There's no denying it: An iPhone is a big expense. Even with a low upfront price under contract, the current models cost many hundreds of dollars to replace. Users naturally want to protect their phones; Apple has found that 78 percent of iPhone owners buy cases. After spending so much on the phone and plan, many consumers don't want to drop another $100 on a case, but the cheapest iPhone cases don't provide sufficient protection. Look to spend between $10 and $20 for a case that will keep an iPhone safe through the daily grind.
Cheap iPhone Cases Buying Guide
The best inexpensive iPhone cases come primarily from third-party mobile accessory makers. Our frontrunners are the New Trent Alixo (starting at $16), a transparent case that shows off the phone underneath, and the Incipio NGP (starting at $9), which comes in a selection of translucent colors. Two other good choices are the Luvvitt Clearview case (starting at $10) and a basic Insignia case from Best Buy (starting at $9) that comes in a variety of colors and designs with slightly different model numbers. These top picks are available in a range of sizes to fit the iPhone 5/5S, 6, and 6 Plus, with the exception of the Insignia case, which comes in versions for the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus.
We also looked at iPhone armbands, a convenient way to keep your phone with you while working out. Our pick for best cheap iPhone armband is the Stalion Sports Armband (starting at $12) for the iPhone 5/5S and 5C. It's water-resistant (i.e., sweat-proof) and includes a pocket for keys or cash.
The Invellop Prime Series Dual Layer Premium Armor Hybrid Bumper Cover Case (starting at $9) and the Incase Snap Case (starting at $10) are some of the cheapest iPhone cases we found, but they get low marks for construction and fit and reportedly fail to protect phones from damage.
Pricier cases include leather and wallet-style designs, with folding closures and pockets, and models with built-in kickstands for watching video. Consumers can also pay more for rugged, military-grade protection and even waterproofing from a brand such as OtterBox or LifeProof. Another popular but costly option is a case with a built-in battery to extend the phone's battery life. Our top picks under $20 are more basic, but they're all you need to protect an iPhone against drops, scratches, and slight spills -- although none promise water resistance. Click on each case at the top of the page for a full review.
Keep an eye out in the coming months for new cases that meet strict design guidelines issued by Apple in late 2014. To meet with the company's approval, a case must safeguard an iPhone dropped on a paved surface from a height of 1 meter, among other requirements. An expert at GottaBeMobile anticipates this will lead to more protective but also more expensive iPhone cases. In the meantime, we used Apple's Case Design Guidelines to help inform our recommendations.
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Features Comparison Buying Guide continues below table
What We Looked For
Durable Construction.Cases made of flimsy plastic can crack or chip easily and don't provide much cushion. Countless cheap iPhone cases fit this profile; the Incase Snap Case is but one example.
The best iPhone cases are constructed with flexible yet sturdy material. One of the most common is thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, a rubbery material with the durability of plastic, so it won't rip or stretch. The Incipio NGP is made with an equivalent polymer material that the company calls Flex2O. A customer review on Amazon describes a pleasant, jelly-like texture that allows for good grip and doesn't show scratches or wear. Reviewers appreciate the extra grip these cases afford. After all, the surest way to avoid damaging a phone in a fall is to avoid dropping it in the first place.
The Luvvitt Clearview case is a hybrid model with a TPU bumper on the sides and a rigid plastic back with a scratch-resistant coating. The SwitchEasy Tones (starting at $13) is another mixed-material case with a hard polycarbonate back plate and TPU to shield the edges. Hybrid cases are celebrated for being simultaneously sturdy and easy to grip. These traits are especially valuable for owners of the iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. The newest phones have slim bodies that reportedly can bend and some reviewers have found them slippery, prompting Business Insider to declare a case a necessity.
A combination of materials doesn't always add up to a good iPhone case. The Invellop case has two layers: a TPU core and a hard outer shell. In reviews, many Amazon customers report that the plastic layer chipped or broke within days. Some assert that this design also doesn't hug the phone tightly enough to make it feel secure.
Full Coverage.Cheap iPhone cases often have cutouts for the phone's buttons (power, volume, etc.) and may not cover the top and bottom edges at all. This provides easy access to ports and buttons but sacrifices protection. We looked for cases that provide the fullest possible coverage around the edges of the phone without inhibiting normal use of the buttons and ports.
In addition to covering the iPhone's back and sides, some cases include a built-in screen protector to prevent the glass surface from cracking. The New Trent Alixo stands out for providing this type of all-around protection. Our other top picks have a lip around the edge that protrudes slightly to prevent the phone's screen from touching a flat surface when it's lying facedown. Under Apple's new guidelines, that raised lip must measure at least 1 millimeter. Most manufacturers don't provide this dimension in the specs, but Luvvitt specifies that the Clearview iPhone 6 case has a 1.2 mm lip. The Wirecutter measured the lip on the Incipio NGP at about 0.6 millimeters. Still, the reviewer says he feels confident laying the phone facedown and declares the NGP the best iPhone 6 case out of nearly 100 the site has tested.
Minimal Bulk.Expensive, ultra-protective iPhone cases tend to be thick and bulky, and consumers often choose cheap iPhone cases because of their slim profiles. The new iPhones are thinner than ever, and many users want a protective case to preserve this quality. Slimmer cases also allow a phone to fit more easily in a pocket or purse. The reviews we read suggest that the most popular cases provide maximum protection with minimum bulk. Review comments describe the girth of the cases we researched in general terms; we also compared the dimensions listed by manufacturers. While an OtterBox case can measure more than an inch thick, our top picks measure no more than half an inch. This is another knock against the Incase Snap Case: With a depth of 0.75 inches, it would more than double the thickness of the iPhone 5S (0.3 inches).
Aesthetic Appeal.Many consumers like transparent cases, such as the New Trent Alixo and Luvvitt Clearview, because they don't distract from the design of the iPhone itself, which now comes in space gray, silver, and gold finishes. Others want to make a statement with the color or design of the case. Our slate of top picks accounts for both tastes.
IPhone Case Reviews
We sought out iPhone cases that have been extensively reviewed online by experts and consumers. Customer feedback on retail sites such as Amazon and Best Buy played a key role in our decision making. Expert sources tend to feature cases well outside our price range of $20 or less. A CNET-curated collection of the best iPhone 6 and 6 Plus cases includes many priced outside our range, although it brought a few contenders to our attention. Professional media outlets provide more roundups like this than full reviews of individual cases. Many also seem to favor form over function or highlight bulky models that appear built for apocalyptic catastrophe. As The Wirecutter argues in its comparison of iPhone 6 cases, most users don't need that level of protection. Overall, consumers want an iPhone case that shields the device from damage without obstructing their use of the phone. Reviewers are also seeking a secure fit.
Protection.The primary concern among reviewers is the level of protection the case provides. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus scored better than the iPhone 5S (and Samsung Galaxy S5) in "breakability" testing by SquareTrade, but the independent warranty provider considers all the models "medium risk."
The best iPhone cases are designed to absorb shock and keep the phone safe from dings, cracks, and scratches. Reviews of our top picks frequently tell stories of averted disaster. On Amazon, a customer reports that an iPhone 6 clad in the Incipio NGP escaped damage when he dropped it while riding a bike. Another reviewer reports that an iPhone 5S in the New Trent Alixo case remained unharmed after falling down hardwood stairs and falling into the hands of a 1-year-old child.
Button, Port, and Sensor Accessibility. A poorly designed case can impede the many buttons and ports around the outside of the iPhone. Likewise, the touchscreen and Touch ID feature (a fingerprint sensor in the home button on newer iPhone models) may not function properly when covered by a screen protector. The best cheap iPhone cases let users operate the phone just as easily with the case on as they can without it.
According to most reports posted online, our picks have very few or no problems with buttons and ports being blocked when the cases are put on correctly. One of the only consistent complaints we found is that the New Trent Alixo case can inhibit the iPhone's Touch ID sensor. Many reviewers report on Amazon that they had to peel the screen-protector membrane off the home button in order to make the feature work. However, the Alixo case gets such high marks for protection and fit that this easy fix isn't a deal breaker, especially given that many users don't employ the Touch ID feature. Quite a few reviewers gripe that the Invellop case makes the buttons on the iPhone 6 difficult to press and the auxiliary input difficult or impossible to access.
Snug Fit.Apple's guidelines for developers include highly detailed dimensional drawings, and we came across few reports of ill-fitting cases. So long as you choose a case that matches the iPhone model you have, you should be fine. One exception is the Invellop Prime Series case. A number of reviews note that the fit is too loose, allowing the phone to pop out relatively easily.
With an iPhone armband, there are additional considerations. Users want the band to fit snugly on their upper arm, allowing them to carry a phone hands-free. You may have to remove the phone from its regular case before placing it into an armband. Many users say the Stalion Sports Armband for the iPhone 5, 5S, and 5C can accommodate slim cases, like the ones we recommend (one review name-drops Luvvitt specifically).