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Buying guide: iPhone 4 and 4S cases

Macworld staff | Dec. 19, 2011
Here's a quick guide to shopping for iPhone protection, along with a rundown of the most common types of cases and some examples of each type.

Apple's designers surely didn't mean for the iPhone's sleek design to be covered up, but failing to give it a protective case leaves the device vulnerable to smudges and scratches--or, worse, shattered glass and bent metal. To minimize the risk of serious damage, consider using a protective case. Here's a quick guide to shopping for iPhone protection, along with a rundown of the most common types of cases and some examples of each type.

Shopping Tips

Whichever type of case you choose, make sure it doesn't block the iPhone's bottom-mounted speaker, microphone, and dock-connector port; top-mounted headphone jack and microphone; the camera lens and flash on the back; and the camera lens, light sensor, proximity sensor on the front--unless, of course, the case is designed so that you remove your iPhone to use it. Similarly, if you like to use dock-cradle accessories, make sure the case is easily removable, as many of docking accessories, such as speaker systems, are not compatible with cases.

Note that the iPhone 4S has the exact same button layout as the Verizon (CDMA) iPhone 4, which is slightly different than the button layout of the AT&T (GSM) iPhone 4. This means that some early cases made specifically for the AT&T/GSM iPhone 4 won't fit the CDMA iPhone 4 or any iPhone 4S. Make sure you choose a case that fits your specific iPhone model.

Case types and recommendations

Pouches and Sleeves: Pouches and sleeves completely encase your iPhone to protect it from scratches. Some even provide extra padding to help guard against bumps, drops, and shocks. These cases tend to be relatively inexpensive, though many also limit access to the device's touchscreen--you have to pull out your device to access features. Recommendations:

Holsters: Holsters let you store your iPhone on your belt or bag strap for easy access, but you need to take the device out of the case to use it. Recommendations:

Shells: If you don't need a lot of protection--for example, if you keep your iPhone in your pocket, a purse, or a laptop bag--a shell-style case is right up your alley. These rigid cases enclose most of your device in a thin layer of rigid plastic or metal, offering protection against minor bumps and scratches, but not hard drops. The cases also leave your device's entire screen and all controls fully accessible, and tend to have a slim profile that doesn't add bulk to the phone. If you don't want to hide your iPhone's shiny surface, consider a shell made of hard, transparent plastic. Some shells also include belt clips, though clips that can be removed without leaving a nub sticking out on the back are generally preferable. A tip: We prefer shells with sides that protrude ever-so-slightly past the iPhone's screen, so that if you set the phone down screen down, the phone rests on the case sides, rather than on the screen. Recommendations:


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