The Best iPhone SE, 5S and 5 Cases: Minimal, Waterproof, Wallet and Battery

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Updated 151112: Still loving our iPhone 5’s and our cases. Updated the screen protector recommendation to this tempered glass screen protector over the below film: better clarity, doesn’t yellow and easier install.

Updated 140312: Over a year of use and Quin still loves her every-day-carry iPhone wallet case .

Update 140112: One of our Lenmar battery cases stopped charging properly with an iPhone inserted. Lenmar customer support was wonderful: simply filled out an online form and sent the defective unit back and they mailed us a new one.

Update: Updated the battery case section with great advice from a seasoned battery-case user on how not to ruin your iPhone’s built-in battery.


It’s official: I can’t remember a time before being permanently attached to my iPhone.

From the humble 3G to my current iPhone 5 (and now the shiny new 5S), it’s become an indispensable part of my personal and business life.

With it has come and gone many many many iPhone cases. From carrying the iPhone nekked to waterproof cases, here are a few of the best iPhone 5 cases that have proven useful enough to find a place in my pocket and become worthy of recommendation.

But first, let’s talk about the naked iPhone.

1. The Naked iPhone 5

I get it – t’s a beautiful phone all on its own. Why would you want to hide it behind an ugly case? It’s kinda like wearing your best suit then wrapping yourself up in a snuggy.

I’ll admit, I used to be too careful with my iPhone – always making sure it lived inside its case and never-ever taking it out. I’ve had a shift in thinking about cases – sure, I want to keep the resale value of my phone. But I also want to use the best case for the task at hand.

Sometimes, that’s no case at all.

I like to take it out of its case every so often and enjoy the slim profile and great design – skinny-jean days included. But even outside of a case, I always have a Case Friendly Screen Protector. This one is cut ever so slightly narrower than the screen so it fits most cases without lifting the edges.

2. Waterproof(ish) Tough iPhone 5 Case

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On the opposite side of the spectrum, there’s waterproof cases like the Lifeproof iPhone 5 Case. The Lifeproof is pool-side friendly and tough enough to take some abuse. It adds a little bulk on all sides, but is very light and pretty much the most minimal waterproof-rated case out there.  This case also smartly incorporates a lanyard attachment point which is great when useful my iPhone as my primary camera, or when I want to tether my phone to prevent loss and theft. This added security is a nice touch for the drop-paranoid traveller like me.

More annoying is the fact it recommends the removal of my beloved screen protector.  It makes sense: I’m sure there are tight tolerances to make the case minimal yet waterproof. But the Lifeproof’s thick plastic front face still frustratingly degrades touch response. Between you and me, I always leave my screen protector on and the touch doesn’t seem any worse for wear. With an extra screen protector on, however, I would never swim with it –  it’s protected enough for taking snaps around the pool and for the odd dunk.  But call me crazy – I’m reluctant to trust my iPhone to any case for full immersion.

Another annoyance with the Lifeproof is compromised sound quality – there’s definitely a degradation of fidelity and increased distortion. The case’s back panel vibrates with low frequencies and Lifeproof tries to spin this as an acoustic advantage. In the real world – notsomuch.

The headphone port is also inconveniently covered by a screw-on adapter which can be easily lost. Good thing they include two.

So why bother putting up with this case at all?

It’s definitely not my first choice for every-day-carry.  But when traveling to sandy beaches, playing around water/snow, or just out and about and not wanting to worry about my iPhone, the Lifeproof encased iPhone gives great peace of mind. For extreme (and paranoid) environments the Lifeproof iPhone 5 Case is my go-to companion.

3. the Best (and Cheap!) iPhone 5 Minimalist Protective Case

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For the iPhone 5, theWirecutter.com has a thorough write-up recommending the SwitchEasy Tone Case. After purchasing it and this ultra-cheap monoprice $2.50 case, I prefer the monoprice.

Strange but true.

At a fraction of the price, the monoprice’s one-piece body is made of a more flexible rubber and lacks the slippery plastic mid-section of the Speakeasy which I don’t particularly care for. For the price, I picked up several, but my first one is still going strong after months of use.  The only thing I don’t really like is the prominent monoprice logo on the side. Easy fix: I covered it with black Gaffers Tape 🙂

There are really too many cases available to try them all, but for $2.50 it’s a bargain to test and adds minimal bulk to your iPhone.


Now onto my most used multi-tasking cases: the Speck SmartFlex Card Case and Lenmar Meridian iPhone 5 Rechargeable Battery Case. Below is a quick video comparing their size and weight.

[shirt: courtesy my son – given on Father’s day :)]

4. the Best iPhone 5 Wallet Case

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Two things I always take with me when leaving the house are my phone and my wallet. A great, minimal wallet case versatile enough to take along to a set of hill sprints or a night out on the town wasn’t easy to find. Amongst the many I fondled in stores and ordered to test, the Speck SmartFlex Card Case came out on top. It’s a great case that balances protection and a minimalist wallet in one.

The casing is made of similar material to the monoprice recommended above. It’s got a nice grippy feel to it that provides confident handling and flexes enough to protect while making the insertion and removal of your iPhone a breeze.  The Speck securely fits up to 3 credit cards/ID’s while protecting your iPhone and allowing you to leave your other wallet at home.

I was initially concerned about losing my ID and credit cards in what looks like a fully open side slot. In use it’s proven to be a non-issue – Speck smartly designed an integrated rubber “spring” which secures 1-3 cards even when dropped from a modest height (oops). When using my iPhone, I’ve also found my hand naturally wraps around the open side, securing the cards in the case so they can’t fall out.

The Speck SmartFlex Card Case is a great balance of lightweight protection and convenience, making it one of my most-used cases.

5. the Best iPhone 5 Battery Case

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Anyone who owns an iPhone knows (a) you love to use it and (b) the battery life sucks and (c) it’s likely to die just when you really need to make that next picture/text/call/turn.

I’ve relied on external batteries for a long time and have both a ZAGG Sparq and a cheaper Monoprice USB battery. The Monoprice battery is encased in cheap plastic, making it really lightweight and slim – great for throwing in your bag and going around town. But for longer trips and international travel I prefer the ZAGG Sparq. The built-in fold-up prongs makes it super-convenient to charge both our iPhones at once, leaving precious outlets for our laptops and other gadgets.

Both of these external battery sources, however, have been more recently replaced by a couple of Lenmar Meridian iPhone 5 Rechargeable Battery Cases.

theWirecutter has an great write-up on this case and how it stacks up to the competition. Dollar for dollar it’s hard to beat and after real around-the-world testing, it’s become one of our favourites.

the Cons? The added bulk makes it quite a bit heavier than even my fully-loaded Speck wallet case. This added weight tips it over the edge of comfort, making one-handed reading a bit of a sore-chore and saggy-pant pockets a potential problem.

The added length at the bottom also makes typing in portrait mode more painful, while also making it awkwardly long and heavy in many iPhone stands. This bottom-bulkiness also makes the headphone port inaccessible for all but the slimmest of headphone jacks. To Lenmar’s credit, they included a headphone adapter with the case, but that’s another thingy to remember to pack and lose.

So why use it at all? I’m actually quite surprised at how liberating it’s been to be able to actually use my iPhone without worrying about its battery. From listening to music to writing this very blog post on a plane, I more freely use my iPhone knowing I’ll still haver power when I land and need to use my iPhone’s GPS.

Although the added length at the bottom adds bulk and size, Lenmar did us a solid and vented the speaker port to the front,  creating notably better audio for facetiming and video watching.

Traveling the World with your iPhone 5

After packing the ZAGG, Monoprice and Lenmar cases with us all over Spain, Amsterdam, Greece and North America, the Lenmar case ended up to be the only one we actually used. Doubling the usable iPhone time, it can keep our iPhones topped up to 100% until the Lenmar battery runs dry*. This is great since I can have a fully charged iPhone ready to switch into my Speck Wallet Case for a night out or the Lifeproof Case when heading to the pool. It’s really quite freeing to to get rid of the other external batteries, their associated cables, and mental energy needed to manage their charge cycles*.

*Update: I received this great advice on Facebook from photographer Mark Janzen on how not to ruin your iPhone’s built-in battery:

Just a word of warning from a long time battery case user – if you leave the case switched “on” you will ruin the battery in your phone, and if the case won’t provide a full charge, you will ruin the battery in your phone. I’ve ditched the Mophie battery cases entirely at this point as I’ve lost 2 iPhones to bad batteries.

Basically, if you don’t follow the “let it completely/nearly die before activating the charge” rule, it lays waste to your “native” battery life. Same goes for a case that doesn’t charge the phone fully after it runs low (i.e. Mophie Helium on an iPhone 5).

Bonus: the Best iPhone 5 Lightning Charging Cable for Traveling

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The astute observer might have noticed the Lenmar Meridian iPhone 5 Battery Case requires a micro USB charging cable; not a standard Apple Lightning cable.

Boo!

Not to worry: buy this 6 Foot right-angle Micro USB Charging Cable. It’s longer than the included cable, allowing you to use it while charging, and the right-angle end is nice when tummy-reading in bed (don’t judge).

But what about charging your iPhone 5 nekked when not using the Lenmar? Pick up a Apple Micro USB to Lightning Adapter. This tiny adapter mates with the cable above and allows you to charge your iPhone 5 sans Lenmar case. It’s also great as a last-ditch backup if your cable or Lenmar case tanks – it’s much easier (and cheaper) to find a micro-USB charging cable for purchase at airports/electronics stores than an Apple lightning cable.

It’s worth noting a combo of dead iPhone 5 in dead Lenmar battery case takes a loooong time to charge. With iPhone inserted, the Lenmar seems to charge its own battery only after the iPhone 5 is fully charged. When you’re in a rush to charge both your iPhone and Lenmar (example: on a super-short layover), it’s a good idea to get a couple of extra Micro USB Charging Cables and charge both independently.

Wrapping up

With the hundreds of iPhone cases available, there’s surely other great models I’ve missed out on.  Have a favourite I’ve missed? Would love for you to share it with me in the comments.

Thanks for reading and if you’re planning to make a purchase, would love your support by using the links below.

Happy shopping everyone!

5 Comments

  • Tony Napolitano May 10, 2014 - 2:04 pm

    For me, the best iPhone 5s case I have owned is the Spigen Neo Hybrid. Slim enough to be unobtrusive and not add significant bulk. Great protection and it love that each button has a very tactile feel. I don’t have to push hard on either my volume or power buttons. A simple touch is all it needs.

  • Susan October 2, 2014 - 4:56 pm

    When will someone get smart and make a charging wallet case???

    • Dave October 2, 2014 - 10:16 pm

      So true Susan!

  • Sky November 23, 2014 - 12:06 pm

    Susan and Dave, Navor makes a wallet/charging case: Navor 2 in 1 iPhone 5 5S Folio Leather Wallet Case Extended Rechargeable Battery Juice Case 2200mAh (iPhone 5, Black)

  • […] first mentioned this right-angled 6-ft cable in this iPhone Case article, and use it daily to charge my phone bedside. […]