Ask LH: Should I Use A Case On My Phone?

Dear Lifehacker, I'm getting a new phone this week, and I've been debating whether or not to get a case. Most of my friends have cases on their phones, but a few people are also telling me not to get one because it "ruins the phone". I need an outside opinion. Convince me: Should I get a case or not?

Sincerely, Scared of Scatches

Dear Scared,

This is one of those arguments that will probably continue as long as smartphones are in existence. A lot of it is personal preference, something that you'll realise after you use the phone for a while both with and without a case. However, there are a few indisputable pros and cons for each side — both obvious ones and the not-so-obvious. Here's a quick look at the arguments for and against using a case.

Bundle Up: Reasons to Protect Your Phone

You might think that cases are only for the anal retentive that care about keeping their phone pristine, but there's more to it than that. Things you want to think about include:

Drop Protection: Look, no matter how careful you are, gravity is just stronger than you. You'll probably drop your phone at least once or twice in the years that you own it. How much protection you need, though, depends on your phone: lots of Android phones are built a bit tougher, and are more likely to survive the occasional drop (I'm speaking from lots of experience here). The iPhone 4 or 4S, on the other hand, while blessed with gorgeous looks, are a lot more likely to break when you drop them, so the argument for using a case becomes much stronger.

It's also worth mentioning that even cheap cases can give you drop protection by preventing you from dropping the phone in the first place. A lot of phones have particularly slippery backs, and a good case can add a bit of grip to keep it from sliding out of your hand and onto the concrete. It still isn't as good as getting a quality case, but it's better than going naked.

Protection for More Than Just Cosmetics: Even if you don't care about the occasional scratch or even shattered back, there's more to your phone than that. Some phones (like the iPhone) have a camera lens flush with the back, meaning it's much more prone to scratches and other damage — which can make your photos look pretty awful. You could also damage one of the buttons on your phone, which would make it much more of a hassle to use than just a few scratches.

Resale Value: That said, even if you aren't obsessive about the little scratches on your phone, many people are — and while dropping your phone without a case may not break it, it will create little nicks and scratches on your phone that will lower the resale value. Putting a case on your phone is one of the best ways to upgrade to your next phone and recoup your costs — so if you sell your phones instead of keeping them around, a case can be a great idea.

Stand Out in a Crowd: While there's always an argument to make for "individuality", a case can also make you stand out in a practical way. Next time you're at a social gathering, count the number of people with the same phone as you in the room. Now imagine none of those people had cases on their phones and left them on the table or counter (as so many people do). Have fun finding your phone in a sea of identical iPhones. Photo by FreshFiber.

Go Naked: Reasons to Skip the Case

Conversely, lots of people are heavily anti-case. Popular reasons include:

Added Bulk: This is the most obvious reason and doesn't really require a lot of explanation. A case is going to add more bulk to your phone, plain and simple. Silicone ones make it harder to slip into your pocket, and a lot of people think they cover up the design of the phone, which is often one of the reasons you buy the phone you do.

A Case Won't Save You From Every Drop: It's a bit of a weak argument, but it's true: a case isn't going to miraculously save your phone from ever being broken. Just because you have a case and an unbroken phone doesn't mean the two are directly linked. A soft case will protect you from breakage better than a hard case, and no case is completely immune from damage — it just depends on how your phone hits the ground. It will certainly protect your phone better than no case at all, but whether that's worth the other cons is up to you.

They Get Dirty Very Easily: When you put a case on your phone, you're adding a bunch of extra nooks and crannies for dirt to get in. And, while it's easy to clean off, it's a bit of a hassle. If you're too lazy to clean it, you're going to end up with a dirty-looking phone.

Cost: You can get a simple case pretty cheaply, but the more you spend, the better protection you get. Once you start getting into quality case territory, you could end up spending upwards of $50.

Heat: Nothing will kill your battery, slow down your phone or burn a hole in your pocket quite like an overheating device, and a case is only going to exacerbate that issue. If your phone is prone to getting a little warm, wrapping it in a non-breathable case is not such a great idea. Photo by Justus Bluemer.

Can I Protect My Phone WIthout a Case?

If you decide you don't want to use a case, there are other things you can do to keep your phone safe. The best thing, obviously, is to get some insurance. It's a good idea if you're particularly accident-prone, but it may be more cost effective to just repair the phone yourself or stash that money away in your own "extended warranty" fund.

You can also give your phone a bit of extra protection without applying a full case. Screen protectors may not be necessary for screens anymore, but they can protect the back of your phone from scratches, as well as keep it from shattering completely (since the protector will keep it all together if it breaks). As well, they'll add a bit of grip to the back of your phone to keep you from dropping it. And if you still want to give your phone a bit of individuality as well as grip, you can get a skin for your phone as well. Photo by Brian nairB.

Again, in the end, it all comes down to personal preference, how accident prone you are and what phone you have, not to mention how you're using it. If you regularly play sports or impress your friends with your iPhone juggling skills, you might want to take a closer look at a case. If you're particularly careful, you might be OK with a less intense form of protection. Our recommendation: try out a case and see how you like it. You can always take it off and try both ways to see which method you prefer.

Cheers Lifehacker

PS Many of you probably already have strong opinions on this subject, so share your thoughts on the case debate in the comments below.


Comments

    Depends on the phone.
    Some phones can't function properly without a case.

      ^This.

      My Defy+ does not maintain it's connection if I use a flexible opaque plastic case.

    You forgot a pro for going without the case, actually enjoying the beautiful design of the device instead of covering it up!

    Agreed with the two guys above.

    It basically works like this:
    iPhone = buy a case because Apple can't make a device that doesn't break under a small amount of stress (20->25% of the people on my train have busted iPhone screens)
    anything else = pointless, don't waste your money as you don't need it.

    I have not had a case on my smart phone (ever) and recently decided to go without a screen protector as well. So far really nice

      Pretty much this. Some phones are stronger than others, the HTC Desire in my experience is pretty damn tough... I dropped mine 1 storey down onto a hard wood floor and only a slight scratch on the plastic. Even so, I still used a case when I was working on site at a coal port and wanted to keep the dirt and coal dust off/out of it. For office workers who are reasonably coordinated (or better) I really don't see the point.

      I dropped my galaxy nexus and it got a crack in the bottom right corner.
      only like 2mm thick and half a cm long in the bottom right corner.

      pretty sure if it was an iphone the whole thing would be shattered.
      still pretty upset even though it still works the same

    Here's an interesting article I was just reading earlier "Why do I need an iPhone case? A cost / benefit analysis":

    http://iphonecase.com.au/?p=23

    @Stewart Walker

    Doesn't Apple use Gorilla Glass, the same glass used by like 90% of the industry?

    Damn logic and rational thought. Damn it to hell!

      I don't think it's the materials in the iphone that are the issue but the design. no other phone has as much glass or the glass edges, most other phones have a plastic or metal edge which adds protection when you drop it. And at the endo fthe day it just depends on the person and how clumsy/accident prone they are and how they store their phones, whether in their pockets or handbags or somewhere else

      Ít's not usually because the glass isn't tought that iPhone screens break - the new design that makes the screen sit flush with the rest of the phone means that there is no space between the ground and the screen when you srop it.
      My SGS has the same screen and survived its drops and bumps (sans case, for the record) because the design sets the screen back a couple of milimetres from the surrounding phone parts, meaning that if I drop this phone on flat ground, the screen doesn't actually make contact. The screen doesn't take punishment, the surrounding phone parts do. My phone screen is still going strong after nearly 2 years and lots of careless treatment.

        Please excuse the scary amount of typos - ugh!

    I had a case on my Galaxy S2. It was terrible, it caused an echo whenever I was on the phone. Removed the case, and I've had no issues.

    This doesn't need to be an either/or scenario!

    When I'm carrying my phone (Galaxy Nexus) in my shirt pocket while working, I don't need or use a case. When it's in the pocket of my pants (usually SeV Hidden Cargo pants), where it's more likely to get bumped, I slip it into a flip case with a rigid cover.

    The GNex is well designed for holding comfortably and securely, so it's a shame to ruin that with a case.

    If you get a phone for its functionality, and consider selling at some point to upgrade then get a case. Get an Otterbox case - they are awesome. If you buy a phone so you can stare lovingly at its curves, or try and impress people with the brand/model then don't.

      I disagree with you so much. My Otterbox caused the echoes on my Galaxy S2, and I've been caseless for 2 months now, and it's even more functional than ever as a result.

      I don't need to stare lovingly at its curves but I do want to take advantage of having a slim computer to carry around - with the otterbox the phone simply isn't as small

      I agree with Kato. I am a builder and have dropped/bumped my iPhone heaps. Everyday I have an Otterbox Defender to fight my clumsiness and nearly two years on, the phone still looks like new whenever I take it out of the case.

      I will be getting a Galaxy Nexus next month and have already ordered the Otterbox Defender for it!

    gravity is not stronger than me...
    it's a lot more consistent though...

    I've had a Desire HD since it launched ~2 years ago. Never had a case or screen protector and it still looks like new (and I have tile floors).

    As many say above it depends on the phone - nobody ever put a case on a Nokia 3110 and there are a few of those at the bottom of the ocean still receiving calls.

    I bought my first iPhone in January and for the first 2 months I used it in the case that the salesperson told me was essential - one of the bulky Otterbox ones wich covers every bit of the phone. I hated the case - hated the crappy plastic cover (very crappy since the case was supposed to be worth $60 though I didn't pay that much as I had a voucher) and the fact I couldn't put my phone in the docking stations I own already and the fact I couldn't slip the phone into a pocket or evening bag as the case was so bulky. So about a month ago I took it out of the case and am very happy - can do all the things I want and so far I haven't dropped it or got any major scratches on it. I know that is a possibility but I am a reasonably careful person and I thought back to how many times I dropped my previous (dumb) phone and realised it wasn't a regular occurence.

    In short: Life's a gamble, I like my phone caseless

    You forgot one good reason - functionality.

    For my old 3G I had a case that let me store credit cards.

    And recently I bought this one:

    http://www.caseon.com.au/iphone-4s-case/844-case-mate-snap-iphone-4-and-4s.html

    It has a built in stand.

    There are plenty of cases with all sorts of cool functionality built in so for me this is another compelling reason to have a case.

    For my iPad I use a Folio case which lets me hold a pen, some business cards etc which has been a lifesaver for me in the past!

    I'm surprised people are so concerned about the added bulk - I find phones are so slim these days having a case on them doesn't make a huge difference in size. I think with the iphone it's pretty necessary to case up, it's almost inevitable that you're going to drop your phone if you have it with you most of the day and as others have mentioned iphones do have a bit of a design flaw with the screen being flush with the phone.. I've dropped mine maybe 5 or 6 times on hard surfaces, a couple of times I've broken the case because it's hit the ground at such an awkward angle and I just know without the case the screen would have been destroyed. Take it out of the case and it still looks brand new, not 6 months old. I also find it helps with gripping the phone; I had to go without a case for a few days and I felt so uncomfortable when holding it, I was convinced I was going to drop it.

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