Friday, April 19, 2024

Stop Putting Expensive Gadgets in Cheap Cases – Review Geek

An iPhone with a cheap case on it
Hannah Stryker / Review Geek

If you’ve just dropped over $1,000 on a flagship smartphone, you may feel like your budget has been expended. There are a ton of options when it comes to cases, and you may spot a cheap one you like. Unfortunately, you’ll save at the checkout, but cheaping out will cost you dearly in the long run.

There are a bunch of reasons you shouldn’t opt for the cheap option when picking a case for your device, and it doesn’t only apply to phones. Although your account may have taken a big hit from simply buying the device in the first place, the dollar difference between an awful case and a good one isn’t that much. Here’s why trying to save yourself a couple of bucks might end up costing you hundreds.

Cheap Cases are Borderline Useless

A wall of cheap phone cases

Aside from protecting your phone, tablet, or handheld gaming device from light scratches, cheaper cases are likely to be utterly useless at preventing your device from being damaged. Budget cases for phones tend to be very thin pieces of hard, cheap plastic. This is a problem for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, it offers next to no shock protection. If you drop your phone, a lot of the risk comes from the force of the drop traveling through the phone itself and potentially damaging the sensitive components inside. If you drop a box of eggs, the box itself will likely be fine, but some of the eggs inside may crack. It’s a similar case with your phone. More expensive cases tend to include materials like silicone rubber that can better handle shock — giving your phone a greater chance of survival. They may also include reinforcement in areas that are likely to hit the ground, like the phone’s corners — instead of just a uniform, thin, shell, like the cheaper cases have.

Then there is screen protection. While you can buy a screen protector separately, a good case will also include a raised edge to keep the front of your phone away from the ground or any hard surfaces you place it on. This improves your screen’s chances of survival in a drop, and also stops small pieces of grit potentially scratching your screen if you place it face down on a dirty surface.

It looks and feels cheap too

Like it or loathe it, a smartphone is more than just a functional device. It’s a status symbol and, on some levels, a work of art. High-end phones are clad in quality materials, like high-grade aluminum and glass. Entire teams of well-paid people spend time refining the design so everything looks as beautiful as possible. It is then manufactured to a high standard, with any imperfections removed before the device exits the production line.

Then you come along and clad all of that beauty in a $5 piece of cheap plastic. It’s bad enough all of that work has to be hidden, lest it be scratched and dented. But if you’re going to cover it up, at least cover it in something that looks good.

There’s also the feel of the device to consider. Slightly more expensive cases are nice to hold. You can even get cases clad in things like leather. Cheap plastic, on the other hand, is something you can spot by touch alone. It feels awful. Your phone is going to spend a lot of time in your hand, so do your hands a favor. Opt for something you’ll actually enjoy holding.

Handheld gaming devices, like the Nintendo Switch and Steam Deck are similar. You should splash out on something you’re comfortable holding, and not some horrifically textured plastic. With laptops and tablets, it goes back to appearance. Do you really want to spend a fortune on a high-end device only to look like you’re holding something from the Dollar Store’s discount section?

It Doesn’t Just Apply to Smartphones

The official Meta Quest Pro case with the headset stored in it.

Smartphones aren’t the only things you can get protective cases for, and cheap options exist for most devices. However, going for a budget case can cause problems no matter what device you’re using.

Last year, I splashed out on a Meta Quest Pro. I also travel a lot, so a case of some kind was a must-have accessory. With the official case costing an eye-watering $120, I opted for a far cheaper option from Amazon. This was a mistake, for several reasons.

Firstly, it took up more luggage space than it should have. It was obviously designed by people who had no access to a Quest Pro at the time, as it’s a lot bigger than the headset itself. The case takes up the entire main compartment of a mid-sized backpack, leaving little room for anything else if you’re traveling light.

Then there’s the construction of the case itself. The straps and grooves designed to keep the controllers in place don’t do their job, so the controllers will end up loose in the case if you move it around much. If you transport it by the handle, the lenses are at the bottom, and there’s a more than reasonable chance of the controllers falling on them. The straps might be pressing the buttons or something too, as when I actually went to use my headset after transporting it in this case they were totally dead. They had a full charge before I set off as they live on the charging stand, which will also be roaming free if you put it in the all-but-useless pouch built into the case’s lid.

In short. Don’t cheap out on a case for your delicate, $1,500, VR device. The anxiety that comes with it isn’t worth the $80 saving.

You Don’t Need to Spend Too Much


On the flip side, there are cases that cost as much as the phone itself. While the idea of a slim, stylish, case with special cushioned “airbags” designed to prevent damage is nice, the price of it is just ridiculous. The same goes for cases costing a few hundred dollars and boasting about “military grade” materials making up part of the cases construction.

You have plenty of options in the $20-60 range, and that’s where you should be shopping. Something like an Otterbox sits at the top end of that range, and should provide all of the protection your phone will ever need — without adding too much bulk. If you’re intent on saving some cash, but don’t want something utterly useless, Caseology’s Parallax range is a stylish, yet functional, choice that is available at around $20.

Phones are obviously out more, used more, and need more versatile protection. Portable gaming consoles tend to live in your bag or drawer unless they’re being securely held in both hands. But you still shouldn’t cheap out.

A cheap Nintendo Switch case might leave parts almost contacting each other. Any impact will see those parts collide, potentially breaking something. Contrast that with something slightly more expensive, you get a nice thick layer of foam keeping everything safe and apart.

With the Steam Deck, some of the cheaper cases are just laughable. They offer no screen protection, even when the thing is rattling around a bag, and simply put a layer of cheap plastic over the less fragile back. Save yourself an issue, and a few hundred dollars, by going with a hardshell option that totally protects the device and keeps any accessories tidy.

A Top-End Case is Cheaper Than a Repair

A technician replacing an iPhone screen.
PK Studio/

You can get a very good case from a reputable supplier for under $30, with the higher-end ones costing a little bit more. If you want complete protection, screen protectors aren’t that expensive either. A good one from a reputable brand will usually set you back between $10 and $20.

Non generic iPad cases can end up costing more, but sometimes come with extra features. These features can include keyboards, and things like stylus holders. Similarly, if you’re travelling with a laptop you want a bag that offers some degree of shock protection. You’re going to take bumps, and you don’t want a fragile, expensive, device to tale the brunt of those bumps. You’ll also need a reasonable degree of waterproofing to fend off things like rain. I’ve been using one from Wenger for years, and you can grab something from the Swiss company for as little as $60. Laptop repair costs va

If a case gets badly scuffed and you want to replace it, you’re looking at another $30 and less than a minute of easy work switching it over. You also have the option of simply living with the scuff, as most people don’t care about case damage. A damaged screen protector is even cheaper to replace. Removing the old one is slightly more difficult than switching a case over, but is still very easy.

In contrast, Apple’s repair calculator, a cracked screen on a standard iPhone 14 costs $279. Changing out an iPhone 14’s cracked back glass will set you back around $169. Both of these services still cost $29 if you subscribe to AppleCare+ — which is a significant saving but still more than the cost of a replacement screen protector

With tablet’s, it’s likely to be a more expensive mistake. Anything other than a battery replacement on a 10th gen iPad will cost you $319 if you get it repaired through Apple.

Outside of that, replacing the screen on something like a Nintendo Switch will cost you more than $100, laptop repairs vary by brand and damage but a total replacement can be a better option than a screen replacement sometimes, and for VR enthusiasts it’s even worse.

Remember those controllers dropping on the Quest Pro’s lenses in the cheap case? Thankfully, no damage was done. If it was, I’d be out close to $1,500. Meta doesn’t repair that part “out of warranty,” and the warranty won’t cover accidental damage.

There are other insurance plans available, and some cover other things, like theft, which a case is very unlikely to prevent. But in terms of damage, most plans also include a deductible — which is likely to far outweigh the cost of a decent case and screen protector.

Spend a Little Extra, and You May Save a Lot

The moral of the story is, decent cases aren’t expensive and the ultra-cheap ones are a complete waste of time and money. Yes, you can get something with a knock-off Hello Kitty design on it for $5, but you can also get something that protects what may be one of the most expensive devices you own for $10 more.

Not only will it prevent disaster if you drop your phone, but actually having confidence in your case will save you a lot of anxiety. You may have already spent hundreds of dollars, if not over a thousand, on your phone. So saving a little where you can is understandable. But the difference in price between a good case and a really bad one is so negligible when compared to the cost of the device itself, that cheaping out is pretty ridiculous.


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