Upgrade Your Life: Torture test for gadget cases

Ben Patterson
Technology News Blog

What is it about $400 smartphones and digital cameras that make them so eager to jump out of our hands and tumble onto the sidewalk — or worse, into a puddle? Good question.

As anyone who's ever soaked a point-and-shoot or cracked an iPhone screen knows, our precious but delicate gadgets are all too vulnerable to drops onto hard surfaces, dunks in the water, and scratches from the keys in your pocket — and that makes a protective case for your pricey smartphone or camera a wise investment.

In this week's episode of Upgrade Your Life, Yahoo! News' Becky Worley puts some of the most popular gadget cases and peripherals to the test — the torture test, that is.

1. Silicone phone case
Available for as little as $30, one-piece silicone cases make for an affordable, easy way to protect your portable gear.
Test subject: iSkin Solo ($30 to $35)
Result: The iSkin-protected iPhone survived drops of up to 6 feet onto a hardwood floor, even when Becky released the handset with its glass display face-down. Not bad. Becky notes, however, that this particular case had a solid internal structure, with extra-round corners for a better cushion against hard knocks. These cases seem much more substantial than the flimsy silicone "covers" that flop around in your hand and don't provide much protection.

2. Ruggedized phone case
Next up: A tougher, polycarbonate case with silicone padding, designed to protect phones from longer drops and more drastic shocks.
Test subject: The Defender series ($15 to $90) from Otter Box.
Result: The screen on Becky's Defender-encased iPhone survived a 7-foot drop onto her kitchen floor, but the "home" key got jammed, pretty much rendering her iPhone useless.

3. Heavy-duty case
There's protection, and then there's extreme protection — perfect for hard-hat areas and treks in the jungle, so long as you're prepared to deal with lots of bulky plastic.
Test subject: The Eco Extreme, an "all-terrain" gadget case that boasts hinges, a built-in speaker and a rubber seal to keep moisture at bay. Nice, but a bit pricey at $50 — and good luck surfing the Web or checking your e-mail while your handset is encased in this thing.
Result: Becky dropped the bulky, 2.5-inch case from a ladder, pounded it with a hammer, and drove over it with her minivan, yet the Eco Extreme still kept her Android phone safe and relatively sound — well, a few cracks on the handset's display notwithstanding.

4. Transparent screen protector
While heavy-duty shields like the Eco Extreme are the Hummers of gadget cases, adhesive-based screen protectors — like those from Invisible Shield — take the minimalist approach. Just apply them to your display to keep your phone's screen safe from keys, coins, and anything else that may leave a scratch. Or so the theory goes.
Test subject: Invisible Shield ($25 for "full-body" protection, or $15 for just the screen)
Result: The adhesive Invisible Shield managed to ward off scratches from Becky's keys and even her nail file, no sweat.

5. Waterproof case
It's no secret that gadgets and water don't mix. But if you're really determined to get wet with your phone or camera in tow, there are plenty of waterproof cases available that claim they'll keep your gear high and dry, if you're so inclined.
Test subject: Dry Case ($40 for a smartphone/camera case, or $60 for a tablet, complete with a built-in pump to vacuum-seal your electronics)
Result: Becky sprayed her Dry Case-protected phone with a garden hose, then dropped her iPad into the pool — and yes, they both still worked.

— Ben Patterson is a technology writer for Yahoo! News.

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