Review: Best cell phone cases of 2017
The best cell phone case is the Otterbox Defender Series.
It’s certainly not an inexpensive case. But if you err on the side of frugalness and actually buy your smartphone outright, then keep reading.
Before I tell you about why I believe Otterbox has created some of the finest cell phone cases ever made, I need to explain to you my philosophy on smartphone ownership.
I buy my smartphones the way I buy cars. I pay cash, I don’t borrow. And I use them until I can’t anymore.
The last smartphone that I bought, and still use today, was purchased in July 2014. The one before that, an iPhone 3S, lasted me five years until the screen got so dark that I couldn’t see it anymore.
Is an Otterbox worth it?
This review is based on nearly three years of usage with an Otterbox Defender case protecting my Samsung Galaxy S5. During that time, my Samsung Galaxy S5 has been dropped countless times. On paved driveways. Onto rocks and into ravines while hiking in California. On city streets and sidewalks while out for a run.
I’ve dropped it the cold, salty Atlantic a few times while kayaking along the coast of Maine. It has also taken a few plunges onto cement and into sea alike during winter trips to Aruba. It marinated in hot beach sand, spilled beer and other fruit-based cocktails during those trips. My Otterbox has also taken some knocks while helping friends move. It has endured severe pressure while I was carrying an end of a heavy couch pressed against my pants pocket. It has been with me while trying to squeeze into tight places like under a car.
How does an Otterbox protect your phone?
I realize that most reviewers will show you a smartphone case that looks gloriously new. But really, what’s the point in that?
It’s what’s on the inside that counts.
My three year old Samsung Galaxy S5 looks about as new as the day I bought it. And it still works great.
There isn’t a single scratch on the screen.
Time has not been so kind to my Otterbox, but it still does a great job protecting my Galaxy S5. Even though it’s a little worn, my Defender case is still up for a lot more abuse that comes with daily living.
That’s the true mark of having the best cell phone case.
Otterbox Defender specs
The Defender case looks like equipment used by a SWAT team. The hard polycarbonate shell snaps over the smartphone, completely encasing it. The second layer is thick rubber. That snaps into the edges of the plastic case and provides a tremendous cushion.
The rubber case actually feels pleasant in the hand. The rubber outside absorbs all the major trauma that can be inflicted on your phone. The tight-fitting inner shell keeps it from being jostled from such impacts.
Being a cord cutter, a decent smartphone is another tool in my toolbox for streaming content. I have my PlayStation Vue app, Netflix and even YouTube to watch wherever I go and have some secure WiFi at my disposal.
Protecting my hardware hasn’t gotten in the way of enjoying my smartphone.
The other night, as I was watching a movie in bed, I was still impressed that the scratched up plastic screen of my Otterbox had zero impact on the picture quality.
Once your Otterbox screen gets a little scratched from normal wear and tear, just make sure you clean it regularly. Keep it clean and it won’t impact the picture quality.
How do you clean an Otterbox case?
People have different ways of cleaning their Otterbox case, particularly the screen. Otterbox recommends using mild soap and water. My preferred soap is common dish detergent. Not the detergent you use in a dishwasher. I’m talking about the sink stuff. I picked up this tip from a family member who is a career military pilot. He has some great looking Ray Ban sunglasses that he’s been using for years.
Obviously, having a clear view is important with his kind of gig.
We were in Belize some years ago for a wedding, when I spotted him standing at a kitchen sink cleaning his lenses, which had a layer of dusty beach sand on them. He put a couple of drops of dish liquid onto the lenses while they were still dry, rubbed in the soap then gently added lukewarm water. The dish soap, he explained, was mild and wouldn’t scratch his lenses. I’ve been using that trick ever since on my Otterbox and sunglasses.
Each Otterbox case is made for a very specific model of a phone. You’re not getting a cell phone case that fits two or three different models.
That’s important because you want holes in the proper place for microphones, earbud outlets and knobs for volume control. Performance is everything to smartphone users, and having a cell phone case with the correct fit can be a big factor when it counts.
In my working life, I’ve had to use my voice memo app while interviewing numerous people in noisy rooms. I’ve even recorded video and audio clips of presidential candidates storming through crowded pubs, grocery stores and butcher shops.
My microphone could pick up both the soft speakers and the ones who would yell above the din – all with absolutely clarity. The same is true for shooting video and photos.
Having an Otterbox shielding my smartphone was completely unnoticeable during those hectic assignments.
If you have to stop and think that your smartphone is in a case while trying to perform even a menial task like adjusting the volume, then you have the wrong case.
How long is the warranty on an Otterbox?
By the way, Otterbox cases come with a one-year warranty. If you’re questioning whether you’re buying a quality smartphone case, check to see what kind of warranty is offered.
Phone cases for the best smartphones in 2017?
Not everyone is walking around with a Galaxy S5 these days. Chances are if you are reading this, you’re tracking down the best cell phone case for something new you bought.
So in the spirit of being useful, here are some cases I’m recommending for some of the most popular smartphones out there.
Given my proclivity for savings, a couple of the cell phone cases listed below for Android and iPhones are for unlocked models. (Google Pixel and Moto Z.)
Because if you haven’t bought a new smartphone yet, you should consider an unlocked one. Unlocked phones can give you more flexibility, allowing you to jump between carriers without any contract.
I’m a big fan of Republic Wireless these days because you can pay as little as $15 per month for a smartphone plan.
Most of their data comes from the T-Mobile network, and their site comes with a handy coverage checker that spans the U.S.
Getting a more sensibly priced smartphone plan frees up hundreds of dollars a year.
Since dumping my old $90 to $100 per month plan back in 2014, I’ve saved roughly $1,710. That’s comes to $570 per year.
Smartphones these days are essentially like pocket laptops. Many of the top models – whether it’s an iPhone or Moto Z – are priced about the same, too.
So, it’s never made sense to me why people opt for a thin cell phone case, or even worse, no case at all. I don’t really believe in buying insurance for your phone. I have friends and family who swear by it, but these folks are part of the “my smartphone is too sexy for a case” crowd.
That’s fine. I pay my bills and you pay yours. I’m just not drinking the caseless Kool-Aid. I always plan to keep my smartphone longer than a year or two. So getting the best smartphone case you can afford makes financial sense.
Here are a few of the best cell phone cases matched with most popular smartphones of 2017.
Samsung Galaxy S8 and 8+ case
The Otterbox Defender case has a triple-layer of protection. The inner polycarbonate shell surrounds your new smartphone. A rubber cover on the outside buffers your Galaxy S8 from all kinds of falls, hits or impact from the outside world.
The Otterbox Commuter Series case is thinner, but also has a two-part system that protects your Galaxy S8, or S8+. It has a softer inner layer and hard outer layer to soften the impact of those hard falls. This case is made with polycarbonate and synthetic rubber. If you’re all about looking at the back of your phone, you can opt for Symmetry Series for a Galaxy 8+. Otterbox currently has 12 different styles of cell phone cases on their site. Some of them can also be found on Amazon.
iPhone 7 case
Some have said that the iPhone 7 is about style as much as its features are about substance. That could also be said for the dozen cell phone cases Otterbox has for the iPhone 7. The Symmetry Series cases made for iPhone 7 have see-through cases, and ones laced with graphics.
These cases are a departure from the one, or two-toned color style that you see with most Otterbox cases. Some of the Symmetry cases also come with the clear plastic back. That way people can see you’re not rocking some cheap iPhone imitation.
Moto Z case, Moto Z and Moto Z Droid cases
If you own a Moto Z, the Otterbox Commuter Series is the only way to go. Moto Z Force or Moto Z Droid owners have a few more choices with Otterbox. If you’re a fan of moto mod attachments, then you may have to remove your Otterbox case from time to time. I would still get an Otterbox if I was occasionally using some kind of mod like the projector.
Google Pixel case
Whether you bought a Google Pixel or Google Pixel XL, you can get yourself either a Defender Series case or the more slender Commuter Series. I will probably always opt for a Defender case because it fits in with my prone-to-phone-dropping lifestyle. Otterbox has another layer of protection for the Pixel that’s noteworthy. The Alpha Glass Screen Protector helps maintain tough sensitivity, and gives you a crisp screen while being shielded from the outside world.
Google Pixel is one of the most expensive unlocked smartphones on the market, so getting added protection is a smart move if you plan to use your smartphone long term.
Founder and Editor of The Cord Cutting Report. Before launching the site in 2016, he worked for more than two decades as a staff writer or correspondent for a number of daily newspapers, including The Boston Globe. His enthusiasm for tech began with the Atari 2600. Follow @james_kimble