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Life poses a number of risks to our valuable electronics. From beckoning toilet bowls and sticky-fingered children to dust, dirt, and unpredictable weather, the threats to our gadgets are hiding around every corner. And of course there’s the danger we take with us everywhere: our own clumsiness.
Our smartphones are by our side or in our hands no matter what the occasion or destination, so they’re often in the firing line. They contend with scratches and scrapes, tumbling to the ground, rain, and the soul-eroding plunk that follows being dropped into a toilet.
Replacing a recent iPhone model could easily cost over $1000, and even a simple screen repair can set you back hundreds of dollars. Beyond the expense, our phones hold some of our most memorable moments, memories you really don’t want to lose.
Depending on where in the world you find yourself when you need to replace it, buying an iPhone in another country can also be a huge headache.
It all sounds like something you’d rather try and avoid, right? That’s why we’ve pulled together our top picks for the toughest iPhone cases on the market, so you can protect your phone through all of life’s misfortunes.
What to Look For in an iPhone Case
Choosing the best iPhone case is really a matter of personal use and preference. Where do you plan on taking your phone? Will you be using it in challenging physical environments, or mostly indoors? Do you plan on using it near water? How clumsy are you?
When choosing a tough iPhone case, consider the tradeoff between how durable it needs to be to withstand your adventures and the extra size and weight it will add to your phone.
Phones are getting bigger and bulker all the time (the iPhone 11 Pro Max measures 6.2 by 3.1 inches, for example) and any durable case is only going to add to that, but some are much larger than others.
It’s important to keep in mind that warranties on phone cases are meant to cover damage or malfunction to the case itself, not the device inside it. If the case is drop-proof to 20 feet and you drop your phone from 15 feet only to find out it didn’t make it through the fall, you’ll still be responsible for fixing the phone.
For example, Catalyst’s waterproof case (outlined below) offers a one-year manufacturing warranty, but it’s meant for the case, not your phone. The warranty says: “in no event will Labworks or its affiliates be responsible for damage or malfunction of any other product including your electronic devices.” Other companies have similar policies.
Similarly, phone damages you incur might be covered by your Apple warranty, but not if the damage involves water. Despite heavily marketing the water-resistance of recent iPhone models, liquid damage isn’t covered under warranty. You’ll be left with a soaked, broken phone and an expensive repair bill if you push the limits too far.
Long story short: no matter how tough your case is, you’re ultimately responsible for what’s inside.
Best For Big Drops: Gear4 Platoon
If you have any concerns about your phone surviving a major tumble, check out Gear4 ’s Platoon case. It promises protection for falls of up to 20 feet (6 meters), which is roughly the height of an average second-story window. The case is made with D3O, the same material used by the military and professional athletes for helmets, gloves, and other protective gear.
This level of protection is only available in black, but if you want to venture further out into the rainbow, Gear4 offers other models in a wide selection of colors and textures. While these colorful cases don’t offer the same level of protection as the Platoon case, their 13 feet (4 meter) maximum is still considerable.
Platoon cases have a significant “lip” surrounding the screen to prevent it from coming into contact with the ground, but like many tough cases on the market today, you’ll want to purchase a reliable screen protector separately to protect against minor scratches.
Gear4 Platoon cases are available on Amazon for all recent models, including:
Best for Water Protection: Catalyst
So-called waterproof cases aren’t as popular as they used to be. iPhone models are getting better at keeping water out all the time, though exactly how much is too much is always up for debate. True waterproofing (submersion for an unlimited length of time) is almost impossible to achieve in a consumer product, so we’re really talking about water resistance here.
The iPhone XR, for example, is dust and water-resistant with an IP67 rating. The followup models got an upgrade: the iPhone 11 Pro and iPhone 11 Pro Max are rated to IP68 standard, which according to Apple means your device can be submerged in 13 feet (4 meters) of water for up to 30 minutes.
iPhone owners have questioned how accurate that claim actually is, and Apple admits that the water-resistance can lessen the longer you have your phone. The fine print from Apple reads: “Splash, water, and dust resistance are not permanent conditions and resistance might decrease as a result of normal wear.”
For people serious about protecting their phone, the Catalyst case is fully sealed and submersible. Catalyst cases are tested to IP68 standard and are waterproof to 33 feet (10 meters). In addition to keeping liquid out, the case can withstand drops from 6.6 feet (2 meters), and, unlike other tough cases, your camera lens is fully covered.
The display stays fully covered inside the case, which means there’s no need to buy a separate screen protector. On the downside, this can lead to a decrease in touch sensitivity.
Cases are available for all recent iPhone models, but you’ll only find a few of them listed on Amazon. Be sure to buy from official sellers, since the one-year manufacturing warranty from Catalyst may not apply if you don’t make your purchase from an authorized store.
They also note that “No case is indestructible and WE DO NOT WARRANT that this Catalyst® product case will protect your device in all circumstances.“
Available from Catalyst for all recent models:
Best for Slim Design: OtterBox Defender or Pursuit
The OtterBox Defender and Pursuit are some of the toughest iPhone cases you can find that still maintain a slim design. The Pursuit case, in particular, focuses on keeping weight and size to a minimum. Unfortunately, although earlier versions were well-reviewed and praised by customers, OtterBox hasn’t released a Pursuit case for the latest iPhone 11 models.
The OtterBox Defender case is a bit larger, but still quite compact. It comes with a holster add-on that you can simply attach to the back of your phone whenever you need it. The holster is a swiveling belt clip, and it doubles as a hands-free kickstand.
Although they’re not the most stylish option, holsters come in handy for those who want quick access to their phones on the go. Consider outdoor scenarios where your phone needs to be protected but you want to access it at a moment’s notice, such as capturing nature sightings on a backcountry hike.
Both cases provide solid protection for your device, from a company that offers a limited lifetime warranty and has a long history of making tough iPhone cases. They’re compatible with wireless charging, but don’t come with a screen protector, so you’ll need to buy that separately.
OtterBox Pursuit is available on Amazon for these models:
OtterBox Defender is available on Amazon for these models:
iPhones are expensive, and there are far too many ways to wreck them. Invest in the case that’s right for you so that you can have peace of mind wherever life takes you, whether that’s on a daring adventure or just to the bathroom.
Main image via PR MEDIA, others via Amazon