Last week, we posted a look at the iPhone 4 cases Apple is offering for free to users—one case per iPhone, unless you bought one or more Bumper cases from Apple before the giveaway began. Today, we updated our iPhone 4 Case Program – Best + Worst Picks article to provide additional photographs and details on some of the case picks, and we also wanted to answer a few e-mailed reader questions here.
“Which in your opinion is the most visually striking? I love how the iPhone looks without a case, but want some protection. I am torn between the Griffin Etch and the Speck PixelSkin. I’d welcome your thoughts since you’ve seen them in person.”
In all honesty, the question of what’s most visually striking is very personal—what works for some people doesn’t for others. We would call the Griffin Motif, Griffin Reveal Etch, Speck Fitted, and Speck PixelSkin HD equally attractive cases, but they’re all different: Motif’s translucent gray plastic and rear diamond pattern are both eye-catching but deliberately a little understated, which we really like, while Reveal Etch’s faux carbon fiber panel looks better than what we’d expected after trying lots of faux carbon fiber cases in the past. Speck’s Fitted is one of very few cases that have successfully brought fabric into playthrough iPhone designs, and the company’s fabric patterns are always nice, while PixelSkin HD is a very sharp, clean redesign of the prior PixelSkins that has the grippiest texture of the bunch and a distinctive mixing of glossy and matte textures. If we had to pick just one on looks, PixelSkin HD would probably be it, but all of these four picks look very good to great.
“I would be concerned about access to the data port without having to remove the case, relative bulkiness of the case… ease of operating the volume controls, sleep button, and mute switch. Sure, many of these are subjective and even so, a relative ranking would be tremendously useful to the three million of us who are applying for these cases over the next month.”
As we’ve shifted away from case reviews over the past couple of years—due incidentally to reader requests that we do so—we’ve tried to add lots of additional photos to our case galleries so that users who are interested in the minutia of case performance can focus in on those details visually. One thing that we try to do in the brief preview text is to provide a sense of the big uh-ohs we’ve discovered, which are most commonly related to the port and camera cut-outs. Cases without built-in button covers tend to have bigger “ease of operation” issues if the button holes are small; we only note problems with the covered buttons if the covers are designed really poorly.
Regarding bulk, all of the third-party cases save for the Incase Snap Cases are in the same general category of thickness, adding 2-3 millimeters per covered surface. The Snap Cases are engineered to be thinner shells, while Apple’s Bumpers bulge out just a little more than the others.
The only other iPhone 4-specific issues we would raise for your consideration are the camera and speakerphone holes. Certain cases with tightly-tailored keyhole-shaped camera and flash holes may under some conditions have photography issues when the flash is used; Griffin actually reengineered the standard version of Reflect after its initial release because of such problems. We haven’t had problems with Reveal Etch, possibly because the rear material of the case is opaque. Additionally, cases with pill-shaped individual holes for the bottom speaker and microphone might exhibit audio issues during speakerphone calls, so more open-bottomed designs (such as Griffin’s Motif and Speck’s Fitted) will likely wind up being safer over time.
“How do you think [Apple’s program] is going to affect other case makers selling product into retail where the devices are sold?”
Our gut feeling is that it’s going to hurt companies whose products are overly similar to the designs on offer, while forcing others to market more aggressively to get their unique designs into users’ hands. Many readers have told us that the iPhone 4 Case Program selections wouldn’t be their first choices, but would work well as backups or alternatives. Others seem to be really pleased with the choices, and our view is that Apple is offering some bona-fide winners, though it seems to have selected specific cases primarily because they were available in large quantities, quickly. More distinctive cases will continue to be of interest to iPhone users, particularly when the Case Program ends in September. SwitchEasy’s Colors (below) are just one example of cases with unique looks and a lot of value for very aggressive prices.
Companies looking to distinguish themselves from Apple can do so by (a) packing in good screen film with their cases, (b) offering separate, good screen film, and (c) having cases available immediately while Apple’s 3-8 week waiting period exists. Those who merely try to mimic what Apple has done with Bumpers, or offer me-too versions of the cases that are part of the giveaway, will have problems—particularly if and when surges of unopened giveaway cases hit eBay and other reseller venues.