I get a lot of accessories and other doodads that don’t merit formal reports at Current Analysis, but are interesting nonetheless. Here’s a quick rundown of five iPhone cases:
DLO HipCase ($34.99) – this was one of the first iPhone cases on the market, and easily one of the most attractive – provided you don’t mind the wide “eyeglass case” style. The leather case protects the phone reasonably well, though the corners are left exposed. I managed to dent – but not break – my first iPhone sample when it dropped to the floor in this case and hit precisely at the corner near the headphone jack. The big downside to this case is that the belt clip is permanently attached, so it is awkward to slip into a pocket instead of perching it on your hip.
DLO Jam Jacket ($24.99) – this one looks like a simple silicone overlay, and it is, though there’s a twist around back. Instead of a belt clip, there’s a hard silicone protrusion which is used to wrap your headphone cord around, and even indentations for inserting Apple’s stock earbuds. There are a bunch of problems with this case: it doesn’t protect the screen in any way. It doesn’t have a belt clip, so if you want to use it that way, you can’t. Worse, if you want to stick the iPhone in your pocket, that’s difficult, too, because the cord winding thing sticks out. Finally, if you don’t use Apple’s stock ear buds – I don’t – then they won’t fit in the spots cut out for them on the rear protrusion, either. If it fits your needs perfectly, great. But I can’t generally recommend this one.
Griffin Elan Holster ($29.99) – Griffin has a bunch of different cases for the iPhone, and this one is one of the simplest. It is a leather sleeve open on one of the short ends and exposed along the sides for access to the volume buttons and ringtone on/off switch. Fit is pretty snug, which is a good thing if you want to take advantage of the case’s flexibility: it can be used with a removable belt clip in either vertical or horizontal orientation (if it wasn’t a snug fit, the iPhone would fall out when you have it in horizontal mode). So, vertical belt case? Check. Horizontal belt case? Check. Pocket case without a clip? Check. Screen protection? Check. It is attractive, but not as attractive as the DLO HipCase, so if flexibility matters more to you than fashion, Griffin’s Elan Holster is an easy recommendation.
OtterBox iPhone Defender ($49.99) – the Defender series of cases from OtterBox are semi-rugged, designed to survive jostling and moisture, but not sledgehammers and swimming pools. The case is built in layers: first, there’s a hard plastic shell (which splits in half to insert/retrieve the iPhone itself) which has a “patented thin membrane” that covers the iPhone’s screen. Surprisingly, I found that the membrane does not interfere with usage of the phone at all. On top of the hard plastic shell, you then put on a silicone jacket, which includes plugs for all the ports so that moisture can’t enter them when they are closed, but headphone jacks and USB cords can be used when they are open. Then, the whole contraption fits into a belt clip made of even thicker hard plastic with a rotating hinge so that the clip can be worn vertically or horizontally. I did not deliberately drop test the iPhone in the OtterBox case because I’m fairly certain Apple wants at least one of its loaners returned from me unharmed, but I used this case for months and came away extremely impressed with its well thought out design.
There are a few drawbacks, however. First, the case does add some bulk to the iPhone, particularly when the belt clip is used; that is to be expected. All the iPhone’s controls are accessible, save one: the ringer on/off switch cannot be used when the iPhone is in the case; this is a minor, but significant loss. The biggest problem is that getting the iPhone in and out of the case is a nightmare, and when in the case, the iPhone doesn’t fit in its white stand or in any of three or four iPod speaker docks I tried. It can be synced using the USB cable itself without the stand, so if you don’t ever dock your iPhone even that won’t be an issue.
H2O audio iFR Sport Combo ($29.99) – H2O Audio is known for cases and headphones that are fully waterproof, but the iFR case/armband combination is merely water resistant, much like the OtterBox case. Unfortunately, it is not nearly as well designed as the competition. It is far bigger and bulkier, and looks more like the fully ruggedized waterproof cases H2O Audio sells for the iPod (those cases are advertised as being designed for taking an iPod surfing which justifies their size). On the iFR, there is a clear hard plastic front piece that protects the screen which must be flipped out of the way to gain access to the iPhone’s controls underneath, which then completely exposes the iPhone to your fingers and to moisture. In practice, the flip-away cover makes it very difficult to answer the phone quickly, and you cannot surf the Internet outside during a light drizzle, never mind go into real surf. The armband is almost comically large. On the other hand, inserting and extracting the iPhone is a relatively simple and quick affair compared to the OtterBox. I have been quite impressed with some of H2O Audio’s ingenious waterproof cases, but I cannot recommend this one.
About Avi: At Current Analysis I focus on testing mobile devices and advising clients how competitive they are in the market. None of the products I’m recommending here come from clients, and I do not own stock in any of the companies. I do not pay for review units, and while most devices I test get sent back (whether the companies want them back or not – I need to get them out of my house), I have kept some of the items listed below for… lets call it a long term loan.