Several years ago, silicone rubber iPod cases became so generic and commoditized that we all but stopped caring about them. But then something positive happened: the industry’s better case makers stepped up and started thinking more about how to improve the textures, protectiveness, and finish of their designs, compellingly distinguishing them from their poorly made throwaway competitors. Consequently, the iPhone and iPhone 3G have enjoyed a number of legitimately good and great new rubber case designs, four of which we’re looking at in separate reviews today. They vary in price from $20 to $40, and diverge widely in features and looks. This review focuses on PDO’s TopSkin for iPhone 3G ($20). Note: PDO updated this case subsequent to our review, as explained below; we updated this review on August 22, 2008 to reflect the changes.
Though they are only a step or two better than generic in design, we have previously liked PDO’s TopSkin cases for one major reason: value for the dollar. Whereas other companies have tried to find ways to justify asking way too much for simple rubber skins, PDO’s $20 iPod and iPhone packages include a highly protective case, a screen protector, and a detachable ratcheting belt clip, the latter an item generally found only in more expensive case packages. The philosophy has seemed to be consistent: these cases look fine, protect well, and won’t destroy your wallet. That’s all great by us.
This year’s TopSkin for iPhone 3G follows the same pattern, but unfortunately has a problem specific to the new device. On a positive note, the base case itself continues PDO’s aggressive philosophy of protection: combined with the included full face film protector, the only parts of the device left exposed are the ringer switch, both speakers, the microphone, and camera. All of these parts are recessed under a millimeter or two of rubber, largely safe from scratches, and the ringer switch isn’t too difficult to use. We noticed a slight echo when using the recessed speaker and microphone for telephone calls, but it wasn’t terrible.
Part-time flaps provide coverage for the iPhone’s headphone and Dock Connector ports, permitting attachment of most accessories, even including Universal Docks if you’re able to pull the bottom flap back before docking. You are still able to choose between black, clear frosted, blue, and pink versions of the case, each except the black one with a clear frosted detachable belt clip. The clip isn’t sexy, but it does the job just fine; removing it creates two small holes, and a dimple, in the case’s back. Companies such as iSkin have previously included plugs for such holes and dimples in their cases; PDO doesn’t, but TopSkin’s price is much lower.
A more major issue was the case’s handling of the iPhone 3G’s proximity sensors. Rather than cutting holes for them, the case attempts to cover them with a dimpled layer of rubber, which in our testing made the sensors at best unreliable and at worst non-functional during telephone calls. The frosted clear case wasn’t immune to issues, but the darker cases, particularly the black one, made the screen totally shut off or stay on when it shouldn’t have during phone calls. This is a serious problem, as the primary reason people purchase the iPhone 3G over an iPod touch is the telephone calling functionality, and TopSkin impedes that.
Our review for a case such as this would normally be in the B+ or A- range, leaning higher because of the value for the price, but the proximity sensor issues in TopSkin unfortunately compel us to issue a D rating. It’s hard for us to view an iPhone case as “okay” at any price if it prevents the phone features of the device from working as expected. Hopefully TopSkin will see a revised version 2 that fixes this issue, and if so, we’d expect it to rate considerably higher.
Updated August 22, 2008: Following our review and customer comments, PDO released a revised version 2 of TopSkin that remedies the sensor issues noted in our original review. All four case colors have been updated with holes rather than just in-case depressions that enable the proximity sensors to work properly. The bottom holes on the case, as well as the integrated top and bottom covers, remain in their original form. We have included an updated rating above, however, we urge readers to carefully inquire as to which version of the TopSkin they are receiving before making a purchase.
Updated Version 2
Original Version 1
Company and Price
Company: Portable Device Outfitters (PDO)
Compatible: iPhone 3G