Over the past couple of years, we’ve witnessed Contour Design go through an interesting phenomenon, whereby its premium Showcase cases — long iLounge editor and reader favorites — have occasionally been trumped by its less expensive and visually complex iSee cases for the same iPod models. This has happened once again with iSee iPhone V3 ($30), which updates the iPhone version of Showcase with superior protection, feel, and pricing, as well as arguably better looks.
Years ago, the Showcase’s combination of opaque rubber and clear hard plastic shells was more than a novelty: it was an attractive and unique way to frame the front and back of an iPod while protecting its body from scratches. But as iPods and iPhones have become thinner, and elements such as screens, cameras and antennas have come to occupy more of their faces and backs, framing them with opaque parts has become more of a challenge, while presenting them in fully clear hard plastic has become more common. There are now many clear iPod and iPhone cases; Contour has stayed ahead of the pack by going beyond most of its competitors, using frosted rubber parts to provide coverage for certain ports and controls.
The same formula has been used in iSee iPhone V3: you get the same scope of coverage as in the Showcase, using a two-piece shell that looks and feels lighter and thinner—Contour says 30% and 20% less, respectively—without compromising on durability or protection.
In fact, iSee protects more of the iPhone than Showcase, adding flip-out rubber headphone and Dock Connector port covers, plus full-time rubber Sleep/Wake and volume button covers. Aesthetically, the case looks really sharp, focusing your attention on the iPhone’s nice body rather than obscuring it; the clear plastic still shows surface scratches, but as with earlier iSees, it’s absorbing damage that otherwise would be inflicted on your iPhone’s casing. While not as thin as the clear film protectors we’ve liked for iPhone, and not dramatically different from fully clear competing options by companies such as Power Support, iSee iPhone V3 is not awfully bulky, either.
iPhone’s only continuously exposed elements are its ringer switch, ear and bottom speakers, microphone, camera, and Home button, a quantity of coverage which is impressive by iPhone case standards save for one omission: its screen, which Contour for some reason continually refuses to cover with film. While iSee iPhone V3 does accommodate the full face film offered by its competitors, we’d expect to find something in the box at this price level.
That lack of full face protection is one of only two annoyances in an otherwise great design; the other is the case’s approach to accessory compatibility.
Having tested many hard iPhone cases, it’s obvious that there’s often a difficult trade-off to be made between bottom protection and full access to the speakerphone features and Dock Connector, but Contour’s flip-open Dock Connector cover design makes the case unstable with Universal Docks and incompatible with certain bottom-connecting accessories. A small tweak or two—namely, a slightly larger bottom hole and a way to detach the rubber port cover, as you can with the other three rubber parts—would have remedied this issue.
As a final tweak to the earlier Showcase, Contour has replaced the prior opaque black belt clip and holster system with a slightly different clear frosted alternative—a change we’d call neutral overall. Better looking than the last holster, the new one removes the 30-degree-ratcheting integrated clip in favor of a four-position one that mounts in four total horizontal or vertical orientations. It no longer serves as a video stand, the only feature of the prior Holster that we miss.
All in all, there are many reasons—top, bottom, and side protection first, arguably better looks second—to prefer iSee iPhone V3 over Showcase and competing clear hard plastic case options we’ve tested, and only a few reasons that the case falls short of perfection, namely in bottom accessory compatibility, the lack of screen coverage, and the absence of video stand functionality.