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iPhone Case Shootout - Case Mate Signature Leather vs. Incase Protective Cover

Author:  Terry Jarrell
Date:  2007.09.27
Topic:  Phones
Provider:  TechwareLabs
Manufacturer:  TechwareLabs

iPhone Case Shootout - Case Mate Signature Leather vs. Incase Protective Cover


With the recent release of the incredible new iPhone, third-party accessory makers are revving up production of a wide variety of accessories and add-ons. Just shy of three months since its release, there has already been a considerable amount of items released, arguably the most important being cases and covers to protect this rather expensive investment. Initial impressions can often be off balance without having a fair amount of 'seat time' to explore and use a given product in day-to-day situations. That said, today we will be taking a look at two of the more popular iPhone cases and see how they stack up after a couple months of daily use.


Case Mate Signature Leather Case

I have had my iPhone wrapped in the Case Mate Signature Leather Case off and on pretty much since Day 1 of the iPhone's release. What has drawn many users to this model is the similarity it shares to the more expensive, and arguably more refined, Vaja line. The Case Mate offers a nice plastic shell covered in a soft and fine grained leather. As with virtually all cases on the market, the Case Mate Signature isn't quite perfect nor does it offer the features everyone can use and appreciate equally.

The Good:

Well designed to fit the contours of the iPhone without blocking the screen, ambient light sensor or any buttons. The quality of materials is impressive for a case in the $35 range. This case also comes with a somewhat bulky belt clip however the designers were thoughtful enough to predict that not every one would want to use it thereby allowing the clip post to be removed easily by simply unscrewing it from a recessed metal receiver on the back. A nice surprise is the with the belt clip attached, it also serves as a stand to prop the iPhone to view your video content in landscape arrangement. This allows you to slip the iPhone in a pocket and retrieve it easily. The smooth texture of the leather makes it easy to slide in and out of your pocket, which is usually an annoyance with the other silicone or rubber cases.

Another nice touch from Case Mate is the inclusion of a clear screen overlay. Most cases offer no additional screen protection, requiring a separate purchase. While the overlay is nothing spectacular (it's hard to really make a small square of clear static-cling plastic exciting) it is a nice touch. The only downside is that Case Mate decided to stamp their logo in the lower corner, partially covering one of the screen icons for a minor distraction.

The Not So Good:

The belt clip, again. Mentioned above were some good points about the clip but there are some equally bothersome issues with it as well. First, it is quite large and adds considerable bulk to the iPhone. Stated features mention that it has a ratcheting mechanism to allow various positioning of the iPhone but in reality it simply clicks as the phone rotates or swings on your belt clip. The detents formed into the clip post and clip are not nearly strong enough to hold the phone in any other position than vertical on your belt. Many will find this disappointing as it is usually more comfortable to wear an device of this shape in a horizontal position. Perhaps the biggest complaint I have heard from other users is the very stiff operation of the clip's release button. To quickly answer a call, it take the use of both hands to press-hold-release the phone and replacing it requires quite a bit of effort as well.

One design compromise that may be even more serious is the lack of top protection. The entire top and 1/3 of each side is wide open to the world, save for a thin ridge where the edge of the case extends. There have been reports of scratches and dents in these areas while using this case so there is some vulnerability there. Also, along this upper area, the front of the case design resembles bull horns, rising up on the left and right. I understand that this is to allow a somewhat stylish cutout for the earpiece and light sensor, it make for a real snag-hazard. After pulling this case in and out of the pocket for a while, it eventually begins to snag and bend this this-framed edge back, distorting its shape and weakening its protection.

Incase Protective Cover

The Incase protective cover has been one of the most popular models flying off the shelves at the Apple Store and with good reason - it initially makes a very good impression. Incase has been making cases for iPods and portable devices for quite some time now and it's funny how their different models swing so wildly in fit and performance. Some are of the best you will find while others simply fall short. This particular cover for iPhone falls somewhere in between. Having more than a months to explore this model and listening to feedback from many users has given me a good basis for understanding this product beyond the first, out of the box impression.

The Good:

Sleek. Nice color selection. Minimalist design. Solid protection. These are the things I had in mind when considering an alternative case for my iPhone when I needed something a bit more protective - and sporty - than the Case Mate offered. Having used iSkin cases for iPods for years, I had developed a pretty deep love/hate relationship with this type of silicone rubber soft case. I loved the resilient, shock absorbing rubber shell, the snug fit and generally nice looks. Unfortunately, iSkin had not yet released their line of iPhone cases but Incase had their Protective Cover on the racks already.

Upon receiving my Incase cover - after choosing black from their choices of red, grey and black - right away I could tell this case was different from the other soft cases I'd used in the past. It was quite as 'rubbery' feeling, rather more of a hard alloy of silicone and a more rigid plastic. Great, I though. This should hold up all the better and fit well. It does fit iPhone beautifully, fully covering the back, sides top and bottom. One thing that snagged my attention in particular was the way it covered the volume and on/off buttons with corresponding ridges. These buttons are indeed sleek and lie fairly close to the body of iPhone, but you can never have too much protection for these items. Good design, Incase! The cutouts for the camera and earphones line up perfectly as does the edge around the screen, ending just at the edge of the chrome trim around the screen.

But back to the material for a moment. One pet peeve of mine with silicone cases is the tendency for lint/dust/dirt collecting on the outside and making your high-tect toy look like a dirty furball. The Incase material is tremendously more resistant to picking up lint and debris, even in the textured 'topographical' design on its back. Repeatedly carrying this case in a pocket, bag or just sitting on a desk doesn't seem to do much to get it excessively dirty. Only takes a few seconds to easily pop off for a rinse in tepid water, it is very easy to remove for cleaning.

The Not So Good:

The main reason to buy a case is durability. The lack of a belt clip will not interest many users who prefer not to have their iPhone stuffed into a pocket - particularly wrapped in a case that tends to grab onto the liner of your jeans pocket making it a little bit of a tug-of-war to remove when trying to answer a call. Another issue that some users are noticing is the tendency for the case to collect dust and dirt around the edge which scuffs the chrome trim around the face of the iPhone.

The Summary:

Choosing the right case for your iPhone can seem a bit confusing with so many different approaches out there. My recommendation would be to first decide on exactly how you want to carry and use your iPhone. Pocket? Belt clip? Both? What are your aesthetic concerns? Do you have similar previous experience with iPod cases and if so, what did you like and dislike?

Overall, the Case Mate Signature Leather Case is a nice design for the iPhone user that doesn't necessarily need the heavier duty protection offered by some other brands. It offers a good, professional appearance, seemingly good quality materials. The InCase is a bit simpler in approach and functionality yet offers a slim no-nonsense solution for daily bumps and scratches.

With the wide selection already on the shelves and new models, shapes and materials arriving almost daily it seems, there is a good solution for most any user. Just take a moment to consider what you want in a case first, and you will find the one that suits you best!


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