openings in the case for port, button or screen access. All this dust does very little to hurt the functional health of your phone, but it does get jammed between the case any your smartphone, marring the heck out of the phone’s surface, and possibly the screen if there is a screen membrane on the case.
Two Days Worth of Dust in my Otterbox Defender
No such problem with the OBEX, due primarily to it’s waterproofing. Strangely, this was one of my favorite features of the OBEX – no cleaning my phone all the time!
The design of the OBEX was clearly well thought out. Unlike the many ‘ruggedized’ cases on the market that were designed with clunky, conspicuous features to make sure you see how totally mil-spec rugged the case is, the OBEX is actually pretty sleek, if a bit bulky. Each of the button, port plugs and covers blends into the case, with very few hard edges to speak of. This seamless and subtle integration of all the features of the case make for a clean and simple appearance, which is somewhat refreshing.
Suffice to say, I find the OBEX to be a pleasing phone on the eyes, primarily due to a thoughtful, simplistic design. Nothing is included that isn’t needed, and there isn’t a wasted piece of material to be seen. Material selections for the OBEX were not so clear cut though, and I had a few issues with the feel of the case over all.
When you first pick up the OBEX, it immediately feels and sounds hollow, and the smooth satin textured ABS plastic that the back half of the case is made of feels cheap. Granted, the plastic is not actually cheap and is certainly more than adequate structurally, but it simply reminds be of cheap electronics — the kind of plastic old Comcast remotes were made of.This is in part just a personal preference, but I think there are also functional implications to the plastic selection.
I would have much preferred the whole case to be finished with the soft-touch surface that the front of the case is made of. It makes the case much easier to grip, and less prone to slipping out of your hand. I’m convinced that at least a couple of the drops the case has taken since I’ve had it were due to the case slipping from my hand because of the smooth plastic. Of course, the soft-touch coating comes with its own issues; I’ve seen many instances where these coatings have been worn away on all manner of electronics, which not only looks terrible but often leaves an even more slippery plastic surface. Even still, SEIDIO successfully uses this finish on most of their other cases, so I feel like this case could have been done as well.
Other than my own personal reservations about the case material, everything else about the quality of the case is great. The two halves of the case fit together perfectly, and button actuators and USB/headphone jack pass throughs all line up perfectly. All of the sealing components are also replaceable, meaning the case can be repaired in the event any of the seals are lost or damaged.
Functionality is generally where waterproof cases have suffered most, with most previous options involving a glorified Ziplock bag or a hard case with no ability to use the phone inside. Only recently have cases begun to come to market that provide full or nearly full functionality while still providing reliable waterproofing. This case is most definitely in the latter category.
The OBEX provides complete access to your phone, allowing full access to the screen and buttons at all times, as well as speaker/microphone usage with very little degradation in quality. I had expected noticeably worse performance from the speaker and microphone membranes than I actually experience; I didn’t notice any degradation in call quality and received no complaints on how I sounded either. I did notice that the case muffled audio from the rear speaker when playing games of videos at volumes lower than about 30%, and left audio slightly more tinny than usual for a phone speaker, but neither issue was unbearable, and after a day or so I completely forgot about it.
I did notice a marginal reduction in touch sensitivity with the screen protector, which really only presented itself using the swipe keyboard, and even then it was an infrequent problem. After a day or two I simply found myself applying more pressure to any touch, and had fewer and fewer issues as time went on. This may be a deal breaker for some, but I personally didn’t find it to be a terrible issue.
Finally, the big deal breaker for hipsters everywhere… how bulky is this phone? After all, it’s gotta fit in those skinny jeans.
In general, you’re really not going to get much in the way of protection without dealing with a little bulk, and the OBEX is no exception. It is certainly much bigger than a naked Galaxy SIII, but over all is not very bulky when you consider all the gasketing and seals needed to waterproof the case. The OBEX is only marginally thicker than the SEIDIO ACTIVE, and almost the exact same thickness as an Otterbox Defender.
SEIDIO OBEX vs. SEIDIO ACTIVE
SEIDIO OBEX vs. Otterbox Defender
The case does increase the width of the phone slightly, and the extra space needed for all the port access plugs and covers makes the phone noticeably taller. Though neither of these dimensions bother me much (phones seem to be ballooning in those directions anyways), it might be something to consider.
Over all, the OBEX was a great all around case — especially considering the usual inconveniences that come along with waterproofing. The case held up well to a month worth of intentional and unintentional pummeling, as well as a series of tests to push its waterproofing to the limits, taking both in stride. Though there were a few down sides, such as the slightly muffled and tinny audio, and the cheap-feeling slippery plastic, the phone was very well build and thoughtfully designed.
I would most certainly use the OBEX as an every day case, whether I expected to be needing the waterproofing or not. It definitely lands in my top 3 cases to date. SEIDIO has certainly brought a great case into the waterproof arena that is, dare I say, a strong competitor against the LifeProof case. The LifeProof is currently is only offered for the iPhone, where the OBEX is offered for both the iPhone and the Galaxy SIII.
Great impact protection
Raised screen bezel and integrated screen protector
Screen protector reduces touch sensitivity
Rear Speaker audio slightly muffled, tinny
Somewhat Bulky; Noticeably increases phone height
t3chniq’s final verdict: Great waterproof case with everyday practicality. Definitely a good buy if you have the money (and an iPhone or Galaxy SIII). You can pick one up on Amazon: iPhone 5 / Gallaxy SIII