Life poses a number of risks to our 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 the latest iPhone can 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 a Protective 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 around the house? 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 13 Pro Max measures 6.3 by 3.1 inches, for example) and any durable case is only going to add to that, but some are much larger than others.
The other thing to consider with particularly heavy-duty cases is the impact on things like touchscreen and button sensitivity, speaker and microphone clarity, and port accessibility.
Some cases make it harder to press the buttons on the side of the iPhone, or muffle your audio through a thick layer of polycarbonate. Any that have their own separate screen protector will likely affect the accuracy of the touchscreen. Some of this is unavoidable, but again, certain cases do a better job than others.
Phrases like “drop proof” and “shockproof” regularly get thrown around in promotional material and reviews for protective cases, but since these don’t have a specific meaning, it’s worth digging into the details.
Look for recognized testing standards and specific claims about drop heights and durability rather than marketing fluff, but remember there’s no such thing as a truly indestructible phone case (or an indestructible phone, for that matter!)
It’s important to keep in mind that warranties on phone cases only cover damage to or malfunction of 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 the repair bill.
Likewise Apple warranties don’t cover water damage. Despite heavily marketing the water-resistance of recent iPhone models, liquid damage isn’t covered under warranty, even if the phone was in a so-called waterproof case at the time.
Long story short: no matter how tough your case is, you’re ultimately responsible for what’s inside.
Best For Big Drops: Gear4 Platoon/Denali
If you have any concerns about your phone surviving a major tumble, check out Gear4’s Platoon case. It’s one of the most rugged iPhone cases we’ve come across, promising protection for falls of up to 20 feet (6 meters). That’s 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 iPhone screen protector separately to protect against minor scratches.
All in all, if you’re looking for high levels of drop protection in a phone case, the Gear4 Platoon is a good alternative to brands like Otterbox (below) at a fraction of the price.
Gear4 Platoon cases are available on Amazon for most older models, including:
The Platoon is the best protective case for the iPhone 11 and XR/XS, but isn’t available for the iPhone 12 or 13 range. The Denali case offers similar (16 feet/5m) levels of drop protection for these newer phones, including the iPhone 13 standard, Pro, Pro Max, and Mini versions.
Best for Water Protection: LifeProof FRE
Waterproof cases aren’t as popular as they used to be, because they’re just not as necessary any more. iPhone models are getting better at keeping liquid 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 while the iPhone XS and higher are rated to IP68 standard.
According to Apple, this means your XS can be submerged in 6.6 feet (2 meters) of water for up to 30 minutes, while the iPhone 13 range can handle three times as much (20 feet/6m.)
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.”
If you’re looking to give your phone extra water and drop protection beyond what Apple offers, LifeProof FRE cases are our current pick. Fully sealed, they’re rated to IP68 standard and submersible to 6.6 feet (2 meters) for up to an hour. As well as helping keeping liquid out, the cases can withstand drops from up to 6.6 feet as well.
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 slight decrease in touch sensitivity. The cases work just fine with wireless chargers, including both Apple’s Magsafe and other Qi-compatible models.
Made from 60% recycled plastic, Lifeproof FRE cases are available for most recent iPhone models, and come with a minimum of a one year warranty. This includes the iPhone 13 standard, Pro, and Pro Max versions.
Available from Amazon for most recent models:
Best for Slim Design: OtterBox Defender
The OtterBox Defender is one of the toughest iPhone cases you can find that still maintains a relatively slim design. Available in a small range of colors, and with or without Magsafe charging support depending on your preference, It’s an impressive case from a well-respected manufacturer.
The non-Magsafe version of the Defender 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.
There’s no separate cover for the cameras or display: the Defender relies on the significant “lips” along the sides to stop the glass from hitting the ground. That works well enough, at least as long as you don’t drop your phone onto a pointy rock, and helps ensure the touchscreen and cameras remain accurate.
If you’re worried about damaging the display, it might be worth picking up a sacrificial glass screen protector as well: they’re much cheaper and easier to replace than a smashed screen.
Otterbox offers a limited lifetime warranty and has a long history of making tough iPhone cases. All versions of the Defender let you charge wirelessly, whether they’re Magsafe compatible or not, but don’t come with a screen protector: you’ll need to buy that separately.
OtterBox Defender is available on Amazon for these models:
Best for Value: Spigen Tough Armor
If you need a strong iPhone case that won’t break the bank, it’s hard to go past Spigen’s Tough Armor range. The company is renowned for making good, inexpensive phone cases (we’ve used several of them over the years) and the Tough Armor is the pick of the bunch for protection.
Spigen released the first Tough Armor cases a decade ago, and has been refining the design ever since. Available for all recent iPhone models, including the iPhone 13 range, it’s typically available in black and a small range of other colors.
The cases have two layers of drop protection, a flexible TPU interior embedded with “Extreme Impact Foam” and a hard polycarbonate outer layer. Both layers are designed to dissipate the shock of a fall, albeit in slightly different ways. As usual with rugged cases, it’s relatively hefty, although far from the bulkiest we’ve seen.
Spigen states that the Tough Armor passes the MIL-STD 810G-516.6 drop test, a jumble of letters and numbers that translates to the case being dropped 26 times in various orientations onto two-inch plywood from a height of four feet.
There’s debate about the accuracy and merits of this widely-used test, since there’s no independent testing body for it. Even so, it at least gives you some confidence your iPhone will handle a tumble without having to immediately head to the repair shop.
There’s a handy kickstand built into the back of the Tough Armor, letting you prop your phone up in landscape mode for watching movies, making calls, or whatever other use you may have for it.
Because the ports aren’t covered, there’s no additional waterproofing on offer. You’ll need to rely on whatever your particular iPhone model offers in that regard. For the price, however, you get a reliable brand, good protection, and a bonus kickstand. We can’t ask for much more than that.
The Spigen Tough Armor is available on Amazon for the following 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, product images via Amazon