Cases for iPhone’s need to be as functional as they are protective. That’s not much of a problem these days, except when the case also has to be waterproof. Then the problem becomes the “chicken and the egg,” only here it’s “waterproof versus protection” with one technology giving way to the other. Unless it’s the Catalyst Case which doesn’t give in to either.
The Catalyst Case looks a lot less bulky than other cases — in fact at first glance you’d think it was too slim to provide any real protection. That’s a false assumption, because once encased inside, an iPhone is shielded from shock and damage with military grade material (MIL STD 810G). Realistically that means handling an up to 2 meters fall on a hard surface. A front bumper surrounds the touch-screen section and so falling face down is less a fear than it would be otherwise. Of course there’s a front mounted screen integral to the case: providing touch sensitivity as well as the “Home” button, be it plain or the 5s’ Touch ID. A bit more pressure needs to be applied in use but not inordinately so.
Side buttons are accessed from outer tabs and the bottom is sealed up — opening a tabbed strip lets you insert a headphone jack extension that then can be connected to a pair of earbuds. Obviously this would let in water, so if IP68 level waterproofing is a serious concern 24/7, just use Bluetooth headphones instead. This strip has to be opened when doing a synced cable connection as well.
I cleaned my iPhone 5 of dust and wiped its front and did the same to the inside front of the case. The iPhone then went in, butt side first and as I maneuvered it towards the front of the case, the vibrator went off (an outer dial controlling the “Mute” having been rotated clockwise earlier). I then placed the transparent backing onto the case’s back. With the tabbed strip open, I ran my finger around the backing to apply the seal. Satisfied it was now properly in place, I close the strip. Being aware of the O-ring and plugs guarantees that the waterproofing will not fail. To remove the iPhone, the process just done would be reversed, only a coin would first be needed to force the case/backing apart. This would be followed by “pushing” at the front of the case to force the iPhone out.
So with the iPhone in the case and everything “locked down,” I squirted it from all angles with a toy water gun in the bathroom, took it out to the living room (after drying it off) and then dropped it on its side on the carpet. No problems resulted when I took the iPhone out a moment later. I then dropped the empty case onto the kitchen vinyl floor from about a foot up with no obvious damage resulting either to floor or case. If Catalyst had sent me an iPhone to put inside, the case wouldn’t have been empty when I tried this again outside on the sidewalk (again no problems resulted). I’m not one for extreme testing because life isn’t extreme — I don’t assume that my phone will bullet through the windshield of my car during a thunderstorm and land hard in the water soaked gutter because I’m an optimist. But fall out of my pocket on carpeting or on the tiles of the bathroom, sure.
Catalyst also noted that the case would amplify the audio from the speaker — they call it “True Sound Acoustics” but I just call it a factor of resonance. Regardless of the name, it did indeed bump up the volume so that listening to the speaker of the iPhone while inside the case became doable rather than a frustration.
I could also verify that the part of the case covering the iPhone’s camera was of optical neutral glass. I compared a shot of a brick wall outside in direct sunlight taken both with and without the case and, to the naked eye, they looked similar — I didn’t see any artifact or other optical distortion in the image. So this makes having to take the phone out of the case for picture shooting unnecessary. But any lens accessories that directly attach to the iPhone’s back can’t be used with the case on.
Catalyst also provided me with their Belt Clip — the components using friction to hold onto the case (front or back) with a rotating clip. This clip can also do double duty; when not being used to hold onto a belt or other such surface, it can be extended outward to form a kickstand for holding the phone up for viewing. I’m not into Belt Clips, but if you are the type who likes to use them, then the added kickstand feature is a nice touch.
Bottom line: What I liked best about the $64.99 Catalyst Case (besides the blue color which I found niftier than the white, orchid or black that is available) is that it’s thin compared to other cases that provide the protection that its specs holler out. I could still fit it inside my jeans pocket so I didn’t have to change how I normally use the iPhone. I think others will find this just as important too.
Marshal Rosenthal is a Los Angeles-based freelance writer and journalist specializing in technology, consumer electronics and pop culture.