iPhone Accessories Roundup August 07, 2007 Alexis Dang
Summary: Looking for the best film to protect your iPhone from scratches? What about cases? In this article Alexis takes a look at several products you may want to consider for accessorizing your iPhone!
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Most valuable things require insurance, although there is no official insurance plan for the iPhone at the current time: Applecare will soley be a warranty extension. Fortunately, reports have shown that the iPhone is more durable than expected, thanks to the glass screen, but we think that this precious metal deserves a little extra protection.
Protection comes in a few flavors. You have iPhone cases that help you carry the iPhone and also prevent any scrapes from any bumping and grinding during your everyday affairs. You have screen protection, which has evolved from the acetate films and scotch tape used on the early PDAs to high tech, extremely durable materials. And finally you have body protection, in the form of protective films that protect the entire iPhone. Today we compare offerings from all over to find the products that can stand up to the demands of properly protecting your iPhone.
Body and Screen Protection:
Over the past few years, the demand for protection of an entire electronic device has evolved. Weíve all seen the videos of someone going at a protected iPod with a set of keys or trying to push a pen through the protective membrane. All these products began in other applications. The initial applications include films to protect helicopter blades, nose cones on jet air craft, lights on aircraft landing gear, and NASCAR race cars. These materials have improved to be used as general paint protection films, you may have seen them used most recently as clear bra material for cars.
3M was the first manufacturer of this material in the form of their 3M Scotchgard paint protection film. It is a urethane plastic 8mil film with 2mil of that being the adhesive. I spoke to a fellow at a company that makes pain protection films and he explained that over time, the demand for these products has increased significantly, but also the expectations. In the early days, people just wanted protection from the elements, over time that changed to people who wanted the best aesthetic performance as well.
One of the initial criticisms was that these films were not truly invisible. They were not completely clear, would yellow over time, and had horrible orange peel effects. If your car is already plagued with orange peel paint like most new cars using water-based paint, Toyota, Nissan, BMW, etc, then a little more orange peel wouldnít hurt, but if you got a wet sanded paint finish by hand, then you couldnít live with the orange peel. So there are many new companies on the market making films with greater clarity and less optical distortion than the original 3M stuff. Here is an example of the Venture brand screen protection at work. Image courtesy of MachIII.net
Back to the iPhone now. I asked all these companies if they would disclose what their material source was, and not surprisingly all declined to reveal their source. Most were very forthcoming in that this product was used in other applications, such as paint protection. One of the manufacturers of these next generation paint protection films did say that they were involved in making ďiPodĒ protection products.
The ideal screen protection would be completely invisible, have no optical distortions, while also retaining an as close to stock feel, with scratch protection and scratch resistance. In the early days, PDA screen protection would dull your display and scratch very easily, the argument was that it was better to sacrifice the screen protector than your screen. The protective film that the iPhone arrives on at first glance looks like it would serve as a good screen protector, but after only 1 week of use it starts to show a large amount of microscratches and swirl marks, overall dulling your iPhone experience.
These guys are the ones who really created this market. It started with a guy out of Utah that was talking with a buddy of his about how the military protects its helicopter blades. He came up with the plan to use this protective film to cover electronic devices. They have become the company to look for in the field of screen protection. Compared to the other guys, they have the largest selection of custom designed screen and body protection.
The price is $30 for the iPhone, which includes screen protection and the body protection. The body protection doesnít extend all the way around to protect the chrome ring in front, in addition they donít protect the home button with the film, and the screen protection leaves a gap at the bottom, next to the button. That said, the $30 buys you the protective film, a squeegee to help install it, and two spray bottles of a special solution to help install the film. The squeegee is a nice custom piece with a tapered edge. In reality you only need a soapy solution, but having this already mixed for you is very convenient.
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They also offer a lifetime warranty which means they will replace the protective film at any time; all you have to do is pay for shipping.
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Installation of the Invisible shield is extremely easy thanks to the cutouts that allow the film to bend around the corners with ease.
I tested out the strength of the film, and the videos on their website arenít doctored. This stuff is really tough. It failed my test with a Philips screwdriver though. The film failed at about 1cm of stretch and I was able to scratch through the film with the screwdriver tip. My Infiniti key was also no match for the film. This test puts more stress on the film than in the videos, since the videos allow the film to stretch over a much larger area. So it is tough, but not indestructible.
Our next contender comes from a new company out of Virginia. The owner, Suhail Mishlawi, of the company answers all emails and they have a small but growing selection of iPhone specific products. They have great YouTube videos showing how their products perform. Today we are looking at both their screen protection and leather cases, but first their screen protector, the iQase FiLM.
This product is unique in that it is a dry application. It doesnít require you to spray any fluid on the iPhone or the film. There is a layer of silicone that keeps the screen protector stuck to the glass on the iPhone. You can see an amazing video of the screen protector being applied here:
Application is very easy, but the fit is not absolutely perfect. The cutout for the speaker is a little larger than the actual opening, and if you center the actual opening within the cutout, then the ends stick out a bit at the bottom. In addition, there is a small area inferior to the button that is unprotected. The problem with having sections that are unprotected is that dirt can build up at these transition points, so when you remove the screen it may show what was protected, and unfortunately what was not protected. The FiLM has a protective layer on both sides of the film, which allows you to place the film on the iPhone without touching the adherent layer of the film. This prevents any fingerprints or dust from getting between the film and the screen. I did have some trouble with a few small spots where the silicone wouldnít stick down. The instructions recommend using a hair blow dryer to get the bubbles out, but I donít own a blow dryer.
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Of all the screen protection products, the surface of the FiLM feels the best. It is it the smoothest, and feels like a freshly waxed and detailed clear coat. There are no optical distortions nor loss of brightness or contrast. The aesthetics of this screen protector do make up for itís slightly less than perfect fit. There is no loss of screen sensitivity with the FiLM, I thought it improved screen responsiveness as I found that the base glass face on the iPhone didnít work well when there was a heavy grease film on the surface, like if you had just put sunscreen on, or you were sweating and put the iPhone up to your face to talk.
In terms of scratch resistance and strength of the film, it is surprisingly resistant to puncture and scratching. It was very difficult to scratch through the surface using a screw driver. With puncture, it doesnít stretch and give like the other products, but it did require a decent amount of force prior to puncture. What is does show more of are light scratches. Lightly scratching the film will leave a mark, at the same pressure where you wonít leave a mark using the urethane films. The screen is still protected underneath, but then you may need to swap protection to keep your iPhone looking shiny and happy.
These guys are a no frills operation. They basically just sell you the screen protection, no extra solutions, no cleaning cloths, no squeegees. Thatís a good thing, since all that extra stuff costs money. Their price, $8 for full body iPhone protection.
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I spoke with them and they say that they use a film that is similar to the 3M product, but ďbetter.Ē They couldnít elaborate.
Their protection is the only one that protects the home button for the iPhone. The chrome ring is also protected, but they use a few pieces to put it all together. Personally, Iím not a big fan of so many small pieces because it makes installation a little more difficult, and dirt likes to get between all the edges of the film. The small extra pieces to protect the chrome ring at the top and the bottom actually go on very easily. The cutouts are perfect, so if you line up the camera and the volume control cutouts right, the rest falls into place.
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You donít get fancy packaging with best skins ever, but you really get a very similar product for a lot less.
Also out of the great state of Utah, NLU products has brought to the brawl their BodyGuardz line of screen and body protection.
On immediate inspection of their products, the color of the paper attached to their film is different than that of the Invisible Shield or Best Skins Ever. The release paper is whiter than the other products. In addition, the film shows a little less orange peel effect than the Invisible Shield. They are very clear on their web site that this material is used for car paint protection.
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Comparing the bodyguardz with the other products, they use a single film to protect the back of the case and the chrome ring. It costs $25 for 2 sets. They also include a solution spray, a squeegee, and a cleaning cloth. Their squeegee is more like a credit card. The solution is water and baby shampoo. They also offer a great video of how to install the protection on the iPhone, but then they recommend that you donít use the iPhone for 48 hrs to allow the film protection to completely dry and adhere to the iPhone.
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The strength of the Bodyguardz film, which visually looks a little different than the others, is comparable. It also fails against a screwdriver at about 1cm of penetration. This test is much more rigorous than what you see on the net, since the screwdriver does come to a point, whereas most keys have a rounded profile at the tip. That said, you almost have to try and scratch the iPhone before the film will fail.
I contacted a company, Clearmask (www.clearmask.com), who have been making paint protection products for some time now. They are using a 3M-based film, but one used for 3Mís aerospace industry. This film is supposed to be clearer, stronger, and easier to apply. It differs from the other products in that it has two release layers, one on the adhesive side, and one on the outer surface, and it can be applied dry. Right now they donít have a product for the iPhone, but I did test one of their iPod nano skins.
Optically this does have less orange peel than the others and the dry application will make people who get queasy about getting their iPhone wet feel a little better. Personally, I donít mind the wet application, since it does make application a little easier. You can do a wet application with the Clearmask if you like. When we tested this film, it is stronger than the others and does appear more resistant to deep scratches. We do think that having the additional top release layer may help with having a smoother surface, but it also makes the film a little stiffer during installation, this might make it harder to get to contour to the tight curves on an iPhoneÖ
If they come out with an iPhone specific skin, we will be sure to let you know.
Film Protection Summary
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The orange peel effect is there with all the films, there might be a touch less with the Clearmask film, but if you know what orange peel is, you will find it. In terms of the feel of the screen protection, the iQase product is the smoothest, although the urethane products can be waxed like paint, giving you a similar smooth finish that is also resistant to finger prints.
With the installation, I used quick detailer which worked very well too. The secret to installing the urethane films is to have enough fluid to have the film float on a film of water. This is a little scary, when working with electronics, so I worked on a microfiber cloth and blotted away the excess water that I was squeegeeing out from the film. I actually think this wet method of installation is easier than a dry adhesive, since you can reposition the film to the exact alignment.
With body protection, the least protection comes from Invisible Shield since the chrome ring is exposed, but it is also the easiest to install, it takes just a few minutes. It will come down to your preference. For the ultimate protection, the BodyGuardz gives you the most protection, but it is also extremely difficult to install and line up. There is some flexibility and give in the film and it took me about 1 hr to get it good enough for me, with all that time, I managed to introduce some lint under the film. The longer the adhesive is exposed to the air, the higher likelihood for contamination. I would only recommend the BodyGuardz product for advanced users.
Pricing varies quite a bit between these products, the Invisible Shield is the most expensive, but they offer a lifetime warranty which offsets the cost of the shield, it gets cheaper than the rest after a few skin swaps. The best value will have to be with the Best Skins Ever since you only pay for what you need. You donít need to buy that extra, backup skin unless you want to.
I would like to add that the urethane film on the iPhone case does make it a little more grippy, for those of you that worry about the iPhone slipping out of your hands. It does change the matte look to a glossy look though, which looks better in my opinion. I actually like the protection of these films so much, my next laptop is going to have it.
Best Value: Best Skins Ever Best Screen Clarity: iQase FiLM Best Protection: BodyGuardz Best Warranty: Invisible Shield
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To really protect your iPhone, you need some type of carrying case. Again, you have many choices, slip cases, holsters, flip cases, all with and without a belt clip. For me, a belt clip is an absolute requirement since I donít always have pockets to put my iPhone in. We havenít reviewed all the cases, but we chose cases that we felt would add a certain degree of uniqueness and practicality to the iPhone.
This company was started by the founders of Timbuk2, the San Francisco based messenger bag company. Their initial product line consisted of equipment for amateur pilots. When I first inquired about their products, their CEO, Rob Honeycutt emailed me immediately and we had a nice discussion about the design and manufacturing principles behind their products. This is a company that makes products that they would use themselves, not products that they think will fit a market segment.
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We are looking at their Daytripper iPhone case today. Even though they are a small private company, they have a great selection of case colors and configurations.
On initial glance, this case looks very simple, that is a good thing. Along the sides are elastic straps that try to keep your iPhone snug. I did find that the iPhone would slip out of the case, gradually, under gravity. So if I was wearing the iPhone case while pulling high-g turns in an airplane or my car, the iPhone might slip out. The outside of the case is a very nice canvas material, the inside synthetic suede. I would have preferred a microfiber based lining since that would be able to clean your screen as you but the iPhone in and out. The belt clip is robust and ratchets, allowing you to turn the iPhone sideways if you like.
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This case really has been custom designed for the iPhone so the fit is perfect, it isnít a universal case that will work with your Blackjack, Q, or Dash. One criticism is that the base isnít perforated so the sound is a little muffled, but you can still hear the iPhone ringing. Having fewer fabric seams, I think, adds to the reliability of the case. One key feature is that central opening at the bottom that allows you to push the iPhone out to answer the phone, and you can attach the sync cable through this opening.
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The button on the front of the case isnít paired with a snap, it is simply the Zuluworks logo as seen above. I am split on whether or not a snap would be useful. It would add some security, but would make it more difficult to take out. The only downside to the case, is that it looks almost too casual, and may not fit too well with a business suit, the same way a leather case would. They thought of that one too, and the DayTripper is available in a black leather versoin. That said, the best thing about this case will probably be the exclusivity of it, every spoiled kid on your block probably wonít have this. It will be like the original bike messengers in San Francisco with the first Timbuk2 bags.
You heard a little bit about this company earlier. Well they also make a full selection of cases; today we try out two of their more basic models, the SWiFT and SiDE.
Construction of the cases is top rate. The seams are even and they are custom designed for the iPhone.
The slip case has nice leather wrapped belt clip, unfortunately it doesnít rotate. The sides are a thick canvas material that wonít stretch over time. Again, the iPhone does slip out when inverted with the SWiFT case, so no crazy high-g maneuvers either. In comparison with the Zuluworks, the fit is a little looser, and there is no opening at the bottom to push the iPhone out, you need to grab the sides of it. For the money though, you do get a genuine leather case. I am not a big fan of the bold text logo on the front of the case, but thatís just me, thatís why I didnít ask to review the iPhone belt buckle case. I would have preferred an embossed logo.
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This side carry case is a bit more traditional. The clasp is a nice magnetic closure system and the same leather lined belt clip is used. In comparing the vertical vs horizontal cases, it comes down to personal preference, the horizontal case is a little more secure, but the vertical case allows for more rapid retrieval of the iPhone. This horizontal case does have cutouts to help you get the iPhone out of the case.
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The leather on both of these cases is very high quality, there will be no mistaking it for leatherette. They have applied a nice padding beneath the surface and the insides are lined with real suede. Again, my perfect case would use either chamois or microfiber lining so the case and screen can be cleaned everytime you put it into the case.
Just kidding, we couldnít get a review sample from them. The most expensive LV case checks in at a cool $1120, but that gets you alligator leather, for the basic LV logo case, it is only $225. That is actually a good price since the LV case for the ďbudgetĒ iPod nano is about the same price. If you want one, they are only available at the Manhattan store right now.
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iPhone Cases Summary
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My daily carry? Zuluworks since I donít need to wear a business suit to work.
In this small round up, we tried to find products that you really canít just stumble along at the Apple store. These are products for users who like to do just that little bit of research to get the best product for their needs. These are products for people who benchmark their computers to make sure that everything is working as it should, who keep track of their gas mileage, who spend hours debating what the best motor oil is on BobIsTheOilGuy (www.bobistheoilguy.com) forums. In short, we tried to match your passion for gadgets with manufacturers who share that same passion.
Zuluworks and iQase arenít big corporations, theyíre part of the entrepreneurs of America, trying to compete with the establishment from their small offices. These are the people really capturing the spirit of the garage startups. So if you donít want to have the same case as the kid across from you on the MUNI, take a look at these.
Even though the iPhone is tough, I still think that if you can avoid just one scratch on your $600 iPhone, it will be worth it. I think the urethane based protection will provide similar protection as the silicon cases, while not hiding the excellent industrial design of Appleís Jonathan Ive (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Jonathan_Ive). These protective films come highly recommended.
Hopefully in the near future, there will be improvements in the optical clarity and reduced orange peel with next generation materials, the iNViNCiBLE iPhone iS COMiNGÖ