Gear Review: Catalyst Waterproof, Shockproof Case for iPhone 7

Catalyst iPhone 7 Case

Catalyst  iPhone 7 Case

Several iterations of iPhones ago, I tried a Catalyst case and found it lacking. Bad sound quality was the overall problem.  But I have been impressed with Catalyst’s Apple Watch Case and so when the case for the iPhone 7 came out, I decided to give it a whirl. 

Now, keep in mind, I have been using a $15.99 LifeProof-like MeritCase since I got my iPhone 7. It has been every bit as reliable protection-wise as any high end case, but in order for folks to hear me okay I have to go on speaker phone.  And, the film covering over the thumb home button has worn down, making using thumbprint recognition difficult.  That major sign of wear and tear sends up a BIG warning flag when it comes to reliable water tightness.

And that makes it the perfect time for this warning:

I have said it once and I will say it again. ALL CASES- anything with a seal – WILL WEAR OUT OVER TIME. The water tightness of any case, especially a phone case that gets heavy, heavy usage, IS GOING TO DEGRADE.  When that becomes critical is anyone’s guess. SO ALWAYS PUT YOUR PHONE IN A DRYBAG OR BOX.  AND CHECK THAT BAG OR BOX!!!

Soap box rant over.

That said, I have gotten a relatively good life out of that cheap Meritcase. And at that price, I don’t mind replacing it.

So, why would I go back to a more expensive ($79.99) case that’s going to wear out anyway?

Good question.  Curiosity I guess.

Plus, there’s the sound quality issue.

And I can report that so far, I am impressed with Catalyst.

I’ll get to the specifics in a minute.  But first, I want to discuss Waterproofness and IP ratings.

Waterproof V. Water Resistant

First, know that there is a BIG difference between something that is WATERPROOF and something that is WATER RESISTANT. Few things in life are completely waterproof – meaning they will never, ever get water inside, or allow water to pass through.  Some things are mostly waterproof or highly water resistant when used within a reasonable context.  Our paddle boards, for instance.  When used in the context of casual, normal paddling and before an extended period of wear and tear, or heavy use, they are watertight.  BUT!! Get a ding in that board, and well, all bets can be off, as water can now get in.

Another example: a raincoat. In normal circumstances, a water resistant jacket will keep you pretty dry, but if someone belts you with a high pressure fire hose, not so much.

IP Ratings: Sorting out the Numbers

That’s were IP ratings can come in.  They help the consumer understand to what extent, something is going to be water resistant.  Under appropriate circumstance and scenarios.

More or less.

IP ratings are used to determine the general protection any given device (phone, case, headphones, whatever) has against “ingress.”  In fact, IP stands for “ingress protection.”  That is, the amount of protection the device has or can provide against certain substances getting into the device.  Ingress is a fancy why of saying “letting something in.”   IP ratings are used to rate devices against dust, water, and a variety of other things, like oil or even voltage.

 But we are most concerned about water, so I will limit our Mullet Lesson on IP Ratings to just that substance.

IP ratings and standards are set by the International Electrotechnical Commission. In an IP rating, the first number stands for the protection level against dust, and the second number is the protection level against water.  For dust, 6 is the most protection.  For water, you want to look for a 7 or higher number.

You may have heard that the Samsung Galaxy phone is “waterproof.” No, it is not. It has an IP68 rating, which means that it will prevent water from getting inside the phone for 30 minutes when dropped in fresh water up to five feet. Salt water may yield a different result.  The IP68 rating allows some flexibility for the manufacture to specify what other conditions (pressure, etc) the device may withstand.

By contrast, the iPhone 7 has an IP67 rating, which means it can withstand a drop in three feet of water for 30 minutes.

Both companies warn against salt water usage. And, both companies say on their web sites that wear and tear – like drops and small cracks can allow water inside.  And, furthermore, that water protection coatings that provide much of the impetus for the IP67 and IP68 rating can wear out over time.  Sound familiar??

After doing a little research, I’ve come to the conclusion that even with a high IP rating of 67 or even 68, you should always put the phone in a case, and then in a drybag when paddling, especially if you are in the ocean.

Now, back to the Catalyst Case (finally, right?)

Right out of the box I noticed one that thing was concerning.  The small rubber gasket that makes the case seal is very, very temperamental. Handle the case with care.  As the instructions warn, it can get pinched when you press the two halves of the case together.  And because of the rounded edges of the case, it can be hard to tell if it’s pinched or not.  My first water test FAILED because of this.

That’s the first time I have ever had a case fail a water test.

(And yes, you DO perform a water test on every phone case before using it, right? )

That mis-step caused me to have a rather large lack of confidence in whether I had the case on correctly going forward.  I water tested it two more times before putting my phone in the case. 

If you are not careful, that seal can come off and get gritty or collect a small enough strand of pet hair to keep the seal from being made.  So be careful.

On to the next test – phone function.

All my buttons on the iPhone 7 work just fine in the Catalyst case. The thumbprint recognition is great and the membrane over the home button seems to be much better made than the one on the MeritCase.  So I am optimistic for longevity of that feature.  No issues with plugging in both Apple and after market power cords.

As for phone sound quality, it’s not bad, but it’s not perfect.  Better than the Meritcase for sure, but you can tell it’s in a case.  But again, I’m not getting the same amount of complaints from callers as I used to and I do not have to resort to putting it on speaker phone.

As for the water, well, I am not going to push it here, for the reasons I have detailed above.  When it goes with me for a paddle, it is in a DryCase pouch or a dry bag or box.  That’s just going to be my Standard Operating Procedure from now on,

Because all seals/water protection eventually fail.

But, if you are looking for a good, shock resistant, water resistant phone case with acceptable sound quality, the Catalyst is worth a look.

(Oh, and sorry non-iPhone users, Catalyst is Apple centric – no option for Android phones.)

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