This buying guide provides general considerations for purchasing a cellphone case, and device cases in general. For purposes of this guide, we’ll be using the Apple iPhone 11 Pro Max and the Google Pixel 6a as examples. You can apply the principles in this document to just about any purchase.
General Feature Guide to Case Selection
These are the general features one will consider when searching for the best phone case. Phone cases offer a big advantage in that a person can make a phone purchase independent of appearance. The appearance of the phone can be determined later for a relatively low cost. This allows manufacturers and consumers to focus less on the color of the phone by knowing that cases will provide a broad range of color choices later.
- ALIGNMENT — Most quality cases will have perfect alignment. Openings for speakers, microphones, and charging will be aligned as expected.
- BATTERY — Some cases have an included battery that provides extra power during the day for longer phone use. This can be desirable for smaller phones that typically have less battery capacity. For older phones with worn out batteries, a case with an internal battery can help provide extra power.
- BUTTONS — Some cases are too stiff or too soft and this can make the buttons difficult to operate. A new design technique is to have some material cut away from the button area of the case. This makes the material over the buttons more malleable. Another design option is to have separate moving pieces of plastic that press against the phone buttons. The most important thing to consider is whether or not the buttons are easy to press.
- BRAND — Some case brands have an established company behind them. Others are cheaply manufactured in a single batch production run. If you’re looking for a quality product that you might buy again in the future for your next phone, from a company that will provide ongoing customer service, then choose a more reputable and well-established brand.
- CLIP — Some cases have special clip-on capabilities or the ability to work with a holster.
- COLOR — Black is a common phone color, and cases are commonly available in black. Some premium phone models are available in a selection of colors. Cases also come in a variety of available colors. A clear case is an option if you like the color and style of your phone. Some clear cases are made of poor quality plastic and have unfinished sharp edges. You may instead want a case that matches your phone color. Some cases are relatively inexpensive so having several colors or fun case designs would be an option.
- COST — Inexpensive functional cases are available for about $5 to $10. Cases with high quality materials or ruggedized construction may cost $30 to $50 or more. Given that a case is a long-term use product, the cost may be less of a deciding factor.
- DURABILITY — Some cases may wear out over time and need to be replaced. This is usually an issue with cases that have soft materials. Hard cases may last longer.
- ECO — There are a variety of eco-friendly options for phone cases. Some cases are made from recyclable materials, and perhaps recycled materials including ocean plastics. Others are made from entirely plant-based materials like wood or composites. Some manufactures promise to plant a tree for every case sold, or make a carbon offset investment for each case sold. Most products with an eco-friendly emphasis will be in minimally processed biodegradable packaging. So, no plastics or shiny cardboard with chemical inks and dyes. Some manufacturers have mostly products made of plastic, but offer a single eco-friendly product either. Other manufacturers are eco-friendly and climate friendly throughout their entire product line, and with their company operations.
- EDGES — Whether squared off or rounded, it’s good to have smooth well machined edges on the phone case.
- FIT — The ideal fit for a case would be snug but not so tight that removal is difficult. Some rubbery covers are a little too loose.
- MATERIAL — The material of a case will impact the appearance and surface texture of your phone. Carbon fiber, plastic, silicon, wood, or composites all have a different look and feel.
- PACKAGING — Most phone cases come in non-destructive packaging. This is important and allows a person to return a case “like new and in its original packaging” for a full refund. When product packaging is designed to be damaged when opened, it makes returns more difficult. A re-stocking fee may be assessed. Generally, less confident manufacturers and vendors will sell products in triple-sealed difficult to open packaging to discourage returns.
- PROTECTION — Ruggedized cases offer the greatest protection. They are usually thick and chunky in their design to accommodate the impact resisting layers of material.
- RATINGS — The online ratings and reviews for a case can provide some insight into the features and possible drawbacks of a case. Durability and reliability issues may be mentioned in the reviews. Ultimately, you may want to try a few cases on your own to come to your own conclusion about what works best for you.
- SIZE — Some cases are very slim to add very little weight or size to the phone. Usually slim phone cases offer less protection from impacts. The company Mous is well known for making very rugged cases that are light and slim.
- STAND — Some cases include a kickstand that can be helpful when taking selfie photos or making videos. It serves the same stability function as a tripod.
- STIFF — Some phone cases have a very stiff material. Others have a softer feel.
- SURFACE GRIP — Phone cases are available in a wide variety of surface textures. Some are very grippy. Some are very smooth. A smooth phone case allows easy removal and storage in a tight pants pocket. A grippy phone case makes one hand operation easier. A rubbery case can be easy to grip but difficult to get in and out of the pocket.
- VARIETY — It’s important to recognize that new phones, really old phones, and phones with a smaller user community, will have a smaller variety of phone cases available. An iPhone that is a year old and hugely popular with millions of users will be a popular device with case manufacturers. There’s a market for selling the case. Remember that Apple still sells their older models at lower prices, so those older models may be in use by many people.
- WALLET — For people who want a minimalist experience, it’s possible to get a phone case that can also serve as a wallet. These cases have enough storage area to accommodate an ID and credit card.
iPhone 11 Pro Max Case Samples
Here’s a short list of top rated phones that fit the iPhone 11 Pro Max. General highlights for each case are provided.
- Apple Silicon Case, $40 [View] — The key benefit of the Apple Silicon case is that it allows for optimal single hand operation because the grippy nature of the case permits more secure holding of the phone. These cases come in a variety of colors. Other brands of silicon cases do not have the same secure grip that the Apple cases have. The button operations for the Apple case are medium stiffness. Some alternative brands of cases have more difficult button pushing and others have easier button pushing. Apple is in the middle. The design of the Apple cases leaves the bottom of the phone screen open and accessible for the swipe up gesture. By comparison, some larger ruggedized cases with a high ridge around the display may make it difficult to accomplish some gestures that require sliding a finger onto the screen or pushing icons to the next screen.
- Cheap Silicon Case, $10 [View] — There are many cheap silicon cases available for most phone models. These cheaper cases generally have a smooth comfortable silky feel. They are available in many colors. Sometimes these cheaper cases are only available until sold out since there might not be an established company offering them. The example linked here is for a specific case brand and model from the longer list. [View Example – View Full List]
- Incipio Organicore, ($6 to $40) [View] — The Incipio Organicore phone case is an example of an Eco Friendly case. The marketing materials state, “Made from plants, 100% compostable.” Cases that are compostable are intended to reduce landfill waste. The sale price of the phone is $5.59 rather than $39.99 suggests the phone may have previously had an inflated price. Consumers concerned about the environment are willing to pay a higher price for products. Manufactures will sometimes emphasize sustainability features to get a higher selling price. So, the retail price of a product doesn’t always reflect the quality of the product. The Organicore case has a smooth silicon feel that is cool and almost clay-like. The appearance looks somewhat distressed and artisanal. It has the Organicore name pressed into the back of the case, unobtrusively in the lower right corner. The inside of the case does not have any felt. It’s a slightly less finished surface of the same material. Some information is imprinted inside the case, including, “From corn to case to earth.” the Incipio Organicore packaging is a single brown open package able to hang on a display hook with no plastic and minimal waste. The button pushing functions are more difficult because of the stiff case material. Other case manufacturers have small cutouts to weaken the structural area around the push button areas and make the button pushing easier.
- LifeProof Wake Series, ($15) [View] — The LifeProof Wake Series is an example of an Eco Friendly case. The marketing materials state, “Sustainably Made: over 85% ocean-based content and recyclable packaging.” The case has a good look and feel. It’s a stiff material, which makes the button operation a bit stiff. Because it feels like hard plastic, it does not prop up easily against something on a smooth surface like rubbery silicon cases.
- Torras Shockproof Case, ($27) [View] — This case has the silky smooth feel of silicon, but it is plastic. In the green color, it has orange accent buttons for power and volume controls. The button function is very easy to use. The back is a smoked translucent plastic. The smooth surface is not very grippy at all, but feels nice to hold. The marketing materials describe the case as “Military Grade Drop Protection” which is further described in these words: “360 Degree Military Drop Protection. Upgraded X-SHOCK with enhanced inbuilt surrounded Shock-Airbags make your iPhone no fear of any drop. 0 Damage. 0 Repair Cost.” The seemingly exaggerated overly-hyped statements may be a turnoff to some potential buyers. The Climate Friendly pledge statement indicates that a single case reduces carbon emissions by 3500g, which is presumably achieved through a carbon offset. The Amazon product description states there is a 180 day warranty, as well as lifetime service and free replacement. It’s not clear what these service guarantees provide. Torras does have a company page on Amazon, which suggests some longevity. [View]
- Woodcessories Bio Case, ($25) [View] — This case has a very good look and feel. The button action is easy, due to structural retainer cutouts in the button area. This is a case that satisfies those wanting an eco-friendly choice. As a company, Woodcessories has an appealing overall approach to sustainability. [View Website] In addition to making phone cases and other products out of plant derived materials, they plant a tree for every case sold. They recycle their old cases and give a 30% discount on replacement purchases for customers who use the recycling program. The team of employees each provide talent and experience to improve the products and process. [View] The Amazon company page provides a look at their range of products. [View] When first used, the texture of the case is smooth, sort of like dry wood. It is a flexible material, but has a slight stiffness for stability and durability. Inside is a felt-like liner to protect the phone back. The packaging is a mix of minimally processed brown paper and box, with a more commercial retail box for hanging in stores. By comparison, the Incipio Organicore packaging is a single brown open package able to hang on a display hook with no plastic and minimal waste.
iPhone 11 Pro Max Case Selection
From the above list of cases, I ended up choosing the Woodcessories Bio Case. The easy button operation is a priority for me since I’m on the phone for work all day, and frequently need to take screenshots which requires pressing the power and volume up buttons simultaneously.
I wanted an eco-friendly product, and I like supporting a company that is advancing sustainability efforts. I previously had been using an Apple silicon case, so I immediately noticed the lack of rubbery grip. It took me a few days to re-learn how to use the phone without the grippy nature of the phone. I wasn’t able to find an eco-friendly case with rubbery feel. The plant-based products I tried have a smooth surface. So, I plan to adapt my usage as needed. In the winter, with gloves, the lack of grippy surface will be more noticeable. I may want to get gloves with grippy nibs to compensate.
Pixel 6a Phone Case Samples
The Google Pixel 6a smartphone presents some challenges when trying to find a good case. The phone is very new. It’s unlikely to be as popular as the iPhone or Samsung phones. As of the summer of 2022, the few case designs available for the Pixel 6a may be sold out. Here’s a list of what’s currently available and worth considering.
- Case Mate Clear, ($25) [View] — This is a clear case being sold by Google for the Pixel 6a, which suggests they believe the fit and design are good. Shorter after purchase for review, these became out of stock. It’s listed here as a good example of a clear case. The clear design is likely to be in high demand for the Pixel phones since they feature a unique color design that is visible through a clear case.
- Google Pixel 6a Case, ($29) [View] — The Google branded Pixel 6a case is available in black and also a seafoam color to match the “sorta seafoam” phone. It is translucent and thus subtly reveals the two-tone phone color. The flashlight illuminates the case which looks cool when the phone is sitting flat on a surface in a dark room. The design is slim and light weight which does not make the phone feel bulky. The case material has a medium grippy texture, so the phone can be propped up against something and stay in position even on a smooth surface.
- UAG Scout Series, ($20) [View] — This is a nice ruggedized case. It offers good protection for the phone without compromising functionality. The button functions work well due to strain relief cutouts. It has a grippy texture without being rubbery. The squared-off chunky design may make it easier for some people to handle. The all-black design changes the look of the Pixel phone, regardless of what color scheme the phone has.
Because the Pixel 6a is fairly new and not as common as an iPhone or Samsung phone, the available case selection is limited. There did not seem to be any eco-friendly cases available yet.
Pixel 6a Case Selection
I decided on the Google branded Pixel 6a case in seafoam color for the look and feel of the design. Below is a photo from the Google Store product page. [View]