Lifeproof Fre with the iPhone 12 Mini Review: There’s Some Really Good… and One Really Bad Issue with Facial Recognition (But with a Fix)
First, it should be known, I have a profound respect for the Lifeproof phone protection case. I’ve had one on every phone I’ve had since 2012. My phones have survived an underwater jab against a rock (though the case did start leaking, the screen and phone were fine – didn’t even crack the screen), a 20-22-mph fall from atop my bike whilst taking photos of the Tunnel of Trees up north of Harbor Springs, and several snorkeling excursions. I won’t buy a new phone without a Lifeproof case – even though my phones are insured – because I can do this:
With the iPhone 12, they’re “oops” proof. Supposedly they can stand being submerged for a short time but in my normal, casual use, I’ll never fully test that feature out (we’ll see what happens when I get caught in a rainstorm this spring/summer out on my bike)… anyway, this takes away much of the worry for needing a Lifeproof case in the first place. Except for the snorkeling excursions because we’ve got another cruise coming up in 2022 and I’ll absolutely need the case for that. When I upgraded my phone this year, because our office has an Apple setup I finally bit the bullet and went back to an iPhone (I traded in my 6 way back when because of a Wi-Fi connectivity issue that was supposedly in my head. That is, until the entire Verizon tech department couldn’t get my iPhone to connect to their Wi-Fi service while I was in the store. I’d been using a Samsung Galaxy since. They gave me an in-store credit of $400 and a new Galaxy 5 with their apologies.
So my 12 mini arrived and I didn’t even unbox it until my special-order Fre case showed up almost a week later. I got a third of my valuable info transferred over (the rest was lost to compatibility issues, of course – oh how I missed Apple). Fortunately, it was the unnecessary two-thirds that wouldn’t transfer. All of the important contact stuff went. I tested my Lifeproof case as we always do with a submerge test, they put the phone in and set up everything, including facial recognition.
And there is the one problem I have with the combination. When you place the phone to your ear to talk, oil from your skin will transfer to the protective face and cloud it. Unless the forward facing camera is perfectly clean, your face will be distorted to the camera and it won’t read. On top of that, with the way the protective face sits away from the screen and is glued to the frame, there’s a distortion of image that happens with the forward facing camera so unless the camera is perfectly positioned, your face won’t be recognized. It does help to do the FR setup with the case on. This means the facial recognition features don’t work most of the time. Anything that’s really important and relies on that will have to be manually unlocked most of the time. Simply put, that’s unacceptable. The only other answer is to use the speaker phone and keep the phone away from one’s face… but I vehemently refuse to be one of those knuckleheads. I have more respect for myself, the person on the other end of the line, and others around me than to be that guy. There’s a trick to it. There are two dots glued to the case face to keep the clear face away from the glass. Those two dots have to be wiped off and the FR will work as it should.
That said, there are also some really nice features to the case. The toggle for the sound/vibrate switch is nothing short of genius and the button operation is vastly superior to anything else I’ve seen.
The case will still be necessary for snorkeling photos and for road trips but I’ve since mothballed it to await my next cycling road trip or snorkeling trip. I opted for a amFilm Glass Screen Protector and a Raptic Air Case with a 13′ drop rating because I wanted something sleeker and a little more, you know, mini.
So, the question is, would I buy the Lifeproof case again? At around $80, that’s a lot of money for a phone case, especially for an insured phone, but my active lifestyle makes a reasonable argument for one. I’ve put my phones through a lot of abuse and I’ve never busted one. Not even a chipped or cracked screen.
With the iPhone Pro, Max and Mini, the only flaw with the case, the problem with facial recognition, can be fixed in a matter of seconds with a fingernail and soap and water, so the simple answer to the question is “yes”, I will continue to rely on lifeproof cases because they’re the cat’s pajamas.