The Survivor + Catalyst has a polycarbonate frame with an integrated PET screen cover and silicone O-ring seals throughout. Its shock-absorbing bumpers, along with the home button, are made from TPE (a mix of plastic and rubber) and nylon is used for the latches and other bits and pieces, such as the volume control.
The case is 2.65 in (6.35 cm) wide, 0.56 in (1.42 cm) thick and 5.33 in (13.54 cm) high, so it adds around 15 percent to the bulk of your iPhone, which seems like a reasonable trade-off given the huge leap in durability you get as a result. Speaking of which, the case is designed to withstand a 2 m (6.6 ft) drop, is waterproof to 3 m (9.8 ft) and is dust, dirt and snow proof (rated to meet IP68 standard).
When you crack open the packaging you're greeted by a red card with some very obvious advice for someone who's about to put their expensive smartphone in a lake – "ALERT! Read the instructions." Said instructions take you through the procedure for testing the case sans-phone by closing it up, ensuring the O-rings are correctly positioned and submerging it underwater for 30 minutes. If there are no air bubbles and, if after 30 minutes, there's no water inside the case, you're good to go.
Loading your iPhone into the case is a fairly simple matter – insert said phone, check the O-ring seals again and snap the nylon latches on either side shut while leaving the charge door open. Then you need to gently work out any excess air from under the screen before shutting the charge door in order to optimize touchscreen responsiveness.
Once safely ensconced, all of the usual controls can be accessed using the buttons on the case. This includes a dial that controls the mute switch and a screw plug that can be removed to insert the waterproof headphone adapter (included).
Once inside, the phone can be operated pretty much as normal. We experienced some occasional stickiness on the touchscreen due to the cover, which is most noticeable when you are trying to zoom and pan in apps like maps, but it's a definite step up from heavy duty cases we've used in the past. The only issue of any significance is that because of the solid bezel it's difficult (read almost impossible) to access the Toolbox feature that was introduced with iOS 7. The speaker/microphone performance is also hindered a little by the cover. Griffin says this may be a result of water on the membrane or a pressure imbalance inside the case, and recommends opening the speaker door and blowing away the water. This does help, but I found myself opening the door when making calls or listening to music for best results when on terra firma.
So to the test. With some nervousness I dropped the case and iPhone into the water, counted to five and fished it out again. No problem. The now wet phone still functioned as normal, including the camera and flash. With that hurdle cleared I put the phone in a secure pocket, donned a life jacket, and went water skiing. After a long afternoon that involved regular, sometimes violent dunkings (only those who've seen me on skis can really attest to the rigor of this trial), both phone and case remained intact and in perfect working order.
The verdict – it works. But is this a set-and-forget situation where you can leave the phone in the case all of the time? Probably not. We used the cover over a period of several weeks and, while it withstood various bumps, scrapes and exposure to dust and water without any problems, on days when it wasn't likely to take a hammering I preferred to switch to a regular case, mainly because of the aforementioned usability issues which, though relatively minor, do make a difference.
That said, it's a very practical solution for days when you are heading to the beach, on a camping trip or anywhere near or on the water ... basically any situation where your handset is likely to be given an above average pounding. As far as heavy duty phone protection goes, this is the best we've tried.
The Survivor + Catalyst also needs some regular maintenance to ensure it stays in working order, such as cleaning the O-ring grooves and occasionally lubricating the O-rings themselves with petroleum jelly, and it's recommended that you water test the case each time you reload it. It's also worth noting that if you do end up with a defective O-ring or the like, you can buy replacement parts individually.
The Survivor + Catalyst costs US$69.99.
Product Page: Griffin