Case, or no case?
The great case debate: Though it’s a shame to cover up your shiny, pretty new iPhone, the downside is that you risk dropping it or getting it all scratched up if you leave it bare. So, if you have to put a case on it, might as well make it a good case.
Our editors try out a ton of cases, but there are some that we just keep coming back to, despite our differences in taste. Here are some of our favorite cases for the iPhone 5, 5s, and 5c.
Xtreme Mac Microshield Stand for iPhone 5/5s
Xtreme Mac’s $28 Microshield Stand is a well-constructed case that complements the iPhone 5/5s’ sleek design. It is super thin on the sides, but thicker on the back to provide a buffer from drops and bumps. This hard-shell case is light and unobtrusive, and it comes in five colors with a polished finish; you can choose gray, turquoise, red, pink, or pearl. A thin kickstand lies flush with the back of the case when not in use, and at first glance it doesn’t look like it could support the iPhone’s weight; It handles the burden just fine, however. I enjoy the lack of bulk that the Microshield provides—it's light, and it feels very comfortable in the hand.
LifeProof Nuud for iPhone 5/5s
If you want protection, Lifeproof’s $90 Nuud is it. The Nuud is waterproof, dirt proof, and shock proof, with two pieces that fit around the front and back of the iPhone and snap together. What really makes this case stand out from other rugged cases is that it doesn’t have a screen protector: The Nuud has a water-tight seal that locks around the iPhone’s display, preventing water from getting into places where it shouldn’t, and leaving the touchscreen unimpeded by a screen cover. Plus, it’s quite possibly the slimmest rugged case on the market.
Element Case Sector 5 for iPhone 5/5s
Bumper cases aren’t as common as they used to be, but there are some pretty nifty bumpers out there with unique designs. Element Case’s Sector 5 for the iPhone 5/5s (starting at $140) is an industrial-looking bumper with an optional back plate for more protection. This case is made from a lightweight aluminum that places emphasis on protecting the corners, which is one of the most fragile parts of the iPhone. To install the case around your iPhone, you must loosen one of the screws, snap the Sector 5 around the perimeter of your phone, and then tighten the screw again with the included keychain speed wrench. Sure, it sounds like a lot of work, and the price is steep, but the result is stunning. It looks extremely cool and keeps the perimeter of your iPhone safe without compromising its design.
Grove Bamboo Case for the iPhone 5/5s
Cases made from wood and other natural materials—like bamboo—have been really popular this year, but the most handsome of the bunch is Grove’s $79 Bamboo Case. The Bamboo Case is easy to install and remove, thanks to its two-piece sliding design: One part slides around the top of your iPhone, and the other slides over the bottom, clasping in place with its other half. All buttons and ports are accessible via custom cutouts, save for the lock button, which has a press-through button overlay. A raised bezel around the iPhone’s touchscreen prevents the display from resting on a flat surface if placed facedown. But what really makes the Bamboo Case standout is Grove: The company uses renewable bamboo, and they make everything at their headquarters in Portland, Oregon.
Twig Case for iPhone 5/5s
Another feel-good iPhone case is the Twig Case ($59-$79, depending on design), a case made from paper. Don’t freak out: This isn’t standard paper, but Richlite, a material made from eucalyptus trees that’s sturdy and water resistant. The cases feel—and look—impressively well made. The two-piece cases fit the iPhone 5/5s snugly, with the larger top half and smaller bottom half both easy to slide on. Twig offers several different designs to choose from—we’re partial to one of a mountain landscape and another of an octopus. The designs are excellent, and the wood-like textures involved give the Twig Case a sense of luxury; they feel expensive, but are extremely environmentally friendly.
SwitchEasy Nude for iPhone 5/5s
The gold-colored iPhone 5s made quite a splash when it debuted earlier this year, and the champagne sheen just begs to be shown off. That’s why SwitchEasy’s $20 Nude makes the list: It’s made from a clear plastic. The Nude is thin, has a subtle sheen, and a tiny brand logo that doesn’t take away from the iPhone’s design. It also features press-through overlays for the volume and lock buttons, and cutouts for the iPhone’s other ports. The Nude provides a little protection without compromising any of the iPhone’s style.
Speck GemShell for the iPhone 5c
The iPhone 5c is a bit more durable than the iPhone 5/5s: Its plastic back can handle a bit more wear and tear. Perhaps that’s why Apple’s iPhone 5c cases were made as more of a fun add-on than a protective case. And because the 5c is so bright and colorful, it’s a shame to cover it up (much like the gold 5s).
If you have to have a bit more protection, go with Speck’s $30 GemShell. It’s crystal clear, with all of the protective benefits we’ve come to expect from Speck. Reinforced corners, raised edges around the display to protect the touchscreen in case of a face-down drop, and a sturdy body made for absorbing shock will keep the iPhone 5c safe in a variety of emergencies. One bit of advice: The GemShell tends to show dirt and grime easily, so it’s best to take the case off and wash it every so often.
Pad and Quill’s Little Pocket Book for the iPhone 5/5s
Okay, so book-style cases are not the most practical of cases for the iPhone. They’re fantastic for the iPad, but a little bulky when it comes to the iPhone, and they can make answering a call a bit of a chore. That being said, two of them stand out as being incredibly well made, easy to use, and adorable. (Besides, who doesn’t love a teeny, tiny book?)
Pad and Quill’s $70 Little Pocket Book is a mini folio for the iPhone 5/5s. Snap the phone into its wooden frame, and the leather-bound front book flap will keep the display covered when not in use. The inner book flap even has pockets to store a few cards or some cash, so it doubles as a wallet case. To answer a call or text, I find it easiest to fold the front flap behind the iPhone and secure it with the included elastic strap, but you could also just pop the iPhone out entirely by pulling on the bookmark. (So clever!) This version of the Little Pocket Book improves on a big flaw of the version for the 4/4s: The case doesn’t interfere with the back camera’s flash.
Portenzo HardBack for the iPhone 5/5s
The second book-style case on our list adds a bit more color. The Portenzo HardBack ($35-$55) doesn’t inspire much confidence when you first look at it, but it’s actually a delightful little case. Your iPhone stays in place thanks to an adhesive inside the back cover of the HardBack, and this adhesive means business. Once your iPhone is in place, it takes a lot of muscle to pry it loose from the adhesive’s grip—but once you do, there’s no sticky residue on the phone, and you can reuse the case again by lightly wiping down the adhesive to reactivate it. You can customize your own with a wide array of fun patterns, and you can also opt for a wallet pouch and built-in stand (both of which I recommend). The end result is a super stylish, functional case.
Dodocase Durables Wallet
Dodocase’s $50 Durables Wallet has been a favorite of ours since the launch of the iPhone 5 in 2012. It’s perfect for those who prefer to use their iPhones without a case, but want to keep it covered when not in use. The Durables Wallet is a well-crafted little pouch made of leather and waxed canvas. It has a pocket on each side to hold a few cards or some cash (I use mine to store my metro pass, and it’s super handy), and fits your phone well enough that it shouldn’t slip out without some effort.
Tavik Staple for iPhone 5/5s
For a sleek, no-frills hard-shell case, look no further than Tavik’s $30 Staple. This case is thin and very lightweight—so much that you’ll barely notice it—and leaves all buttons and ports accessible via cutouts in the right places. The Staple is available in four solid colors—pick between black, grey, blue, or pink.