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The ultimate guide to buying a smartphone case

There are two purchases that tend to follow after picking up a brand new smartphone: a screen protector (preferably a tempered glass make) and a smartphone case. It is safe for me to assume that many of us have experienced heartbreak in the first degree whenever we dropped our smartphones for the very first time, and the pain is very real - be it an entry-level device, a mid-range handset, or an insanely expensive flagship model.

That very moment when your smartphone somehow slips out of your hand and makes its way down due to gravity, time did seem to have slowed down as you moved your hand in a swift response to catch it, only to fail. Upon impact, it was hard to tell where the breaking sound came from your heart or that Gorilla Glass screen/back.

Hence, I would clearly make a smartphone case a compulsory purchase for all smartphone owners, regardless of the type of smartphone you use. For starters, it provides a much-needed layer of protection on the outside and also offers more grip as some of the newer smartphone designs with glass backs and curved displays tend to end up as slippery as an eel.

First, a caveat: I believe that most smartphone manufacturers go to great lengths to ensure that their devices look great from every angle with avant-garde design. After all, who wants to carry an ugly-looking brick around despite having it pack everything but the kitchen sink? Unfortunately, the trade-off would be risking damage in the event it falls to the ground. A smartphone case will provide much-needed protection at the expense of covering up the beauty of the device.

Know your needs

When it comes to buying anything, it is always a balance between your needs and budget. For instance, both an entry-level smartphone and a flagship device do the basics equally well – making and receiving phone calls, but the flagship obviously outperforms the entry-level device in terms of gaming.

You are the best judge of just how careful or clumsy you are, making you figure out just how tough your case has to be. If you are a regular klutz like me, then a folio case complete with a tempered glass makes perfect sense, as I eschewed the standard translucent slim case that came with my smartphone.

Slim cases

You could classify slim cases to be the most basic case of them all. These tend to be rather thin in nature, and most of them would not offer protection for your screen, just the sides and back. While translucent cases do showcase the smartphone’s design somewhat, poorly made ones might get in the way of ports and buttons.

Normally, TPU is the material of choice for these one-piece cases. Take note that the structural integrity of these cases will deteriorate over time, and translucent ones tend to turn yellow after a while. There are models that offer drop protection by sporting a thin, hard back that works in tandem with a thicker bumper.

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Some cases, like these from Razer, are nice and slim. / © NextPit

Tough cases

Something that straddles the middle ground between slim and rugged cases would be tough cases. These help your smartphone survive a drop without making it too bulky and cramping its style. Generally, these tend to feature a layer of hard polycarbonate on the outside, while a degree of shock-protection is provided via an inner layer made out of something softer such as silicone.

Rugged/shock-proof cases

Remember the time when rugged notebooks did make a splash in the consumer electronics market? Sure, they are tough as heck, but they are also super expensive and definitely not suitable for everyday use, considering their weight and bulkiness.

Rugged or shock-proof smartphone cases are not that unwieldy, but they do add a considerable bulge in your pocket. Most of such cases deliver a great deal of all-round protection courtesy of air pockets and reinforced corners while using material that is slip-resistant to ensure a secure grip even if you have clammy or wet hands. The main drawback to such material? It is harder to slide them in and out of your pocket.

Such rugged cases ought to cover just about every possible angle of damage, and your buttons, as well as a touchscreen, should also be protected. The downside to this? Your buttons might end up harder to press and your touchscreen sensitivity is reduced.

Some of these cases come with an IP (Ingress Protection) rating that provides you with an added layer of protection against water and dust. In fact, there are even more hardcore case manufacturers that include MIL-STD-810 certification, covering a wide range of protection including pressure, temperature, vibration, and impact. Needless to say, these tend to be more expensive than the average case.

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Cases come in all different styles and materials. / © NextPit

Folio cases

Young people would most probably give this a miss, but when you have gone around the block and cracked too many smartphone screens than you can remember, then a folio case makes plenty of sense.

For starters, it provides a business-like look that is not only stylish, but it does not add too much bulk in your pocket as well. Generally, they offer all-round drop protection, with most decent models featuring a shell-type case that delivers protection on the sides and corners.

To add a touch of sophistication, folio cases made from genuine leather are always impressive. These will be expensive, but that is the price you pay for class. For the majority of us who are on a tighter budget, the folio cases within our price range would be made from PU (polyurethane). It looks great, but over the course of time, you can be sure that it will crack (which is also a sign that you might want to change your smartphone by then).

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An example of a folio case on a Samsung Galaxy Note 8. / © NextPit

Another advantage of owning a folio case would be the presence of card slots. These are extremely useful, since you can store your driver’s license, a credit card, or a couple of name cards. Heck, why not stash some emergency cash within while you are at it? Just be careful not to overstuff it.

Some of the higher end folio cases that hail from notable manufacturers will support the sleep-wake function, allowing your device to come to life the moment you open the cover. Closing it will naturally send it to sleep. There are those with magnetic closures, although they are less secure compared to elastic, tab, or stud closure systems. It basically is a game of trade-offs.

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Battery cases – do I need one?

There is a very good reason as to why many smartphones these days come with fast charging capability – a power user can easily go through a 5,000 mAh battery before the sun sets, no matter how efficient an app is programmed or chipset is used underneath the hood. Here is a lifeline for you that deals with two potential problems in a single solution: a battery case.

Battery cases come with a built-in battery (hence their name) that will charge your handset to make it last longer, but it is a rarity these days. They are bulky, heavy, and certainly do not look good at all. A slim one might fare better in the looks department, but it would not do much for your battery.

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The official iPhone 11 Pro Max battery case from Apple. / © NextPit

Most battery cases are also not that great when it comes to protection, as their primary function is to deliver power to your smartphone’s dying battery. Of course, these cases tend to be more expensive than a regular case simply because you have to fork out the additional cash for the built-in battery. I would recommend skipping this and settling for a smartphone case of your choice and a high-capacity power bank instead.

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I would highly recommend checking out the case in-person before making a purchase decision for several reasons: nothing beats a hands-on feel, and you might be able to see whether it fits as claimed unless you pick one up from the smartphone manufacturer itself. It is also advisable to purchase two different kinds of cases for different situations, as a rugged case is far more suitable for a weekend hiking excursion while a slim case delivers a semblance of protection for everyday use.


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