iPhone Case Review Roundup: Vaja, Sena, OtterBox, DLO and Boxwave
Reviewed September, 2007 by Tong Zhang, Senior Editor. OtterBox case added Feb. 2008 by Cedric Bosch. BoxWave case added by Jacob Spindel August 2008.
If you are one of the “a million and counting” iPhone users out there, you know how fortunate you are and how much fun it is to use the iPhone. But you also know how slippery the iPhone’s surface is and might also worry about the large screen being unprotected. One of the first things an iPhone user might want to think about is getting a protective case. We take a look at four cases made by Vaja Cases, Sena Cases and DLO fro this review.
Vaja makes top-of-the-lines cases that not only look great but protect a device well. Their cases are generally more expensive than other makers, but you get a very fashionable and functional case for the money. Vaja offers several lines of iPhone cases including the i-Volution, “retro dockable” and horizontal pouch cases. We tested the i-Volution Top SP Holster and the i-Volution Holster models for this review.
Vaja i-Volution Top SP Holster - starting at $80
The i-Volution Top SP is by far the best case we’ve seen for the iPhone, matching the style and sleekness of the device. The leather case adds very little bulk to the iPhone and feels and looks very slim. The design is well thought out: everything is made to measure and well thought out. The case covers the slippery iPhone surface to give you a better grip but leaves all ports and controls accessible.
With the case open, you can access the menu button, headphone jack, power button, SIM card and the vibrate slider. The camera lens is exposed. Speaker cutouts ensure that you can hear the iPhone clearly. You can use the USB cable to sync and charge, but cannot use the dock while the phone is in the case. The front cover of the i-Volution Top SP case protects iPhone’s large screen with an ABS layer under the leather. The front cover has a lip that latches at top of the iPhone with a light press, and the cover doesn’t open accidentally. The i-Volution Top SP Holster offers an optional belt clip system that’s sturdy and well made.
The case is extremely well-built and highly stylish. As with all i-Volution cases, you have a huge numbers of colors and color combos to choose from. If you have the cash to spare and wish to dress your iPhone in style, this case isn’t to be missed and is well worth the price.
The i-Volution Holster is basically the Top SP Holster without the front cover. Vaja often offers casees with and without the front for many smartphones and PDAs. Like the Top SP Holster, the i-Volution Holster case is sturdy, perfectly fit the iPhone form and can prevent the slippery iPhone from sliding out of your hands by accident. It leaves the camera lens exposed and the speakers and sync/charge port at the bottom of the iPhone open. The case has a cut-out on the left side to give you access to the volume and vibration controls. Since it doesn’t have a front cover, nothing on the front of the iPhone is protected or obscured. While the i-Volution Holster adds even less bulk to the iPhone, it leaves the large LCD exposed. Those who wish to toss their iPhone in a briefcase or a purse might worry about the screen without the protection. The i-Volution Holster is available in a great number of colors and offers an optional clip system.
DLO made its name in iPod related products and was one of the first companies to offer iPhone cases. The DLO HipCase model currently comes in 3 varieties: a brown leather case, a black smooth leather case and a black nylon case. All HipCase models are designed to hold your phone on your belt or bag/purse strip horizontally and offer a wide and sturdy belt clip. The cases have strong Velcro tabs that close the top cover securely and have cut-outs for the headphone jack. You can listen to music while the iPhone is in the case, but for most other functions you will need to take the phone out of the case. As far as hip-side cases go, the DLO cases are stylish, not too bulky and are comfy to wear. One thing you will still need to deal with though is the slippery iPhone when you pull it out of the case to make a call or use applications. The three models in DLO’s HipCase series have a few slight differences:
The brown natural leather HipCase is the thinnest and adds the least bulk to the iPhone. The case looks minimalist yet attractive. The black leather HipCase has a smooth leather surface and a well-padded body. It adds slightly more bulk than the brown leather case but the padding gives your iPhone more protection. The inner leather on the black leather case is soft and the back has white seams. The black nylon HipCase is made of very durable nylon and is more resistant to water (though not water proof). The flip cover is well padded and the interior has a soft lining. The nylon case has a small cash/credit card pocket, a feature that the leather cases lack.
DLO black leather case
DLO brown leather case
DLO nylon case
All three cases are very well built and the price is reasonable.
If you’re a veteran PDAs or smartphone user, you’ve probably heard of Sena Cases. The case maker is known for its great leather quality, case design and craftsmanship. We tested the MagnetFlipper case for the iPhone for this review, but Sena also offers pouch cases and leather skin cases which includes one model that can fit in a docking station. These cases range from $29 to $52.
The Sena MagnetFlipper case is the thickest and most protective case in Sena’s current iPhone case line-up. The European Napa leather used to make this case is fine-grained smooth and soft leather. There are strong re-enforced inserts in both front and back of the case with the front cover adding extra soft padding on top for the screen protection. The case has a thin leather lip with a snap on top and has cut-outs for the power button, headphone jack, SIM card (open the snap to access), the vibration and volume controls as well as the camera lens. The cut-out for the earpiece leaves the proximity sensor open so that when you put the phone near your head the screen turns off. As the name suggests, the flip cover is shut with a magnet that feels secure when the case is closed. The case and flip cover have holes for the speakers and sync/charge port. There is a thin pocket inside of the flip cover that you can use for a credit card or two and some cash.
Even though the Sena MagnetFlipper case is the bulkiest case in the lot, it offers fat padding for the screen and rigid inserts for the entire phone, a trade-off a cautious iPhone user might not mind taking.
When it comes to shielding your electronics in the great outdoors, nobody does a better job than the OtterBox team. The Defender Series iPhone case is unique in that it provides full access to all the iPhone’s functions (except the silence switch) while retaining OtterBox’s signature weatherproof characteristics. OtterBox accomplishes this by manufacturing the Defender Series case out of three distinct parts: a hard plastic shell that encases the phone and protects it from impact, a soft silicone skin that allows you to grip the phone securely, and a transparent plastic membrane which is part of the aforementioned plastic shell. Working much like a screen protector, this clear plastic overlay lets you use the iPhone with very little interference; in fact, we found it almost impossible to tell the plastic was even there.
The Defender Series case also comes with a highly rugged (though somewhat unwieldy) holster, which lets you face the iPhone’s screen either in or out. We do wish it gripped the phone more firmly, as turning the holster upside down will result in the phone falling out. The only other drawback to this case is the fact that you can’t access the silence toggle switch. However, this is an understandable drawback, as providing access to the switch would have meant sacrificing impermeability.
At $49.95, the Defender Series iPhone case is an inexpensive and effective way of protecting your investment from the harsher elements.
I once fielded a tech support call from an unlucky customer who had cracked the screen of her cell phone; she expected me to help her navigate it blindly by telling her which buttons to press. Needless to say, this is not something I was able to assist her with. With its touch-screen interface, the iPhone would likely be even harder to use after sustaining physical damage. Unfortunately, hard cases for iPhones are not very common at the moment. However, there are at least a few of them available, including the Armor Case from the accessory specialists at BoxWave. Although its screen guard feature has limited value, overall the BoxWave Armor Case is effective for providing both physical and signal protection for iPhones.
Protection For Your iPhone...
Some iPhone hard cases are made from plastic or cheap imitation materials, but the Armor Case is one of only a handful of iPhone cases made from real aluminum. Available in black and silver versions, the case is a clamshell-style design that snaps closed at the top edge of your iPhone. The interior also has a slim foam coating to hold your iPhone in place, and a detachable belt clip is included. The case has cutouts for an iPhone’s screen, Dock Connector, power switch, headphone jack, camera, and volume/silence switches. The aluminum shell provides strong protection that provides serious protection against even fairly some serious impacts. This is especially important for a high-end device like the iPhone, because if your iPhone breaks, purchasing a replacement will probably cost you at least $399.
The Armor Case is available in two versions, either with or without a plexiglas screen guard. Without the screen guard, the Armor Case by itself does not provide any screen protection, but with the guard, you will have to open the case just to be able to use the iPhone, since you can’t use the touchscreen with the screen guard in place. Unfortunately, neither one of these is really a very attractive option, so you will probably need to buy the version without the guard and also purchase a separate screen protector to achieve both complete protection and a convenient setup.
...And Protection FROM Your iPhone
If your iPhone makes you hear "rattlesnake" noises from your radio or speakers, or if it periodically interferes with your TV reception, then you are undoubtedly familiar with the nuisance known as GSM interference. An unfortunate “feature” of the iPhone is that it is normal for its communication waves to interfere with nearby electronics. This is one area where the case's aluminum makeup comes in especially handy, since it provides shielding against interference. Most plastic and silicone cases don't decrease interference at all, but I’m happy to say that the Armor Case has lived up to, and even exceeded, my hopes in this regard. I would estimate that the case has decreased interference by about 70% from an unprotected iPhone during my everyday usage. In spite of this, my iPhone remains able to find a strong network signal; in fact, I did not observe any correlation between using the case and a decrease of signal strength. GSM interference can be a pretty serious problem if you use a lot of electronics (or if your coworkers are trying to listen to the radio), so the Armor Case’s shielding gives it an advantage that very few iPhone cases offer.
Breaking Up Is Hard To Do (Now)
For a device as expensive and portable as the iPhone, strong protection is simply a necessity. BoxWave's Armor Case provides durable protection in addition to an almost unparalleled level of shielding from GSM interference. As long as you find a way to protect your screen without relying on BoxWave's own screen guard option, the Armor Case does a good job of keeping your iPhone safe - which is undoubtedly also good news for tech support reps everywhere.
Each case in this round-up has its unique features and style to offer at a variety of price points. My personal favorite is the Vaja i-Volution Top SP Holster case thanks to its style that matches the iPhone in an original way and it provides great protection for the phone. The cost is often the obstacle for Vaja case buyers. If you don’t want to spend that much on a case, the DLO and Sena cases are no slouches and will go much easier on your pocketbook.