It shouldn’t be a surprise that clusters of highly similar iPhone cases appeared at exactly the same time last week, or that there are reasons to prefer one such case over the others. We’ve looked at many leather, rubber, and fabric cases already; today, we review three reasonably priced clear hard plastic cases, Belkin’s Acrylic Case for iPhone ($30), Contour Design’s iSee for iPhone ($30), and Power Support’s Crystal Jacket Set for iPhone ($30). We’re also reviewing another clear protective solution, NLU Products’ BodyGuardz for iPhone ($25), which is a nearly comprehensive film that covers iPhone’s body to protect it against scratches. All four of these solutions have the same appeal: rather than masking the iPhone’s beautiful industrial design, they show it off, and in some cases enhance it through strategic use of clear plastic. Updated July 31, 2007: We’ve added final details for the Crystal Jacket Set, below.
Of the cases, the one we were most excited about initially was Belkin’s Acrylic Case for iPhone. Belkin’s spent a lot of time honing its case design skills over the past few years, and Acrylic Case is a powerful sign of what it can bring to life from sketches: the case very tightly outlines iPhone’s camera, ports, buttons, and switches, providing just enough access to each, and includes an impressive detachable belt clip that doubles as a video viewing stand. Capable of ratcheting through 180 degrees of freedom in 45-degree increments, this clip’s on a detachable frame that grips the case and the iPhone inside from the top and bottom. Each of the parts looks beautiful, showing off and accentuating the iPhone’s already great looks, and there’s no interference with iPhone’s proximity sensor when you’re making phone calls.
Unfortunately, Acrylic Case has a couple of fairly serious issues. It has the most open face of all the clear protectors we’ve tested, leaving iPhone’s entire front open to potential damage. No full-face or screen film is included for those who want it. Belkin also uses a less than fully secure locking system to keep the front half of the shell secured to the back, resulting in occasional pop-outs of iPhone from the case when it’s first used. Over time, the parts settle a bit and that’s less likely to happen, but we’ve heard reports of other users experiencing the same pop-out issues we’ve had, thankfully none with disasterous results.
This unexpected issue is the only reason Acrylic Case didn’t rate our general recommendation or better; we hope it’s fixed in a future revision. It’s worth bearing in mind if you plan to use Belkin’s included adhesive nub to mount the Acrylic Case in your car; the case does better on a video-ready recline than on an incline.
Contour Design’s iSee for iPhone is very similar to the Acrylic Case in concept, but different in execution. iSee uses slightly thicker plastic than did Belkin, and more of it on iPhone’s face, sides, and back, making the final product feel more solid in your hand. Two sculpted side grips make the iPhone easier to carry, and three rubber feet on the back prevent the case from scuffing when you lay it on a flat surface. You get exactly the same port, button, camera, and switch access as in Belkin’s design, along with a snap-together shell that holds iPhone firmly inside, and covers more of the areas around the ear speaker and Home button. Just as with Acrylic Case, iSee permits full access to iPhone’s proximity sensor, bottom mic, speaker, and Dock Connector as well.
iSee’s only major issues are three in number. Like the Acrylic Case, it doesn’t include screen protection, and thus leaves a 3.5” diagonal section of iPhone’s face exposed unless you go out and buy film yourself. It also includes a detachable, 180-degree ratcheting, 30-degree increment belt clip, here in the form of a black plastic holster, which doubles as a widescreen video stand when you want it. Our sample clip didn’t hold iPhone firmly enough inside, an issue Contour claimed to be remedying after initial iPhone user comments. And removing iPhone from the case after insertion is uncomfortable; we’ve done it a number of times without damaging the device, but it’s a tight squeeze. All things considered, we’d rather have the case a little snug than a little loose, like Belkin’s design. One minor issue is that the case’s back shows molding lines, detracting a little from its clear good looks, unlike its competitors.
Power Support’s Crystal Jacket Set for iPhone is, in concept, an improved hybrid of the Belkin and Contour designs.
It has the thinner feel and profile of the Belkin Acrylic Case, and the added front hard plastic protection of the Contour iSee. Like both cases, there are holes in the plastic for iPhone’s screen, Home button, and ear speaker, as well as all the correct side, top, bottom, and back components. But Power Support goes further than both of its competitors in protection, including a piece of full face-covering Crystal Film, which cleanly protects the rest of iPhone’s glass front.
The Crystal Jacket merits cheers for out-protecting both of its above competitors, a fact which led us to pick it for an extended ten-day test when we traveled to Mexico earlier this month. However, our early tests indicated that the combination of film and the case’s lack of a cutout for iPhone’s proximity sensor made it unstable under certain lighting conditions when used in phone mode. Using the case without film, or the film without the case, was fine, but when they were together, iPhone’s screen sometimes turned off or on when it shouldn’t have, an issue we’ve seen with other cases that didn’t leave a gap for that sensor. Contacted about the issue, Power Support attributed our experience to an unspecified oddity in our first case, and subsequently supplied three other cases that exhibited no issues when used with the Crystal Film. Given the company’s excellent past track record and the results of our tests with the additional cases, we’re confident that Crystal Jacket customers going forward will be satisfied with the protection and functionality offered by the case.
It’s also worth mentioning that Crystal Jacket, like iSee, comes with a black plastic holster and belt clip designed to let you mount iPhone on a belt; the clip ratchets loosely on 30-degree increments through 180 degrees of freedom, but unlike the Belkin and Contour designs, it’s not meant to serve as a video stand, and Power Support notes that you’re only supposed to mount iPhone with its screen facing into the holster, not facing outwards. We preferred the video stand-ready and mounting concepts of the other clips, but we found that Power Support’s design was the most stable of the bunch for actually holding the iPhone safely at belt level. Our overall B+ rating for the Crystal Jacket places it on par with iSee; Power Support’s package offers superior protection for the dollar, but thanks to its video stand, Contour’s makes it easier to enjoy iPhone video playback on the road. Neither offers a price advantage, so you’ll need to decide which case better suits your personal needs.
Finally, there’s NLU Products’ BodyGuardz for iPhone. We’ve become very enamored with clear film solutions over the past year and a half, as they enable iPod and now iPhone users to preserve almost all of the appearance of their favorite devices without adding any perceptible thickness or weight.