How to pick the perfect case to protect your iPhone
A Smartphone-Case-Guide through styles and materials
Inside this article:
The phone case dilemma
Protective cases for smartphones are a controversial issue. Some people despise these accessories for various reasons. As a fact more than 90% of smartphone users are actually using a phone case.
You probably know the frustration that comes with unboxing your new premium smartphone. You are just boxing it right back into bulky, unaesthetic veils called phone cases. When choosing your case there are numerous options. These all come with their pros and cons. Different styles, different materials - let’s talk about what to look out for!
Do you love the design, aesthetics, material, and feel of your smartphone? But you also want to keep your iPhone protected to preserve your experience for the months and years to come?
In our opinion, the essential features are design, interaction and protection.
How well can a case protect my precious premium smartphone?
All flagship smartphones nowadays like the iPhone 13 Pro, the Samsung Galaxy S21 Ultra, the Xiaomi Mi 11 Ultra or the OnePlus 9 Pro come with a glass back and even most of the mid ranger smartphones – not only for design reasons but also as a feature to allow wireless charging.
For these newer smartphones with glass backs, gripping the phone is a persistent issue that can increase the risk of accidental drops. Any phone case provides a much better grip to help you avoid damage in the first place. But which phone case does the best job for your requirements?
Important factors are the rigidity of a material as well as its impact resistance and shock absorption.
Is the case protecting the front, side, back and the camera of your smartphone or even the touchscreen? You should keep in mind that everyday objects like cell phones should obtain their user-friendliness and easy handling. Finding a compromise here is key: you could start wrapping your phone in layers and layers of bubble wrap and would probably be fine - your case should be as protective as possible but also preserve the user experience.
Some rugged cases are IP-rated. Ingress Protection classifies the degree of protection against intrusion, dust and water. Certain manufacturers are even going further by getting their cases rated through U.S. military standards for example the MIL-STD-810 certification. MIL-STD-810 addresses a broad range of environmental conditions that include: low temperatures plus temperature shock, freezing rain, fungus, explosive atmosphere or even gunfire vibration.
But who will actually expose his smartphone to such conditions? There is definitely no overall solution. (Unless you are planning on mounting your smartphone to a gun that you are shooting while jumping out of planes into salty fog and want to ensure your case does not get damaged.) Keep your eyes on real drop protection.
Another factor is also sustainability. Any phone case contributes to preventing a broken device. Manufacturing a smartphone generates as much CO2 as the electricity you use to power it for 3 years. Every broken smartphone less is a win for the planet. Furthermore, choosing an accessory that will last throughout the entire life cycle of your smartphone is helping the environment. An additional aspect worth mentioning is the recyclability of your phone case – keep the end of life in mind.
What style and form should I choose for my case? (5 common options)
The most common style of smartphone cases is the slim case. This one-piece case is an option to keep your smartphone as little bulky as possible. It’s either made of silicone, rubber or TPU. A slim case only protects the actual covered areas on your smartphone and just provides a basic level of shock protection.
A lip on the side of your phone that you can push over an edge with your bare hands: this will easily bend away when it impacts the ground from any reasonable height. It’s a good scratch protector though but often not too durable. The main argument for a slim case is the variety of design options: different colors, textures or graphic prints.
Another even more minimalistic option is a bumper case. A bumper is an accessory for the cell phone that fits over the stainless steel or aluminum frame of the phone and supports the device with its thick material – mainly silicone or rubber. Bumpers with its raised edge design primarily protect the edges and corners of the phone, which are particularly affected in the event of an impact.
Bumpers should be combined with a screen protector to also protect the phone's display from scratches and cracks. Also keep in mind that full-sized bumpers tend to make the smartphone appear bulkier: As bumpers do not rely on a back plate they end up thicker and higher than slim cases to achieve sufficient rigidness and protection.
Wallet or Folio Case
A case that provides extra features is the wallet or folio case. The entry-level models are mainly made of artificial leather, often the so-called “vegan leather” – a leather imitate consisting of polyurethane - plastic. In the higher price range materials such as real leather or plant alternatives are used.
This case type offers extra storing space for credit cards or business cards. Often these cases also support the sleep-wake function of your smartphone display. The drop protection offered by a wallet case may vary – it depends on the chosen inner shell.
The main downside of a flip cases is its accessibility as one has to flip and close the case constantly to access and use the touchscreen fully. The additional leather flap adds even more weight and bulk, its uneven shape makes it difficult to hold your smartphone.
For people that want the best protection possible, rugged cases may be an option. These cases cover the whole smartphone, mostly even the touchscreen. Water, dust and even higher drops of the cell phone do not pose a problem. It may be a good option for people working their jobs outdoors in sectors such as construction, agriculture, rescue services or military – but the enormous increase in bulkiness and the strong decrease in haptics, practicability and visual appearance is only a suitable everyday phone case solution for the fewest people.
A less radical step here might be the tough case. This type of accessory doesn’t cover the full front including the touchscreen but the back and sides. A tough case can be made of various materials – an outer layer of polycarbonate and a shock absorbing inner layer of silicone are the most common material types on the market though.
With a tough case you can try to manage the balancing act between protection and preservation of the smartphone’s appearance but for people with design affinity this is not an option.
A lot of options that don’t make the purchase decision easier. What phone case should I buy then? Let’s get into materials a little closer first.
Which materials serve which purpose? (phone case features)
Silicone rubber is used for its soft texture and flexibility, widely also in automotive applications, for medical devices and food storage products. Silicone is lightweight and available in all conceivable colors and designs. This material adds good grip to the slippery surface of your smartphone and is lightweight. Full silicone cases are inexpensive in production which makes them the most affordable option.
A big disadvantage is the static electricity property of silicone – the case will attract lints and dust. More expensive versions come with an anti-static coating to counteract this problem. Another downside is the loss of their shape overtime. Silicone does not age well. They tend to be prone to discoloration and will change their hardness and to become more brittle over time.
In addition, silicone has a poor heat conduction what contributes to shortening the life of the phone’s battery and notably reduces the phones performance. Sharp objects can puncture the delicate structure of the material as well. The good grip of silicone needs getting used to – some people find it difficult to put in their pockets, especially when wearing tight jeans.
Polycarbonate (PC) has a reliable impact resistance. It’s a thermoplastic that is used throughout numerous industries, even for bulletproof windows and medical devices. Apple for example was using it for their older generation MacBooks. Now it is used in all AirPod battery cases. PC is a durable, weatherable and strong material while also being flexible. Polycarbonate is customizable in a wide range of colors as well.
A downside is the scratch resistance: even with an added scratch-resistant layer signs of wear and tear are unavoidable. In some cases, silicone rubber or TPU is added to improve the grip of the plastic and to provide an improved shock absorption. In general, the combination of rigid materials together with a flexible shock-absorbent inner layer is a practicable solution.
Thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU)
Thermoplastic polyurethane or TPU for short, is an elastomer that is, as already mentioned also used for inlays in different types of phone cases but it can also be used for the case itself. TPU is a resin with a high elasticity that can be molded in various shapes, nearly any hardness can be achieved. It is also highly resistant to abrasion, grease and oils and certain TPUs can withstand impacts very well. In addition, TPU won’t lose its grip on the smartphone over time. This material is even biodegradable.
Polyurethane comes with the downside that smartphone cases fully made of it appear quite bulky. The material itself must have a certain thickness to provide the needed protection. Further, TPUs are usually very susceptible to scratching, tearing and scuff. Often even just finger nails can damage TPU cases.
Leather and imitation leather
Leather and imitation leather (also called “Vegan Leather”) are used for wallet cases. Depending on the quality, as with any product made from this material, signs of wear and tear like discoloration and scratches can be a problem. Sometimes, leather is just the outer shell of the phone case and polycarbonate or silicone are used to keep the phone in place.
The leather itself does not offer a substantial amount of protection. Real leather requires additional care and maintenance to achieve longevity. Leather cases are neither water nor dust proof. Depending on the thickness of the material also the shock absorption varies. Leather can actually develop a patina though which TPUs cannot. Polyurethane imitation leather comes with the same characteristics and features as mentioned before.
Metals: Aluminum and Titanium
Metals like aluminum used in phone cases come with excellent rigidity. Aluminum protects the cell phone very well and is perdurable. Its look, appearance and haptic compliment the looks of a premium smartphone very well.
There are different qualities available: Most aluminum products scratch rather easily and are also not very sturdy, especially when buying inexpensive aluminum bumper cases. Depending on the alloy and hardening the properties can be improved. Coating can be applied to improve scratch resistance dramatically.
Such manufacturing procedures, however, are clearly reflected in the price. Aluminum 7075 for example is one of the most resistant aluminum types available. It is tagged "aerospace grade" as it is widely used in aircraft and aerospace manufacturing. By first heat treating the metal and then hardening the surface it is possible to push the material to its limits. CNC-milled aluminum that is milled from a solid block of metal has a higher quality then a cast, heat shaped or stamped aluminum shell.
This is why Apple for example (for the "non-Pro" iPhone) and other manufacturers machine their phone bodies out of 7000 series aluminum due to its high rigidity despite the extra cost of this procedure.
A downside of this high-tech metal is the magnetic shield property. This can cause problems with wireless charging capabilities and 5G signal interference. To avoid this drawback, aluminum is combined with other materials such as TPUs and acquires certain engineering techniques. Metals should not cover the antennas of your smartphone. All materials impede signal strength but especially metals do so drastically more.
Titanium has an even better dent & scratch resistance, particularly Titanium Grade 5 with an extraordinary strength to weight ratio. It is light and highly corrosion resistant yet guarantees some of the best protection against drops and shocks.
Titanium is mainly used for items with the highest requirements, for example in military protective clothing, in aircraft and also in medical implants and devices. As an aerospace grade metal, it is 2,5 times stronger than steel in a weight to strength ratio. Titanium is becoming increasingly interesting in the premium smartphone world – several manufactures plan on using it in the smartphone itself in the future. Apple is already using it in one of their Smartwatches.
A disadvantage might be its exclusivity and its high price. It is not only rarer than most other metals used for phone cases but also difficult to machine and form.
Titanium can cause the same signal interference as Aluminum. It should be combined with other materials to avoid direct contact with the antennas of your phone. Ferromagnetic metals such as iron (but not Aluminum or Titanium) would further mess with magnetic fields such as for location tracking and navigation.
This article merely scratches the surface of materials science. We have thus attempted to provide a rough overview. Materials science today has gone into incredible detail on these materials tuning and combining features.
There are countless more materials that are used for phone cases but mentioning them all would lead too far. However, in general, each material used has advantages and disadvantages. Each decision for any material is carefully considered when designing a product for a specific purpose that includes protection.
Also, the quality as well as the production method can lead to big discrepancies in quality. You get what you pay for applies here in any case.
Is there even an option where you don’t have to compromise? Is it possible to have good protection and preserve your intended smartphone interaction simultaneously?
In case you are an iPhone 12 or 13 user, we might have the perfect solution for you:
Arc Pulse. Providing a balance of protection and original feel.
Arc Pulse - the non-compromising phone case?
It is a phone case made of high-tech materials applying top of the line manufacturing techniques fused in a dual-layer protection design. Aerospace-grade titanium and aluminum are capable of distributing the shock of an impact across the surface of Arc Pulse. Then, a shock absorbent, custom-engineered inner layer absorbs the impact - keeping your iPhone safe.
Whether it is the front, back, or camera of your iPhone, Arc Pulse has you covered.
The Arc Pulse's dual-layer protection system combines the best of two worlds, the shock distribution properties of a hard shell and shock absorption of a soft inner layer. Yet, typical phone cases require you to say goodbye to the premium experience. They add bulk and weight and replace luxurious materials with plastic. It is time that our iPhone cases match the design standards we value in our iPhones.
Arc Pulse with its ultra-slim patented two-part design and aerospace-grade, high-quality metal surfaces strive to match the iPhone's interaction standards. Well, interested now? Check out our website to learn more!