Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone XS review: Solid protection without bulk

Catalyst is known for its tough accessories that don't add a lot of bulk to your devices. It's latest waterproof case, for the iPhone XS, iPhone XS Max, and iPhone XR continues that tradition in excellent fashion, providing the protection you're looking for in a case that won't stretch your pockets.

The Good

  • Excellent build quality
  • Protects iPhone as advertised
  • Relatively easy to get your iPhone in and out
  • Adds little weight or build to your iPhone
  • Rotating mute switch is a nice touch
  • iPhone speakers and earpiece still sound great

The Bad

  • Odd color distortions in front of iPhone display when using the case
  • Sleep/wake button is a little too stiff compared to volume buttons
  • A bit pricey

Tough adventure case for iPhone

Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone: What I like

I'll be honest: I'm not much of a case guy. I prefer to use my iPhone caseless, usually only putting one on when I leave my home. And even after testing the Catalyst case, which is excellent, I'm still not much of a case guy. But if I'm headed out for a weekend camping trip, or know that I'm going to be around a lot of water, you can bet that my iPhone XS Max will be going the Catalyst Waterproof case before I head out.

Let's start with construction. The Catalyst Waterproof case is solidly built without being uncomfortable to hold. It features two clear hard shell panels on the front and back, with the rear plate removable to allow you to insert your iPhone. The silicone band around the side of the case has a rubbery feel without sacrificing rigidity, allowing the case to feel comfortable in your hand without feeling flimsy.

When it comes to water protection, the case is rated at IP68, just like the iPhone XS Max with which I tested it. This actually points to a bit of a flaw in IP rating, because while the iPhone's rating means that it can withstand submersion in up two meters of water for 30 minutes, on the Catalyst, it means it can survive 10 meters or 33 ft.

Every means of ingress for water into your iPhone is covered by the Catalyst, including the Lightning port, which is protected by a silicone seal that can be pulled back to reveal the Lightning port for charging or data access. The speaker and microphone grilles are defended by what Catalyst calls True Sound acoustic membranes, which keep water out of the case without reducing sound quality. Even the phone earpiece, which doesn't have a membrane in front of it, sounds clear through the case.

Turning to drop protection, the Catalyst is rated to withstand drops of up to two meters or 6.6 ft. While not as drop-protected as Catalyst's Impact case (3 meters/9.9 ft.), this case's rating should be enough to protect your phone from most drops that you're likely to experience.

Despite its focus on protection, the Catalyst case doesn't interfere with normal phone operation to any major degree. I'm getting the same results out of my iPhone's camera both in and out of the case, for instance. And the Catalyst case adds barely any weight to your phone, and only a little noticeable thickness and width. Even on the already-large iPhone XS Max, this protective case still allows me to use my phone as I normally would, one-handed, while occasionally needing to use two hands to type. I feel better using one hand thanks to how protected my phone is.

I also appreciate the little touch of the dial that controls the mute switch is an especially nice touch. It adds an interesting flair to the iPhone experience while also visually reminding me of the Digital Crown on the Apple Watch.

Minor issues

Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone: What I don't like

Catalyst (Image credit: Catalyst)

The biggest issue I have with this case may or may not manifest itself depending on your experience with the case. I've noticed a little banding when using my phone in the Catalyst Waterproof case, specifically towards the center of the display. It's not enough to be completely distracting, and it's not a flaw that affects the phone itself. It simply seems to be an odd interaction between phone and case.

Another problem I found is with one of the buttons — specifically, the sleep/wake button, which you can also use to invoke Siri. Compared to the volume buttons on the case, the sleep/wake button is a little stiff to the press. It's not a huge issue, but it's noticeable every time I press the button.

Finally, it's a little expensive compared to some other waterproof cases. For what you're getting — excellent protection and build quality in a fairly small package — it doesn't seem unreasonable. But for some, it might be out of their price range for a case.

Something you should know

A note about gaskets

The Catalyst is great at keeping water away from your iPhone, and that has a lot to do with the gasket employed on the back panel of the phone. It sits in between the panel itself and the latch points the panel uses to attach to the rest of the case. While this gasket works well, you need to be careful when using the case that 1) the gasket doesn't come loose or get lost, and 2) that it doesn't get pinched between the back panel and the rest of the case. If the gasket comes loose or gets pinched, it will not properly seal your phone against water and dust ingress.

It shouldn't be a problem. In the couple dozen times I took the case apart to insert and remove my phone from it, the gasket only came loose from its designated slot once, and I never got it pinched in between the pieces of the case. But it is something of which you should be aware.

Excellent protection with the bulk

Catalyst Waterproof Case for iPhone: Bottom line

Catalyst's waterproof case is a great option for keeping your iPhone protected when you're out on your next excursion, whether you're headed to the great outdoors or on an expedition into an ice-covered downtown. If you can deal with the screen anomalies and the price isn't too high, this might just be the protective case for you.

Joseph Keller

Joseph Keller is the former Editor in Chief of iMore. An Apple user for almost 20 years, he spends his time learning the ins and outs of iOS and macOS, always finding ways of getting the most out of his iPhone, iPad, Apple Watch, and Mac.