In an age where phones are made out of glass and could fall to their doom at any moment, a case is crucial for protecting your $1000 device. But some people are so clumsy, the average case is not enough: they need something that can take anything life throws at them (or anything they might throw their phone at). Here are five cases that go above and beyond the standard level of protection.
Let’s get the obvious out of the way: Otterbox has become nearly synonymous with tough-as-nails smartphones cases, and the reputation is well-deserved. The Defender is the case most people think of when they hear the Otterbox name, and despite their numerous other offerings—some of which are quite stylish—the Defender takes a licking like few other cases can. This is mostly due to its multi-layer design, with a hard frame protecting the front, a hard foam-lined inner shell for the back, and a soft silicone layer around the outside to provide shock absorption. You can also buy versions with optional screen protection built-in, as well as belt clips and other accessories. Otterbox puts their cases a battery of different tests to make sure they’re protected against drops, dust, and other ills that may befall your device. Note that contrary to somewhat common belief, the Otterbox Defender is not water-resistant—for that, you’ll need to check out Otterbox’s sister brand, LifeProof. The Defender series is available for multiple iPhones and Android devices—just make extra sure you’re buying the real deal, and not a counterfeit.
If the Defender is a bit too bulky or expensive for you, Otterbox has a number of other cases as well, including the slightly less complex Commuter series and the colorful Symmetry series, both of which will still keep your phone well-protected.
Most people buy cases to protect their phone from big drops, but if you spend a lot of time near water—oceans, lakes, or even kids’ bathtime—you might want some extra water protection, too. Most flagship phones have pretty good levels of water-resistance these days, but if you’d rather not risk a dunk in the deep, a water-resistant case can be great (plus, it’ll keep dirt and sand away too, which is almost a bigger concern for beach-goers). Otter’s LifeProof brand is the leading name in water-resistant cases thanks to their Fre line, which seals your entire phone from port to power button. You’ll even get to keep use of your fingerprint sensor, if you have one. You definitely make some sacrifices with this one, since the plastic screen cover won’t feel quite as good as a glass screen, and some folks have complained about call quality decreasing thanks to the microphone being sealed under the case. And, while it isn’t quite as rugged as the Defender, it can still handle drops from 6 feet high, according to LifeProof (though they don’t detail their testing methodology). But if water is a bigger concern than gravity, it’s hard to go too wrong—I only use mine when headed to the beach or pool, and while that’s a hard sell at its price, I grabbed mine for significantly less than retail on Amazon. Again, just watch out for counterfeit versions.
Supcase isn’t a household name like the other brands on this list, but if you’re on a serious budget, they sell a pretty rugged case that’s easy on the wallet. Like many of the others listed here, the Unicorn Beetle Pro contains a multi-layered design with TPU and polycarbonate, plus a built-in screen protector to prevent scratches. Supcase claims to drop test their cases from 20 feet, and while they don’t detail exactly how that test is performed, it beat out 8 other cases in a drop test over at CNET last year—not bad for a single Andrew Jackson. You also have the option of adding the included belt clip (you know, if you’re going for that 90s-dad look) and a few different colors, depending on your phone. If you don’t have a lot to spend, it’ll do the job nicely.
While lots of cases claim Mil-Spec standards, this label isn’t really regulated for consumer products. So while there is in fact a set of tests under the MIL-STD-810G standard, you can’t always trust that badge, especially if a company doesn’t describe the details of how its drop tests are performed. Urban Armor Gear is one of the better manufacturers in this area, providing a description of the tests it performs: “a device is dropped 26 times from a height of 48 inches, on each face, corner, and back.” That gives us quite a bit of confidence in Urban Armor Gear’s Monarch case, which ups the ante with a five-layer design, including top grain leather (for a premium look) and metal hardware (instead of cheap-feeling plastic). It’s thinner than you’d expect, too, and while its design may be a little “X-TREME” for some, it’s clear the price is going toward premium materials that can take a beating.
If you thought the Urban Armor was expensive, Element’s top-end Black Ops case will put things in perspective, but it’s about as premium a case as they come. The Black Ops case uses high-end materials like CNC-machined G10 and aircraft-grade aluminum to build this beast, and it shows—while lots of cases feel like you’ve stuffed a premium phone in a cheap shell, the Black Ops case feels as premium as the phone inside it—and tough to boot. While all the cases on this list can take a beating, the Black Ops feels like a case that doles out beatings—in fact, I’d be careful not to drop this thing on your foot. Is it worth $200? Well...that’s hard to say, and while it comes with more accessories than UAG’s offering (like a detachable belt clip and a splashproof carrying bag) and looks a little sleeker (albeit still pretty hardcore), it’s still more than most people would probably prefer to spend—though folks with lots of disposable income may find it worth the extra cash. (If you like the look and don’t have the money, though, Element does offer more affordable cases—just don’t expect nearly the same premium feel as the Black Ops.)