iPhone Cases [Review]

October 26, 2011 by Gabe | [mmd] |

The iPhone is a beautiful yet fragile piece of technology. I love the feel of it. It has a satisfying heft and the glass allows it to slide easily from my fingers into my pocket. Unfortunately there’s a cost to the sleek design. The iPhone 4(S) appears to have a much greater affinity for the ground than for my hand. The obvious solution is to put it into a protective case.

Hard Cases

I’ve used several cases for my various iPhones. My first case was the Vaja case for my first generation iPhone. It was a luxurious case with a leather outer skin and a clamshell design as well as a steep price tag. The biggest flaw was that I chose the optional belt clip connector. That meant that the case had a protruding pin on the back of the case. That also meant that it was a risky endeavor to put the case in my pocket.

The next hard case was a generic polycarbonate case for my wife’s iPhone. Her phones appear to have a much greater coefficient of gravity so she needed a case that could actually protect the phone from a reasonable impact. She liked the case, but eventually decided she did not like the added bulk. I think if someone has a case on an iPhone, the worst thing to do is to take the case off. Once the case is removed, it is quite noticeable how sleek a naked iPhone is. There’s no going back.


So a hard case adds too much bulk. Apple has yet to add a portable force-field generator to the iPhone. I’m sure we will hear about that in the next round of iPhone rumors. Until that day, one option for mitigating the fragility of our iPhones is to reduce the chance that they might slip out of our hands.

While the glass makes for a great scratch resistant surface, it also makes it very slippery. The obvious solution is to make it a little less slippery. A 3M skin accomplishes this very well. The only variations in these skins are in the art work. The material is consistently high quality and bubble free when applied. They reduce the slickness of the phone just enough to increase my grip on the phone, but not so much that it does not easily slide in and out of my pocket.

I’ve purchased skins from Gelaskins and Etsy.com but I much prefer the skins from Infectious.com for their art style. This David Lanham skin is one of my favorites. I also love this Gummi Anatome skin from Gelaskins (also available as a Magic Trackpad and Apple TV skin).


I’ve never been much of a fan for iPhone bumpers. They always felt awkward and seemed to provide little protection. However, I recently purchased the Apple bumper for my iPhone 4S and I am quite happy with what it has to offer. The bumper provides it’s own buttons that interact with the iPhone buttons underneath. This solves one issue that bothered me with other bumpers and hard cases: The solid and high quality buttons of the iPhone were covered with a generally inferior bumper or skin.

The Apple bumper buttons (say that five times real fast) feel like the iPhone buttons. The volume buttons and power button are both covered with a chrome button provided by the bumper. The buttons feel solid.

The bumper itself is very thin and still makes the iPhone easy to slip in a pocket. There is very subtle rubberization to the front and back edge of the bumper but the sides are made of glossy polycarbonate. I can set my iPhone on my slanted surface without it sliding off and crashing to the floor.

The only downside to the bumper is that the headphone jack is slightly more recessed (remember the first generation iPhone). This means that studio headphones will not work while the bumper is on the phone.


You read that correctly. I now have wood covering my iPhone 4S. It’s somewhere between a skin and a case. Slightly thicker than a skin but much thinner than a case. The wood skin is made by Trunket from real reclaimed wood. I purchased mine through Amazon and received it in just a few days for $38 (I purchased the Black Rosewood model and combined it with a black Apple bumper).



The Good

The Trunket is very thin for being made of wood. In fact, it’s somewhat fragile until it is installed on the phone. Once installed it adds perhaps 1mm to each face of the device.


Because the Apple bumper fits over the plastic bezel on the phone, it can be used in conjunction with the Trunket. The combination of the Trunket and Apple bumper look completely natural. It looks like it could have been an actual iPhone design.


The Bad

The phone feels slightly larger. Not much, but noticeable. I’ve been using the iPhone with just a 3M skin since it arrived and I have grown accustomed to it's svelte feel in my hand.

The home button on the front feels slightly more recessed. It’s noticeable and somewhat distracting. I imagine I’ll get used to in a few days.

The Conclusion

I don’t like cases but I also don’t like a fragile piece of wet expensive soap in my hand. It’s all about trade offs and a slight increase in size for a much more durable and manageable iPhone that still easily fits in my pocket is well worth it.