Mobile Technology News & Mobile Fun

You got a new smartphone or tablet for Christmas, what about a case?

I don’t understand why so many people buy gel cases and similarly-designed others for their smartphones. Why would you want to protect the back when the screen is more vulnerable (perhaps with exception of iPhone 4 and 4S, which are glass front and back)? Yes, these cases help protect against shattered glass when the phone is dropped sideways. But surely something better than your bum should protect the screen, assuming the smartphone is in your pants pocket and not backpack or bag — there it’s scratch-station central, baby.

Just because Apple Store, Best Buy, cellular phone shops or mall kiosks overwhelmingly sell cases that wrap round the smartphone’s back doesn’t mean there aren’t alternatives — and ones that will protect the whole device not just the already well-insulated back. Styling is more traditional, and leather, too (If you’re Mr. or Ms. Vegan, this post probably isn’t for you). Many of these same manufacturers produce cases for tablets, so I’ll briefly discuss them, too.

PDAir: Broadest Selection

I started seriously exploring phone case alternatives — stuff outside the US mainstream — before Apple released the first iPhone (June 2007). In April 2007, I got an Asian version of the Nokia N95, which is one of my favorite all-time handsets. The phone wouldn’t go on sale stateside for another six months, and it’s not like I could run down to the local cell mart for a case. Pretty much any time pre-iPhone is the dark ages of smartphone cases. There is breadth of selection today unimaginable four years ago.

I discovered Hong Kong-based PDAir, which makes cases for hundreds of handsets. In 2007, it was novelty to order a case from Hong Kong. Today, PDAir is a bigger operation, and some of its cases are even available on Amazon here in the United States.

I’ve since purchased PDAir cases for Nokia N96, Nokia N97, Google Nexus One, Google Nexus S and Samsung Galaxy S II. I expect to receive one for the Verizon Galaxy Nexus sometime this week. Besides the Nexus S case ordered for myself, I purchased for my wife, too. She likes a truly protective case, as seen from the red Nexus S case above.

PDAir offers a variety of stylings, including book, flip and pouch types among others. Pouch-type with belt clip is my preferred styling. They all are clearly designed with each manufacturer’s handset in mind, so that headphone jack, camera and controls are duly exposed. Most PDAir phone cases sell for $29.99. Shipping is free.

Sena Cases: The Elegant Choice

Closer to home, Sena Cases is a fine choice for truly stand-out styling at reasonable prices (okay, some choices are budget busters). I bought my first Sena Case, the Laterale, about two years ago for iPhone 3GS. The company describes the case as a “simple Scandinavian rounded lateral design”, which is apt. It’s an understated design that suites iPhone — also available for 4 and 4S — and, more recently Androids. For example, Sena Cases now offers Laterale for Samsung Galaxy S II Skyrocket; photo below. However, the design needs refinement for non-iPhones. I find the case covers Skyrocket’s headphone jack, for example.

Until second-half 2011, I found Sena Cases offered too many designs for iPhone and not enough for competing handsets, particularly Androids. But that has dramatically changed over the last few months. For example, cases are available for five different Galaxy S II variants and in breadth of styling. My wife used Sena’s Magnet Flipper case, on the Google Nexus One, for more than a year. Last week, she inherited my Skyrocket. If Sena Cases offered the Magnet Flipper for the handset, she would own one now. We instead ordered, first time, from Fortte — the dual-design case for the Rogers Galaxy S2, which styling is nearly identical to Skyrocket. The case arrives this week.

Sena has many more cases to choose from than either Fortte or PDAir, and its designs are exceptionally attractive for iPhone 4 and 4S. Apple Store started carrying Sena’s cases after iPad went on sale about 18 months ago. But best selection is manufacturer direct. Prices vary depending on styling. For example, Magnet Flipper is $49.99, Laterale $39.99 and the new Sarach Flip for iPhone 4S $69.99. I’d own the Laterale today if available for Galaxy Nexus — it’s my favorite smartphone case.

Many of the leather designs from PDAir and Sena are slip-out cases. Some people will worry about dropping their phones. But if you’re using a Bluetooth headset anyway, what does it matter for phone calls? Data is another matter, since you hold the phone and tap the screen. My thinking: What’s the point of buying a beautiful handset like iPhone 4S if it’s constantly half-encased and the screen is left unprotected all the time?

What About Tablets?

There are many case choices for tablets that look good and truly protect the screen — that is if you own iPad or iPad 2. Options are skimpier for Androids.

I bought the original iPad in June 2010 (and sold it right before Christmas last year) and ordered Sena’s ZipBook for $99.99 and later came to regret it. The enclosure is beautiful, but I found removing tablet, which snuggly fits inside, to be troulesome. Sena sells other cases, such as the Executive Sleeve for iPad 2, which costs the same, offers plenty of protection and allows for easy tablet removal. If I owned an iPad today, my case would probably be from Sena.

But I own Motorola XOOM LTE. I spent more than a week searching online and in stores for a case. Nothing satisfied. In the end I compromised for Sena’s Ultraslim, which is pricey at $59.99 for what you seemingly get. Sena describes Ultraslim as the “thinnest leather case ever designed for any mobile device. It is perfect for those who prefer zero bulk”.That’s seemingly zero protection, the case is so thin. The case fits super snuggly and I worried it wouldn’t protect the screen, say, as well as Samsung’s leather pouch for Galaxy Tab 10.1. In the end, I’m satisfied with Ultraslim’s value but I’d prefer something that better protects the tablet. PDAir offers some good options — for $100 or more — but none really wowed me.

My daughter is reviewing Sena’s Borsetta for iPad 2, a purse case for the chick set (in red). It’s pricey at $149.99, but small yet roomy. There’s a second compartment for makeup, money and credit cards and strap to wear the case like a designer purse. I was put off by the big zipper, but it’s in-style, so who am I to judge.

Belkin, Case Logic, Incase, Otterbox and Speck, among many others, manufacture plenty of cases for smartphones and tablets — and designer brands like Michael Kors or Kate Spade are available for Apple devices. I couldn’t cover them all and decided not to try. Perhaps in the future, I’ll do a broader roundup. It’s worth noting that a number of Michael Kors cases are clutches or pouches that protect the whole phone, or at least the screen. But I still don’t see enough of these type in stores. Do you?

Photo Credits: Joe Wilcox

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