capsule review

iPhone Case Roundup: iPhone shells

At a Glance

One of the drawbacks of most iPhone cases is that they add considerable bulk to a gadget that’s known for being slim and techno-sexy. Some also cover the iPhone’s touchscreen, which is good for protection but can make using the phone a bit of a hassle. For this reason, my personal case of choice is a shell—a thin-plastic case that covers the iPhone’s sides and back while leaving its tougher-than-expected touchscreen accessible. These cases offer good protection against everyday scratches and dents without fattening up your phone. (Although, as someone who’s a bit paranoid, I do use a Power Support Crystal Film to protect my iPhone’s screen, just in case.)

All three models covered here offer a similar design: a thin, two-piece shell of rugged plastic that leaves the iPhone’s front exposed, with small openings for the headphone jack and Sleep/Wake button on top; the volume rocker and Ring/Silent switch on the side; the camera lens on the back; and the dock-connector port, microphone, and speaker on the bottom. And unlike many other iPhone cases, none of these thin shells makes it difficult to access onscreen elements at the edges of the iPhone’s screen. The cases differ mainly in how each is constructed and what accessories are included.

Agent 18 Eco iPhone Shield

Agent 18 Eco iPhone Shield

Agent 18’s $30 Eco iPhone Shield ( ), available in matte black, is split into top and bottom pieces; you slide these sections over the top and bottom of your iPhone, respectively, and they click together in the middle. The case is a snug fit, but still comes off easily when you want it to. Like all Agent 18 iPod and iPhone cases, the bottom of the Eco Shield is flush with the bottom of the iPhone, letting you use bottom-mounted dock-connector accessories; Agent 18 also includes a dock insert, sized specifically for an Eco Shield-encased iPhone, for Apple’s Universal dock design, allowing you to use your iPhone with dock-cradle accessories without having to remove the case.

What’s unique about the Eco Shield—and what gives the case its name—is that Agent 18 has made it out of “eco-friendly material with minimum carbon impact”—read: recycled plastic—and packaged it using a reasonably-small amount of fully-recyclable plastic and paper. As someone who sees a heartbreaking amount of waste when it comes to the production and packaging of iPod accessories, I applaud Agent 18 for these efforts.

One minor drawback of the Eco Shield is that because the case fits snugly and has no lining, you need to be careful, before putting the case on your iPhone, that both the phone and the interior of the case are clean. Harder pieces of dirt or dust can scuff your iPhone while you’re sliding it in and out of the case.

(Note that the Eco Shield has a small notch on the top and one on each side near the bottom. It appears these three notches provide places for a holster or belt clip to attach; however, Agent 18 doesn’t currently sell such an accessory.)

Incase Slider Case for iPhone

Incase Slider Case for iPhone

Incase’s $35 Slider Case for iPhone ( ) , available in glossy white or black, is very similar to the Agent 18 case, above. However, instead of two equally-sized pieces, the Slider Case uses a main piece that slides over the top of your iPhone and a smaller bottom piece. The reason for this approach is that, because the bottom of the Slider covers much more of the iPhone’s bottom edge, you can’t connect bottom-mounted dock-connector accessories, or place your iPhone in a dock cradle, while the phone is in the case. To get around this restriction, the bottom piece of the case is made to be easily removed. It simply slides off, giving you full access to the dock-connector port. When you’re done using dock accessories, you just slide the bottom piece back on.

Although this design works well, keep in mind that if you frequently use such dock accessories, you’ll find yourself removing and replacing the bottom piece of the case many, many times. Over time, this repeated wear and tear could result in scuffs or scratches to your iPhone. I did prefer the Eco Shield’s design in this respect.

Another difference between the Slider and the Eco Shield is that the inside of the Slider includes two thin, low-profile silicone strips—which contact the back of your iPhone—to provide a good grip on the phone without requiring the case to fit so tightly. In theory, these strips should reduce the chances of the case actually scratching the back of your iPod due to dust or dirt inside, although the silicone does leave some marks of its own; thankfully, these marks rub off easily. (Incase also claims the strips offer some shock protection, although the strips are so thin that I would suspect the actual degree of protection to be minimal.)

I especially liked the Slider’s glossy coating, which in addition to being very attractive—especially the white model—was also surprisingly scratch-resistant in my testing.

SwitchEasy Capsule iPhone

SwitchEasy Capsule iPhone

When we reviewed previous SwitchEasy cases, we noted that those products stood out for offering a better value than similar—and similarly-priced—products from other vendors. SwitchEasy’s $30 Capsule iPhone ( ) continues that trend by including a slew of accessories in the package.

The case itself, available in black, white, limited-edition pink, and limited-edition “military green,” consists of a front piece and a rear piece. The bottom of the front piece wraps around the back of the iPhone, where it connects to the back part of the shell and locks in place—literally. There’s actually a small, spring-loaded clasp that keeps the two pieces of the case firmly connected to each other; even when I dropped my Capsule-encased iPhone onto hard surfaces, the clasp never came undone, and this front-and-back design lessens the chance that you’ll scratch your iPhone while putting it in and taking it out of the case. The bottom of the case looks much like the bottom of the Incase Slider, but you can still use dock-cradle accessories without having to remove your iPhone from the case; SwitchEasy even includes a Universal dock adapter for use with the Capsule.

But, as I mentioned, it’s the accessories that made the Capsule iPhone unique. In addition to the dock adapter, SwitchEasy includes a headphone adapter (for using any headphones with the iPhone’s recessed headphone jack); two “accented” screen protectors; a clear screen protector; a cleaning cloth; six Tactile Touch pads; and a plastic dock-connector plug. The limited-edition models (pink and military green) also include a small stand for watching videos on your iPhone.

Some of these accessories—for example, the headphone and dock adapters—are very useful. I also like the variety of screen protectors. The clear covering is your basic static-adhesive screen covering with openings for the receiver speaker and the Home button. The two accented protectors cover all of your iPhone’s front, including the metal around the edges and the Home button; covering the Home button keeps dust from finding its way inside your iPhone. These accented protectors also let you customize the look of your case; for example, on the military green model, you get green or tan accents. Because the accented protectors cover the Home button, you first apply two of the included Tactile Touch pads to your Home button; these pads raise the button’s profile so you can use it “by touch” even when it's covered by the protector.

The dock-connector plug, on the other hand, isn’t as useful. It fits loosely enough in the dock-connector port that it popped out when I dropped the case onto the ground. And the fit and finish of the Capsule iPhone isn’t quite as good as that of some of the other SwitchEasy Capsules I’ve seen. For example, the edges around the openings for the Ring/Silent switch, the headphone jack, and the Sleep/Wake button are sharp, rather than the much-smoother edges on the Eco Shield and Slider. Still, it's a solid case that fits well and comes with lots of extras.

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At a Glance
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