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Hackernoon logoThe Case for and against Phone Cases by@babulous

The Case for and against Phone Cases

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@babulousbabulous

Chipped phone VS weathered bumper VS cracked armour

The other day, I happened to notice that the case on my friend’s iPhone 6 Plus had an exposed bottom. I took a closer look, and sure enough, there was a nasty chip just below the home button. I asked my friend why he bothered to put on a case if it didn’t protect his phone in a fall. My friend claimed it was an original Apple case, which didn’t really change the fact that the case wasn’t protecting the phone. On probing, he admitted the screen had already broken in a fall. Since he didn’t have insurance, he had to pay ₹27000 (over $400) to replace the screen. The second time around, he insured his phone.

That made me wonder why people got cases for the phones. Like my friend, most people who use phones cases, do so for reasons they can’t put into words at short notice. So this is my attempt to peep into their minds.

Types of phone case owners

The first are the caseless people, like my wife. She hates the way it makes her phone bulky. I also get the feeling she dislikes the artificial look and feel of cases, and prefers the ‘natural’ feel of metal and glass - her iPhone 4 is a classic of modern design. The phone is a bit battered around the edges but its tough metal edges have weathered life without a case for five years now. I would say it’s an exception to the rule, and though I admire my wife’s courage, my stomach quakes at the thought of carrying a naked phone.

The second are people like my friend who get cases to protect the phone from major damages. They spent quite a bit of time talking on the phone, and don’t mind compromising on minor scratches as bigger, tougher cases make the phone larger and heavier, and literally a pain to use.

A third group see cases as accessories to express their personality, and don’t give two hoots for protection. These people like to have phones that get noticed. That can be a knife which cuts two ways as the case removes the anonymity of the black slab, and attracts the undesirable attention of pickpockets. I have a friend who rarely uses his Apple leather case on his iPhone 6S Plus as he says people notice it’s not an inexpensive Android.

A fourth type are the flip-open case people. My two brothers fall into this category. They are both completely different people but have a shared trait of perfectionism. They don’t want their phones scratched, but don’t like a screen guard to spoil the experience of the touchscreen. Alright, I’m guessing but I can’t think of any other reason why anyone would want a flipping case.

The fifth group are the borderline paranoids like me, who can’t bear even the slightest flaw on their precious phones. This lot are intensive phone users who see the phone as a workhorse of a mobile computer, and so swear by bulky, tough armour cases that may save the phone in a fall.

‘May save’ being the operative words.

The chink in the armour

Let me elaborate. Some time ago, I had a refurbished iPhone 5 (a heavily discounted replacement for my niece’s original iPhone 5 that was smashed in a fall). Anyway, I wasn’t taking any risks the second time around, and had the phone ensconced in one of those sleek, rubberised armour cases. I had been using this phone for two years, when one morning, it fell off my bed, and landed on the marble floor, a drop of less than 2 feet. The phone bounced several times landing on differents corners, as is the case with these rubberised cases. I checked the phone, and case seemed to have done a good job, as there wasn’t a single scratch on the phone. A couple of hours later, I received a call but when I picked up the phone, the display was black.

The Apple dealer said the display was gone, and the phone was out of warranty. He offered to replace it with a refurbished phone of the same model for ₹21000 ($320). It was a bad offer as I could pick up the next model, the iPhone 5S, by paying around 10% more. In short, my flawless iPhone had turned into a flawless brick.

After this, I was naturally disillusioned with armour cases. So when I got a sleek Android to replace my iPhone, I opted for a minimalistic metal bumper case, backed up by a tempered glass screen guard. The phone did fall once when it slipped out of my pocket from the top berth of a train. The tempered glass cracked but the phone seemed otherwise unharmed. However the paint has flaked off the metal bumper as the phone travels in the hard side pocket of my car. The exposed back also has a few scratches. Overall the phone does look a bit worse for the wear. So I began thinking of alternatives again, which made me reflect on why the armour case had failed.

Conclusions about cases

In the pre-smart phone era, many of the Nokias were designed to break apart when they fell. The back cover and battery would fly off, absorbing the shock of the fall, and leaving the phone’s internals unharmed. A car with a crumple zone would be the analogy. Fitting it back was just a few moment’s work. But today’s smartphones are too complex to be designed like that.

The modern phone contains hundreds of components. A fall may not damage the exterior, but the shock could still jar some of those critical components loose. in which case, even the best case may not be able to save the phone. Massive internal bleeding may be an analogy.

My late iPhone had a single shell armour case, which I think transmitted the shock of a fall to the phone. The new armour cases claim to have air pockets in its corners to act as shock absorbers. There’s also a bulky, double armour case which comes with a soft inner case to prevent scratches from the hard outer shell. I’m not sure if these are just marketing gimmicks but after my iPhone 5 disaster, I thought I’d give it a shot.

So when I got my iPhone 6S Plus in late 2015, I got an armour case with shock absorbing corners. The phone went the first year without a fall, but last month, it took three falls in quick succession all at greater heights than the fall that killed my iPhone 5. The phone seems fine, with the case just having a tiny crack on one corner of its hard outer shell. I put a similar case on my kid’s Moto and it too has survived falls without any issues.

I must admit that I’m not sure if it’s the armour case that’s protecting the phone. Maybe the Apple 6S series and the Moto are just sturdier. There’s also a possibility my iPhone 5 was a lemon as it was a refurbished phone.

With that, I rest my case, at least for the moment. The way phones and phone-cases are evolving, I’m not sure I won’t change my mind in the future. But one thing is for sure.

No more refurbished phones for me.

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