Tested: 5 protective bumpers for the Apple Watch

What? You can get a case for your Watch? Of course you can—every electronic device needs protection.

apple watch series 2 nike waterproof

The Apple Watch is actually pretty durable—and, since it’s worn on your wrist, it’s nowhere near as likely as your iPhone is to sustain a fall. Even the old Apple Watch Sport, which is the cheapest, weakest model, is built out of an aluminum alloy that Apple claims is 60 percent stronger than standard alloys.

But the Apple Watch is still a wrist-based watch, which means it’s susceptible to damage from scrapes and scratches. We took a look at several bumpers and cases that you can fit over your Watch’s case to protect it from this kind of superficial damage and keep it looking as good as new. Here’s how they held up, protection- and style-wise.

Case-Mate Sheer Glam and Clear Naked Tough Bumper

Case-Mate’s Naked Tough Bumper ($15 MSRP) is available in two flavors—Sheer Glam, which features tiny flecks of champagne glitter (and matches Case-Mate’s Sheer Glam Band), and Clear, which is simply transparent. Both bumpers are available for the 38mm and the 42mm versions of the Apple Watch.

The Naked Tough bumpers are made of flexible thermoplastic polyurethane, and actually offer quite a bit of protection because they cover most of the Watch, including the back (most of the other bumpers we tested for this piece only cover the sides and the front of the Watch, not the top, bottom, or back). To put the Naked Tough bumper on your Watch, you will need to remove the band and then stretch the silicone around the casing before putting the band back on.

case mate sheer glam 1 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG
case mate sheer glam 2 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

Case-Mate’s Naked Tough in Sheer Glam. 

The bumper has cut-outs for the digital crown, speakers, microphone (the case will cover the second microphone found on the Apple Watch Series 2 and 3, however), and the band release tabs on the back of the Watch. There’s also a cut-out for the heart rate monitor to peek through, so you’ll be able to track your heart rate and charge the Watch without removing the bumper.

The Sheer Glam bumper adds very subtle champagne-colored sparkle to your Watch, and it looks… about how you might expect it to look. While I like the idea of the Sheer Glam case, I think the champagne glitter sometimes makes the polyurethane look like it’s yellowing with age (instead of sparkly and glamorous). The Clear bumper seems slightly thinner than the Sheer Glam bumper (and, interestingly, is slightly less stretchy and therefore slightly more difficult to put on your Watch), and is nicely subtle in appearance. Both bumpers tend to trap debris, such as dust, dirt, and dog hair, inside, but it’s more obvious with the Clear bumper. While you don’t have to take this bumper off to swap bands or charge your Watch, you’ll want to take it off somewhat regularly for cleaning purposes.

case mate naked tough 1 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG
case mate naked tough 2 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

Case-Mate’s Naked Tough in Clear. 

The Case-Mate Naked Tough bumper is a nice basic bumper for anyone who wants a little extra protection, but it has its cons. The cut-out surrounding the digital crown is pretty snug, which can make it difficult to turn the crown multiple times. Because the bumper is made of a flexible material, it does slide around the screen a bit—and it looks like it has the potential to warp out of shape with a lot of use. But because the bands lock it in place, you definitely don’t have to worry about it snapping off and going missing.

Catalyst Case for Apple Watch

The Apple Watch Series 2 may be waterproof, but the Apple Watch Series 1 is merely water resistant—it will survive a rainstorm, but you probably shouldn’t wear it while you’re surfing or doing laps at the pool. For active people who like swimming, surfing, white-water rafting, and other water sports—or who are just clumsy and live in a wet environment—this is a problem if you still have Apple’s original model.

Instead of dropping $370-plus on a brand-new Apple Watch, you might want to just pick up the Catalyst Case for Apple Watch ($60 MSRP; same price on Amazon). This rugged bumper-and-strap combo protects your Watch from dust, water (up to 50 meters deep), and drops, without compromising function. The Catalyst Case comes in three color combinations (black, black and gray with orange accents, and black and white with green accents) and is available for the 42mm Watch only.

catalyst 1 Catalyst

The polycarbonate and silicone case consists of three parts: The top, which is open to allow direct access to the Watch’s touchscreen; the silicone wrap, which wraps around your Watch and seals it off from the elements; and the bottom, which comes with an attached silicone band that can be replaced with any normal (not Apple Watch-specific) 24mm watch band. To put the case on your Watch, you will need to first remove a small screw that holds the case together and then snap the top off of the bottom. You will then need to place the silicone wrap around your Watch—the wrap features a thin silicone membrane over the Watch’s heart rate monitor, so the monitor will still work through the case—and place the wrapped Watch into the case, snap the two parts back together, and replace the screw.

Once your Watch is inside the Catalyst Case, it’s pretty well protected from just about anything you can throw at it. The case has holes along the left side of the Watch for the speakers and the microphone (the speakers and the microphone holes are covered with a silicone membrane similar to the one on the bottom) and button coverings for the button and the digital crown. The silicone membranes allow you to use your Watch to the fullest—the membrane over the heart rate monitor even allows for inductive charging, so you never have to take the case off your Watch (unless you want to).

catalyst 2 Catalyst

The Catalyst Case is definitely the most protective bumper we tested for this piece, but it’s also very bulky and rugged-looking—hardly the slim, stylish look you’ll want for most settings. The silicone strap can be replaced with something less sporty, but it won’t make a difference—the case is just too big. Still, it’s a great option when you do need that extra ruggedness.

Griffin Ultra Thin Case

I hesitate to call Griffin’s Ultra Thin Case (pack of three for $15 MSRP; same price on Amazon) a bumper—this aptly-named piece of polycarbonate is hardly going to protect your Apple Watch if you accidentally bang it into a wall or drop it on the floor. The Ultra Thin Case is more like a skin than a protective case.

The Ultra Thin Case comes in a pack of three—gold/matte gold/clear, silver/matte silver/clear, or silver/matte gold/clear are your color options—and is available for both the 38mm Watch and the 42mm Watch. The Ultra Thin Case is ultra thin and lightweight, and each case weighs less than a gram (other bumpers weigh between two and three grams). The case covers the sides of the Watch and has holes and openings for the button, the digital crown, the two speaker slits, and the microphone. There is only one hole for the microphone, so this case will cover the second microphone hole on the Apple Watch Series 2.

griffin 2 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG
griffin 4 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

Griffin’s Ultra Thin Case

The good thing about an ultra-thin case is that it’s a (literal) snap to put on—the polycarbonate is so thin that it’s extremely flexible, which means it’s very easy to snap the case onto your Watch. The case only covers the sides of the Watch, so you do not need to take the straps off to put it on. Once it’s on, the case looks okay—the metallic colors are a little cheap-looking (and they’re definitely not going to fool anyone into thinking you have a different-colored Watch), but at a glance it can make for a fun change of pace. While the case probably won’t protect your phone from any real trauma, it does prevent the Watch case (but, of course, not the screen) from superficial scratches. The case is precisely made so that it doesn’t cover any necessary parts of the screen, and the cut-outs—including the speaker slits and the microphone—line up perfectly with your Watch’s components.

If having a shiny gold or silver Watch appeals to you, the Griffin Ultra Thin Case is a cheap, easy way to achieve that goal. But these bumpers aren’t for everyone—they’re extremely thin, not terribly protective, and they have a tendency to pop off just as easily as they pop on, so they probably won’t last as long as the other products we tested. I’d say these are a cute novelty item at best, but definitely not a necessary accessory.

Speck CandyShell Fit

The Speck CandyShell Fit Apple Watch cases are modeled after Speck’s popular CandyShell line of phone cases. These protective bumpers are (for the most part) bright and bold and not subtle in the least, but that’s part of their appeal.

There are actually two different versions of the CandyShell Fit cases ($24.95 MSRP; $11.95 on Amazon): The colored cases, which are lined with rubber and have color-blocked accents; and the clear cases, which come in transparent clear or black. Both types are available for the 38mm and the 42mm models of the Apple Watch. The colored cases come in four color combinations: white/black, black/slate gray, crimson red/splash pink, and deep sea blue/maya blue.

speck 1 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

The CandyShell Fit is pretty bulky compared to the other bumpers we tested for this piece because it features a deliberately raised bezel to help protect your Watch’s screen from drops. The outside of the case is made of glossy impact-resistant material, while the inside offers shock-absorption for protecting against bumps and collisions—not that your Watch really needs a ton of protection from bumps, but this can certainly help if you happen to drop it. The CandyShell Fit is rigid and snaps on over the top of your Watch, so it covers the sides and the front, but not the back. Unlike the Griffin Ultra Thin Case and the Trident Apple Watch Guards, this case covers the corners of the Watch, so you will need to take it off if you want to swap bands.

speck 2 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

The case has a button cover for the Watch’s side button, a cut-out for the digital crown, and additional cut-outs for the speaker and the microphone. There’s only one cut-out for the speaker and one cut-out for the microphone, so if you have an Apple Watch Series 1, one of your speaker slits will be covered. If you have an Apple Watch Series 2, one of your speaker slits will be covered and one of your microphones will be covered.

speck 3 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

Although the CandyShell Fit cases add bulk and weight to your Watch, I actually like the aesthetic—the bulkiness looks deliberate rather than clunky, and the colored cases especially make a pretty bold statement when paired with a matching Sport band. The clear cases are not nearly as fashionable—they’re just as thick but nowhere near as bold, and they have Speck’s logo splashed across the side.

speck 4 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

Trident Guard

Trident’s Guard bumper protects your Apple Watch’s body from scrapes and scratches, but not much else. The Guard comes in a pack of three, similar to the Griffin Ultra Thin Case. The 38mm pack ($15 MSRP for three) features black, white, and coral pink bumpers, while the 42mm pack ($15 MSRP for three) features black, white, and navy blue bumpers.

The Trident Guard is a basic snap-on bumper made of durable-feeling polycarbonate with a soft-touch matte finish. The Guard is flexible enough that it’s not difficult to snap on (or off) your Watch, but it’s nowhere near as flimsy as Griffin’s Ultra Thin Case. It’s a nice compromise between the Ultra Thin Case, which offers virtually no protection and is easy to lose, and the Speck CandyShell Fit, which is quite thick and bulky.

triden 1 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

The Guard has cut-outs for the Watch button, the digital crown, one speaker slit, and the microphone. The Guard doesn’t wrap quite as far around the Watch as some of the other bumpers do, so the second speaker is also left uncovered; however, the second microphone on the Apple Watch Series 2 and 3 will be covered by this case. Although the Guard bumper is relatively thin, the thickness of the case does make it slightly harder to twist and turn the digital crown while you’re wearing your Watch. The Guard also has cut-outs at the corners, so you can swap bands without taking it off.

trident 2 Sarah Jacobsson Purewal/IDG

The Guard definitely stands out—in a good way—when you put it on your Watch. The matte finish really changes the look of your device without being gimmicky, and it makes a pretty bold, stylish fashion statement. The only real issue I had with the Guard is the fact that the bezel surrounding the screen is sharply squared-off and it encroaches quite a bit on your screen real estate. It doesn’t cover any of the necessary parts of the screen, but it can make tapping at the edges of the Watch a bit more difficult.

Trident’s Guard looks good, is easy to put on, and won’t fall off of your Watch while you’re wearing it. I wouldn’t necessarily trust it to protect your Watch from drops, but I think it does an adequate job of keeping your Watch’s case from sustaining scrapes and scratches during normal wear. 

Bottom line: Our favorite pick

Do you really need a bumper for your Apple Watch? I’ll be honest—probably not. Most of these bumpers will protect your Watch from superficial scratches at best, and aren’t going to help you if you drop it off a cliff or into the toilet (except for the Catalyst, which looks like it’s made for some outdoorsy wear-and-tear). Most bumpers also don’t protect the most important part of the Watch (the screen), so if you happen to be slamming your wrist against doorjambs and walls, I suggest you invest in a screen protector instead.

With that in mind, the Trident Guard bumper came out on top: Not only is the Guard sturdy and easy to snap on and off your Watch, it’s also the only bumper that looks less like a protective measure and more like a style choice. The Guard makes your Watch look like an entirely different product, and in a good way. Speck’s CandyShell Fit is also pretty stylish, but only if you’ve already got a thing for Speck’s brightly-colored CandyShell aesthetic. 

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