Protective cell phone cases put to the test

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By Jim Carr By Jim Carr

TEMPE -- It makes you cringe every time -- the sound of a cell phone slamming to the ground.

Hopefully your screen didn't crack, but is there a way to ensure screens don't break?

Two companies make such a claim.

OtterBox and Lifeproof make cell-phone cases that are supposed to protect your phone.

3 On Your Side asked a Tempe cell-phone repair store called uBreakiFix if those cases really work.

“That's a pretty bold claim,” employee Matt Warters said.

We started with a brand new iPhone, the only type of phone the cases can take.

We snapped the phone inside the Lifeproof case and dropped it first on grass and then on concrete.

Lifeproof claims you can drop your phone from 6 feet off the ground on to either surface and the glass won't shatter. So, does it work?

"After we tried dropping in the grass, it worked just fine,” Warters said. “We tried it on the cement from normal height, we tried if from about 6.5 feet like the box claims and every time we dropped it, it made a nice noise but the glass was still good.”

We tried the OtterBox case next, dropping the phone from the same height on to grass and on to concrete. After all that abuse, the phone held up just fine.

“Didn't break,” uBreakiFix employee Ryan Ottaviano said as he assessed any damage. “Still good!”

But our test didn't end there.

While the OtterBox says it can withstand only drops, Lifeproof claims it can also protect your phone from dirt, water and snow.

With that in mind, our experts dropped the phone in a pile of shaved ice to resemble snow and packed it in tight. Did the Lifeproof case hold up?

“All the buttons seem to be working still,” Warters said. “I mean, I did little tests on it -- the volume, the audio controls, the microphone -- everything's still working so I would say that it definitely passed the snow test.”

Putting it in sand had the same outcome. After being buried in a bucket, it worked fine when it came out.   But, that's when our test took a turn.

Don't forget, Lifeproof claims to make your phone waterproof so we did what most consumers do accidentally.

We dropped the phone in the commode and after removing it from the toilet. You know what? It actually worked.

“So, what we did was we dropped the phone in the toilet and it was completely submerged in water. Even made a phone call and it still worked so I would definitely say it was a pass,” Warters said.

The only drawback we found with the Lifeproof case was that the person on the other end of the line had trouble hearing you.

Lifeproof says, "The LifeProof case is specifically designed with new materials that allow full sound functionality while in the case. LifeProof’s ClearVoice system takes full advantage of the iPhone 4S microphone and Siri voice activation. Thousands of LifeProof users use the LifeProof case everyday, with everything they do."

The Lifeproof case costs $80 and the OtterBox runs around $50.

But with replacement screens costing up to $100, the experts at uBreakiFix say it might just be smart to splurge.