My search for the perfect iPhone case has become somewhat of a Star Trek: The Next Generation affair; it is a continuing mission. The problem remains balancing protection and usability. Bigger cases guard against bigger bumps, but they also have a way of mucking up the sleek design that countless Apple engineers toiled over to make the iPhone 4S the sexy little device that it is. Recently, however, I tried out a pair of interesting new candidates.
The Scosche Railkase is one of the best looking phone cases I’ve encountered. Moreover, its multi-layer design offers ample protection from scratch and drop damage. Each Railkase includes two soft and pliable silicone skins – in black and white to accommodate both iPhone colors – that are formfitting and include all the relevant cut-outs. This squishy inside is then covered by an aluminum bumper, a hinged, colored outer case that easily clips around the outside edge of your phone to add an additional dimension of formidable protection.
Though this metal “rail” noticeably increases the iPhone’s overall weight and adds considerable width at either end, its slight hourglass shape is nicely ergonomic. After the initial shock, found the Railkase to feel quite nice in-hand, and the slight taper really strengthened the visual aesthetic of this handsome case.
Sadly this stylish protection seemed to come at a price. Though a polycarbonate panel has been integrated to prevent the Railkase’s thick metal shell from causing signal loss, I did notice a marked increase in dropped calls during my review period. While I can’t necessarily equate correlation with causation, I would caution would-be adopters regarding this potential issue.
Cellpig’s Kickstarter-funded Cellhelmet approaches the same principle of robust iPhone protection in a totally different manner. It’s not as bulky or as immediately eye-catching as the Railkase, as this case trades flash for functionality. The Cellhelmet is a simple single-piece TPU slip-on that nicely covers the iPhone without overdoing it.
Its cutouts are properly sized (though third-party charging cables may fit a big snug), and its sloped, extended edges provide nice supplementary bump protection with the added bonus of altering the footprint just enough to confuse the hell out of your Android-loving friends. A front bevel also protects the screen, and it extends farther across the bottom of the device to actual cover the area immediately around the home button.
While I actually prefer that style of design in my iPhone cases, I did notice that both the Cellhelmet and the Railkase’s silicon inner sleeve allow debris buildup inside this enclosed bottom area. This can (and in my case did) lead to some damage to my screen cover, but, as both these products are sized out to actually accommodate screen covers, that isn’t really much of a knock against either.
The biggest difference between Cellpig’s offering and, well, pretty much all the competition is the Cellhelmet warranty. Each of these covers comes bundled with a registration code which, once activated via the product site, protects your phone in case of accidental damage. Should your iPhone get dropped, dinged or crunched while in the Cellhelmet, Cellpig will repair or replace your device. You’ll have to cover the $50 handling fee and water damage specifically isn’t covered, but considering that the warranty extends to used and jailbroken devices as well as new iPhones this seems like a minor concession. It’s a novel solution that seems to be paying off for Cellpig, as they recently unveiled a companion line of their own screen covers that are themselves insured against scratch damage.
With a minimalist design that limits itself to either clear or smoky plastic, Cellpig’s case is an understated option that forgoes bulk in favor of the product warranty itself. Each Cellhelment also ships with a pair of colored inserts to beef up the style factor, and there’s nothing stopping artistically-inclined buyers from cutting their own from these templates or customizing the stock options to their liking.
Retailing for about the same price – though it lists significantly higher, the Railkase can be found for around $40 on Amazon – both these cases seem fairly priced for the protection they afford. But given my unfortunate drop in call stability and Cellpig’s warranty option, I give the nod to the Cellhelmet. It’s a simple, functional case that does exactly what it should. The Railkase definitely looks cooler and it’s metal bumper gives it an edge (no pun intended), but the Cellhelmet has become, at least for the moment, my go-to iPhone case.