Waterproof phone cases are a dime a dozen, but it's hard to find affordable versions that are any good.
Taking a fragile device worth several hundred dollars underwater is nerve-wracking, so you need a case that works exactly as advertised – but for most people, it's something that happens a few times a year at best, so they don't want to spend hundreds of dollars to do it.
At $65, the Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone 5 / 5S is cheaper than many of its competitors – but is it any good? The company sent me a sample so I could decide for myself.
The case came in a plain cardboard display box, with no accessories. Like many waterproof cases it's in two parts, a clear plastic back and the main front section, that clip together around the phone.
Joining the two pieces together is quick and easy, and separating them – often a laborious process with other cases – is as simple as inserting a coin into a slot on the bottom of the case and turning it slightly.
The phone fits snugly inside, held in place by a series of thin bumpers. A rubber stopper fits into the ports at the bottom, and there's also a rubber o-ring around the edge of the back section to help keep the water out.
The home button is covered by a thin membrane, which provides waterproofing while still allowing TouchID to work, while the other buttons are accessed by rubber buttons and a plastic dial.
The front cover is a standard plastic sheet that's quite thin – which it needs to be, to ensure that tapping and swiping still works. I had few problems with the sensitivity of the screen -- finger presses generally registered as they should, but it wasn't quite as smooth as usual.
I do have some concern, though, about how well the plastic would hold up to wear and tear if the case was used every day.
The case can handle drops of up to two meters / six feet, and is rated to keep water out at depths of up to five meters (16 feet),. A waterproof case isn't much use if it's not waterproof, so – as it's the middle of winter and I don't see much beach time in my future – I put it to the test in my hand basin.
After sealing it tightly and inserting the rubber stopper, I placed in the full basin and left it for ten minutes before returning to splash it around violently for a further minute. This helped simulate swimming with the phone in hand, with the added advantage of sending water flying all over the bathroom. Who said doing gear reviews wasn't fun?
After drying off the outside of the case and cracking it open, I ran a tissue around the inside. It was bone dry, suggesting that as long as the o-ring and stopper are firmly in place, your phone is at little risk from the waves during normal swimming or snorkeling use.
Unlike many similar cases, the Catalyst is slim enough to keep on the phone even when you're not at the beach or pool. It's reasonably attractive, in a functional kind of way, and provides enough protection from damage and rain to make it worth putting up with the small amount of extra weight.
This makes it much easier to justify the purchase – although to be honest, given the reasonable pricing, the case would be worth buying even if you only ever used it on vacation.
I was impressed by the Catalyst, and give it a solid thumbs up for iPhone users planning to be in or around the water while they travel. There is also a version for iPhone 4 models priced at $45, and the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus versions are available for $70 and $75.