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 SwitchEasy’s Capsule Rebel ($25).
Capsule Rebel represents a fairly remarkable rebound from SwitchEasy’s prior Capsule cases for iPhone and iPod touch, fully hard plastic cases that put simplicity and color options somewhat ahead of usability and comfort. Both versions had been packed with a bunch of items, including different colored screen protectors, stickers, and other frills; it all seemed like too much, but at the same time, not enough.
This time, SwitchEasy has come up with a case that’s cool first and frilly second. Each Capsule Rebel is made from three pieces: a hard, glossy plastic spine, a semi-soft rubber shell, and a completely clear film protector—actually two, in case you pull one off. You put the shell on the iPhone 3G’s back, the film on its front, and then attach the spine to reinforce the shell. Together, these parts expose the device’s speakers, microphone, ringer switch, Home button, camera, headphone and Dock Connector ports; thanks to the otherwise full back, side, and top coverage, however, Capsule Rebel is in our above-average protection category. A little plug is included for the Dock Connector port, leaving the downstairs speaker and microphone available for speakerphone mode.
The cool thing about this case design is that it stretches beyond the iPhone 3G’s design in a distinctive way. SwitchEasy’s spine is either opaque white or clear black, and provides enough of the original iPhone 3G’s gloss to identify the device on sight, yet the color-matched matte rubber shell is there to aid with grip. Similarly, while the glossy part can scratch and scuff like the iPhone 3G’s plastic, the matte part basically absorbs marks. Capsule Rebel gives you most of Apple’s looks, stylized a bit, with half of the guilt. For those who might be curious, the spines of the white and black versions can be swapped for zebra-styled cases; we wouldn’t be surprised at all to see SwitchEasy release more colors, as well as extra spines for people who want to change Capsule Rebel’s looks for fun.
Then there are the other pack-ins. In addition to the twin screen protectors, you get a cleaning cloth and application squeegee for the film, a Universal Dock Adapter made to fit the case, and a video viewing stand. The latter item is handy for times when you just want to set the iPhone 3G down and watch a video; while we prefer to see stands like this built into cases, we’ll take this feature pretty much however we can get it in a pocketable form.
Only three small things stand between Capsule Rebel and our flat A rating. First, the case has a tendency to show thin silvers of the iPhone 3G’s chrome bezel, though only at the parts where the rubber isn’t reinforced fully by the spine. Second, while the Dock Connector port’s on the small side but can flex a little for larger connectors, the headphone port is framed with hard plastic and won’t accommodate the biggest third-party earphone plugs. Most brands, however, will do fine. Third and finally, there’s the scuff issue; the glossy spine will show scratches. You’ll have to keep reminding yourself that it’s better the case than the iPhone 3G inside.
Between the sharp-looking design, the thoughtful pack-ins, and the reasonable $25 asking price, there are lots of reasons that Capsule Rebel helps to erase the memories of its predecessor—it instantly reminded us why we’re so frequently impressed with its Hong Kong-based developer SwitchEasy. Though there are a few minor reasons that some users might prefer a fully silicone or more open case, Capsule Rebel is a seriously impressive hybrid of plastic and rubber design elements, and worthy of our high recommendation.
Updated August 4, 2008: Subsequent to our review of the Capsule Rebel, SwitchEasy released nine additional case colors—including the zebra-styled black and white version we figured was inevitable in our review, plus eight other versions. We’re especially fond of the clear Arctic version, but there’s now a color or dual-color version for many different sorts of tastes. The Dock Adapter and video stand stay the same from model to model, but the color of the Dock Connector port cover changes to match the color of the rubber case.
Company and Price
Model: Capsule Rebel
Compatible: iPhone 3G