Every smartphone, no matter how rugged, needs a good case to protect it. But what type of case is better? A soft case, a hard case, or one with a combination of hard and soft parts? Do bulky cases really offer better protection, or do they just look stronger?
Read on to find out the differences between hard and soft smartphone cases and what will protect your smartphone best.
Hard phone cases are typically made from ABS/PC plastic, which is a combination of hard plastic and resin. It’s more flexible than regular PC plastic, which is used for making eyeglass lenses and shatterproof windows. Sometimes hard cases feature tempered glass or metal parts, as well.
As for appearance, purely hard cases are often on the slimmer side. Many people like the glossy look a hard case can achieve. It’s also much easier to attach phone accessories such as phone wallets or PopSockets to a smooth, hardback phone.
On the other hand, the smooth surface will show scratches very easily. It also lets your phone slip more easily since it doesn’t get much friction in places like your pocket, the arm of your couch, or other unsteady places where it could fall from. If you go for a hard case, it’s best to get one with a textured backing.
In case of a fall, the hard plastic doesn’t transfer the impact directly to your phone, but it can’t really absorb it well either. Instead, the case is designed to redistribute the impact through the case, sparing your phone from the brunt of the blow. This lessens the severity of the damage, but not as much as if the shock was absorbed before it hit the phone.
When it comes to heat, hard cases are good at protecting your phone against heat and cold that come from outside sources like the weather or your hands, but that insulating property cuts both ways. The heat generated from your phone’s own battery has a hard time escaping.
- Good insulation
- Keeps its shape well
- Slim designs
- Poor shock absorption
- Poor heat conduction
- Poor grip
Soft cases are made out of either TPU (soft plastic), leather, or silicone. For the eco-conscious, TPU plastic and silicone are completely recyclable, and real leather is an incredibly durable material.
Soft cases are usually pretty slim. Leather cases are the thinnest but can be offered as flip cases that fold all the way around the phone, increasing bulk and screen protection. These often come with storage for your credit cards and ID as well.
However, these cases tarnish easily. Silicone cases will pick up dust and other substances and can get stained brown by the dead skin cells and sweat on your hand. They can also become stained by smoke in the air or accumulate small nicks from abrasive surfaces.
Over time, the natural stretching that comes from handling, squeezing, or dropping a silicone case will also cause it to warp and lose its grip. On the other hand, a real leather case will get softer and mold slightly to your hand as you use it, but vegan leather will wear like normal plastic.
A soft case also makes it easier for the case to get friction in a pocket, hand, or unsteady surface. These cases also provide better protection against impact damage even when dropped flat on their backs since the soft material can absorb the shock rather than redirecting it. Just make sure the case protrudes above the screen, or it won’t help when your phone falls face-first.
This flexibility causes a unique problem, though: they sometimes fly away from the phone when dropped. This happens because when it strikes the ground, the case wiggles a little as it absorbs the impact. If that movement is enough to shake the phone loose, the same force will push the phone away. Aim for a soft case that has more density around the corners to prevent this.
- Good shock absorption
- Good grip
- Good heat conduction
- Can get stained from regular use
- Phone can fall out
- Warps over time
Combination cases combine hard plastic on the sides and back with softer materials around the screen and corners. This combination is thought to improve shock absorption where it matters most while maintaining a tough exterior that resists wear. For those who like bulky phones, you might enjoy the extra heft that the additional layer adds.
These cases are usually installed in two parts: the soft interior and the hard case that fits around it. The extra layer makes these cases bulkier and provides an even more insulating layer that protects the phone from exterior heat and cold and prevents battery-generated heat from escaping, which can lead to an overheat.
However, the soft cushion layer helps the hard exterior redistribute force from falls. When a combination case falls on its soft corner, the soft material absorbs the blow without bending the whole case. When it falls on a hard side, the force is redistributed into the soft layer. This strikes a good balance between a fully soft case’s wobbly absorption and the limited redistribution of a hard one.
Combination cases usually expose the soft layer along the case’s sides, as well. This provides grip and shock absorption on the edges but isn’t quite as comfortable or grippy as a pure soft case.
The soft interior also helps seal the phone, increasing its water and dust resistance. If the hard outer case is equipped with rubber gaskets along the seams, this resistance is increased further. Many combination cases take advantage of this strength by providing attached covers for the headphone and charging jacks.
- Optimized shock absorption
- Good grip
- Superior water and dust protection
- Poor heat conduction
A Combination Smartphone Case Is Best
For most phones, combination cases are optimal. They provide the durability of a hard case with the impact protection of a soft one. However, if your phone only needs a basic level of protection, a soft case is a good bet if the bulk and weight bother you. Just be prepared to replace it a little sooner.