Whether you're working at a construction site or in an office, or if you only use your iPad, Kindle Fire, laptop, smartphone, or other gadget at home, there are all kinds of protective covers available to keep your electronics safe. From the most protection to the least, here's a guide to the best materials used in electronics cases. And if you need some further direction, we've even got a few best bets for each category.
Gazelle. Polycarbonate cases are often a bit bulky and not chic, but they do the job of protecting your prized electronics, Scarsella says.
Scarsella recommends the polycarbonate Otterbox Defender series and Otterbox Commuter series; we've seen the Defender for iPhone 4 for as low as $15 and the Commuter for iPhone 4 for $10. He also praises the Griffin Survivor series — like this Griffin Survivor Case for iPod touch ($21.99 with $5.05 s&h, a low by $1) — and the Incipio Stowaway series seen on the above-pictured Incipio Stowaway Case for iPhone 4 / 4S ($21.95 with free shipping, a low by $1). Otterbox products are also equipped to protect your tablet or notebook in the event of a big drop. Moreover, we frequently see Otterbox wares heavily discounted and featured in special promotions, making their cases deal-friendly options.
If you don't mind your computer case looking like something a superhero would use, G-Form sells sleeves and covers that may appear cartoonish and out of place at work, but can withstand drops of 20 feet, says Josh Smith, editor at GottaBeMobile. G-Form uses composite material and proprietary technology and design that feels like silly putty until it's dropped, when it changes its molecular structure upon impact and locks up into a hardened shell. Though these cases aren't cheap, we found this G-Form Extreme Sleeve for iPad / iPad 2 ($59.95 with free shipping, a low by $10), pictured, should you want to give the heavy-duty covers a try.Case-Mate Barely There Case for iPhone 4 / 4S in Pink ($9.89 with free shipping, a low by $5), pictured, and the Incipio Feather Ultralight Case for iPhone 4 / 4S (from $8.59 with free shipping via Prime, a low by $1).
While carbon fiber is durable, lightweight, and looks good, it is more expensive than plastic. Most carbon fiber cases are protective decals and not actual carbon fiber, so pay close attention to what you're buying, reminds Scarsella. He recommends the pictured Element Carbon Fiber Back Plate for iPhone 4 / 4S ($24.99 with $4.95 s&h, a low by $1; most stores charge about $30).
And to protect your prized Kindle Fire, the HHI Convertible Flip Case for Amazon Kindle Fire in Carbon Black ($8.99 via coupon code "kindlefcarbonflip" with $2.85 s&h, a low by $1) not only offers a carbon fiber exterior, but a lush suede interior that'll keep your tablet safe from dust and foreign particles.
Other skins made from hydrocarbon polymer also serve the function of keeping gadgets safe from bumps and scratches. Hydrocarbon polymer is a form of rubber that provides a good grip and a bit more shock protection and durability compared to silicon. Scarsella recommends thermoplastic polyurethane, or TPU, and cases made by Diztronic because they're more durable, elastic, and stronger than silicon or hydrocarbon cases.
For children with slippery fingers and an iPad to play with, the above-pictured M-Edge SuperShell Case for iPad and the New iPad ($34.99 with shipping; currently on backorder) is a closed-shell foam case that covers both the back and sides of the device. It's similar to a Nerf football (it actually does bounce!) and is designed to absorb shock and most normal drops.
Any $40 case with front and back coverage is great for around the home, and even thin cases are suitable for everyday use, Smith says. They'll help prevent chips and dings, and therefore will help with resale value. The corners of an iPad are key to protect, Smith says, and can be guarded by a Kensington BlackBelt Protection Band for iPad 2 ($12.99 with $4.95 shipping, a low by $4).
Screen ProtectionWhile the magnetic covers that are built for the latest iPads don't offer protection from drops, they do offer screen protection, Smith says. "They do a good job at protecting the screen from scratches and you can fold them up to get a viewing angle."
Some smartphone cases also include transparent screen covers, but most folks with touchscreen phones opt for separate screen protectors because they are designed to be generally less noticeable. While Scarsella notes the screen protectors from ZAGG as a favorite, we frequently see inexpensive no-name options from stores like PC Micro Store, EverydaySource, and more.
Style Without Substance: The Bottom LineYou may be inclined to encase your lovely new electronic device in something stylish like a leather case, but ultimately it probably won't offer the proper protection your electronics deserve. You could spend up to $150 or more on style, but you'll be just as worried about damaging the case as you will the gadget. "They're not really made for protection, they're more of a fashion statement," Scarsella says.
Still, with the plethora of cases out there, you shouldn't need to compromise on style. Just keep in mind that whatever you buy, it represents you and (most importantly) must protect your beloved gadget.
Front page photo credit: Over Hours