Review: Speck ToughSkin for iPhone
Silicone rubber cases have traditionally been the most reliable first-generation options for iPods: inexpensive and generally protective, they've enabled millions of iPod owners to cover as much scratchable surface area as possible, using film or hard plastic guards to protect the menu, music, and video screens of past models. But iPhone presents some unique challenges: its large, touch-sensitive display means that silicone cases can't cover a significant portion of its body, and most companies have been afraid to add traditional hard plastic belt clip nubs to the backs of rubber iPhone cases, for fear of scuffing its back.
We’ve tested seven silicone cases for the iPhone to date, ranging from offerings by big-named companies to those from newer, smaller ones. As with the fifth-generation iPod, Marware’s delivered the iPhone’s best early combination of protection and value for the dollar, while other companies have released more colorful or unique options. The options are BoxWave’s FlexiSkin ($33/$24), DLO’s Jam Jacket ($25), Incase’s Protective Cover ($30), Incipio’s dermaSHOT ($13), Marware’s SportGrip ($15), Speck’s SkinTight 2-Pack ($30), and Speck’s ToughSkin ($30).
Marware’s SportGrip ($15) comes in four colors, neutral clear and black, and standard boy and girl blue and pink colors. Each of the cases comes with a clear film static cling screen protector that covers iPhone’s entire face save for the Home button and ear speaker, and a gray cleaning cloth. There are seven grip ribs on each side; SportGrip covers the top and side buttons, leaving only the proximity sensor, headphone port, camera, side ringer switch, face and bottom speakers, mic, and Dock Connector port open. Since the film covers the whole face, you do better with Marware’s combination of film and silicone than with most iPhone cases.
From a protectiveness standpoint, SportGrip is impressive. It covers the top Sleep/Wake switch and side Volume buttons while making them easy to depress, and has only one flaw: the iPhone’s chrome bezel shows through the sides next to the screen. and a little bit near the proximity sensor. As its name hints, however, it has a considerable amount of rubber on its back, shaped to make the encased iPhone fit comfortably in your hand. There’s no belt clip or other frill here; if you need a back clip, Marware separately sells the more expensive clip and cord managing SportGrip Backwinder as an alternative.
There were only two other really sharp options in the collection. DLO’s Jam Jacket for iPhone sells for a $10 premium over SportGrip, and comes in the same four colors. It similarly has textured grip sides, plus cut outs for the proximity sensor, ear speaker, and bottom elements, but omits both screen and button protection for the top and side buttons. Its major innovation is its rear, which uses molded rubber to let you wrap and stow Apple’s Stereo Headset when its not in use. We’ve seen the same feature on past iPod cases from Macally, but it’s nice to see here, too.
We also generally liked Speck’s ToughSkin for iPhone, which sells at a $15 premium over SportGrip. As with all of the company’s rubber cases, it feels firmer, like medium-thickness plastic rather than soft silicone, and has classic Speck molding for a tough, rugged look. Like Jam Jacket, it does a better job of covering iPhone’s chrome bezel than the SportGrip, and like SportGrip, it covers the top and side buttons rather than exposing them. Our sample had only two issues: it bulges out a little at the top of iPhone’s screen, and doesn’t include any screen protection.
Speck does, however, include a hard plastic rear belt clip that attaches to ToughSkin’s sides and uses a passive restraint to hold iPhone’s bottom, covering only the Dock Connector port. The clip ratchets in 15 degree increments over 360 degrees of rotation, and pops out to serve as a horizontal video viewing stand for iPhone. If you turn it in the most obvious direction, iPhone tips over under its own weight rather than resting in the cradle, but if you turn it on its side, the video stand feature works.
SkinTight is Speck’s other rubber iPhone case option. Sold in one of two two-packs, one includes black and clear SkinTight cases, while the other has pink and clear cases. Like ToughSkin, each pack comes with a holster-styled belt clip that doubles as a video viewing stand. The SkinTight cases are visually and texturally less sophisticated than the ToughSkin design, and still lack for screen protection. But they’re technically a better value for the dollar since they do everything ToughSkin does, minus the thicker reinforced corners and sides, and come two to a pack instead of one.
We weren’t as impressed by the other three cases. Incase’s Protective Cover is one of the least impressive rubber cases we’ve ever seen at a $30 price. On a positive note, it covers virtually every bit of metal on iPhone’s body, leaving only thin rings around its camera, headphone port, and ringer switch. It bulges a little at the bottom under the Home button, exposing a hint of chrome down there, as well. But it also provides no other face protection, no rear belt clip, and no other frills. Its one and only redeeming feature is a molded-in topographic pattern that makes the case look a bit like a tire tread. We consider it a competent design, but not a good value for the dollar, especially on protectiveness.
When we say “one of the least impressive,” that’s because Boxwave’s six-colored FlexiSkin supposedly sells for $33, discounted on more or less permanent web sale pricing to $24. The samples case we received for review were apparently from the company’s early batch, which bulged a little at iPhone’s top and also covered its proximity sensor. Newer versions don’t cover the proximity sensor, but also use an odd face cut-out shape that’s visually less attractive than the neutral ones here; they also now include neck lanyards. Each of our samples came without the top, front, and camera holes cut out, issues that made us wonder if Boxwave even cares about the quality of the items they ship out. We wouldn’t go with these options given all the other choices that are available.
Finally, there’s Incipio’s dermaSHOT, which has only one redeeming value: its $13 price. The dermaSHOT cases are identical to Boxwave’s newer FlexiSkins except that they’re cheaper and offered in at least nine colors, including camouflage. While we didn’t like how they looked, saw their fit on iPhone’s front as sloppy, noticed that they cover the side ringer switch, and actively disliked their huge rear belt and lanyard holes, the pricing might make them appeal to some people. Given how much more you get from Marware for $2 more, though, we can’t really say that dermaSHOT is a good investment unless you like one of the colors Incipio’s offering.
All in all, there’s no doubt in our minds that the best of the early iPhone rubber cases is Marware’s SportGrip, with DLO’s and Speck’s cases coming in second thanks to higher prices and flashier but less protective designs. Incase’s and Boxwave’s rubber cases are just too expensive for what little you get, and though Incipio’s dermaSHOT delivers better value, it’s still not an objectively good rubber case design on anything but color options. If nothing here strikes your aesthetic or functional fancy, you may be better off waiting for second-wave designs from Marware, iSkin, XtremeMac and others, as these companies have consistently delivered excellent results when given enough time to hone their designs.