Review: Contour Design Showcase for iPhone
Few events in an iPod's life cycle generate as much reader interest as the release of top-of-the-line cases by Contour Design, iSkin, or Vaja, and the same has held true for the iPhone: thanks to continued iterative improvements to their old products, these companies keep fans happy every time a new Apple media player comes out. Such is the case with Contour Design's Showcase for iPhone ($35), which builds upon six earlier iPod Showcases with mostly positive results.
Unlike its entirely clear plastic iSee series of cases, which includes one for iPhone (iLounge rating: B+), Contour Design’s Showcase combines opaque and clear plastic in a design that’s supposed to accent the beauty of Apple’s design while simultaneously providing superior protection. All four sides, as well as the front and back corners, are covered in a hard black rubber, while the remaining front and back surfaces are made from clear hard plastic. Like past Showcases, the black rubber serves as an overlapping frame for the iPhone’s metal rear, while the front face is comparatively clearer.
The good news is that Showcase makes a strong and positive first impression. Like the better cases we’ve previously tested for the iPhone, it preserves much of the device’s aesthetic appeal rather than diminishing it, though like iSee, it adds a bit of additional thickness on all sides in the process. Once it’s on, you get the feeling that the iPhone’s substantially protected against drops—a feature of past Showcases—and yet doesn’t compromise on looks or functionality in any major way. These are all big reasons that we expect Showcase for iPhone to be very popular with our readers.
However, though it would be fair to say that Contour hasn’t radically changed past features for the iPhone version of Showcase, they’ve been executed differently this time, and not always for the better. Past Showcases, with the notable exception of the second-generation iPod nano version, have basically foregone protection of the iPods’ controls while protecting their screens. Now that screen and controls have been merged, Contour doesn’t protect either: iPhone’s entire face is open save for small amounts of clear plastic off to the sides of the ear speaker, proximity sensor, and Home button. No screen protector is included, and though you can apply one (such as Power Support’s Crystal Film) yourself, it just barely fits inside the case. As with iSee for iPhone, removing the device from the inside of Showcase is a small challenge, and adding film doesn’t help. The rear camera is also exposed and unprotected save for its recession under a few millimeters of surrounding hard plastic.
Another change to the iPhone version of Showcase is Contour’s new holster-style belt clip design, which is similar to the one included with the iPhone version of iSee, and very stable. One is included with Showcase, and additional holsters can be purchased separately. Unlike past Showcases, the clip here doubles as a table-ready video stand, and ratchets in 30-degree steps, offering the advantage of allowing you to mount the phone on your choice of angles rather than just 90 degrees. It also lets you place the iPhone’s screen inwards or outwards on your belt as you prefer. However, it’s much larger and thicker than the small, unintrusive detachable clips used in previous Showcases, and looks like a black exoskeleton for the iPhone, adding considerable extra thickness when it’s on; unlike the clips from prior Showcases, you’ll need to decide whether it suits your personal aesthetic needs.
One final change to this Showcase from its predecessors is its locking system. Gone are the old Showcase slide-open latches, replaced by three tabs (left, right, and top) that lock the fold-open rear shell into place with the rigid face and bottom pieces of the case. Assuming you haven’t applied any film to the iPhone—full-body film, for instance, doesn’t work at all—the tabs work well to hold the case closed, and Contour’s choice most likely resulted in at least a slight narrowing of the case relative to how it would have been with a side-mounted latch and hinge system. Yet it also renders this Showcase more difficult to open for device removal than the past Showcases, as well as several competing plastic iPhone cases.
Counterbalancing this is the fact that you needn’t really open the case with any frequency, as Showcase’s bottom has proper ventilation for the bottom Dock Connector, speaker and microphone, as well as properly-sized side and top holes for the iPhone’s additional buttons, switch, and headphone port. Pop out the Universal Dock Adapter currently in any Universal Dock-equipped iPod accessory and iPhone fits inside just fine. You’ll only have problems with one major accessory, Apple’s Dock, but you can still connect the Dock Connector cable to iPhone’s bottom for syncing, instead.
In our view, Contour Design’s Showcase for iPhone is a very good case, flirting with our high recommendation based on its looks, but falling short of that mark chiefly because of its approach to protection. Though we realize that some companies have viewed the iPhone’s face, top, bottom and sides as too difficult to effectively protect, other companies (including iSkin, Marware, and Power Support) include smart film and rubber solutions that more substantially cover iPhone’s body. As such, a purchase of Showcase is—like many of the other current top iPhone case options—a compromise, forcing you to trade off some scratch protection and thinness for superior drop protection and looks. Many people will be willing to make that compromise, and though we would have liked to see film protection included for the $35 asking price, we wouldn’t dissuade them from making the purchase.