- 1 Speck Presidio Grip
- 2 Otterbox Defender
- 3 Spigen Rugged Armor
- 4 Pixel XL Case by Google - Clear
- 5 Ringke Fusion
- 6 Incipio Dual Pro
- 7 Tech 21 Evo Check
- 8 Case By Google - Silicone
- 9 SupCase Unicorn Beetle
- 10 Google Live Maps Case
- 11 Diztronic Pixlee
- 12 Spigen Slim Armor
- 13 Spigen Tough Armor
- 14 Spigen NeoHybrid
- 15 LifeProof FRE
- 16 Toast Wood (Walnut) ‘Case’
- 17 Incipio Octane
Phone protection is something that is either done by habit or is not cared for; I am a person who does the former. On a day to day basis, your phone is subjected to all types of abrasive materials, hard surfaces, accidental spills, random things in your pocket/bag etc. It is for this very reason that I simply must have a case on my device at all times.
Let’s look at phone protection from another perspective: When you purchase a device, it is an important investment. This phone will at some point or another be sold, given to a family member, or no longer used after a period of time. If you’re like me and tend to go through many devices, then you want to keep them as pristine as possible. I generally sell my devices when I’m done using them, otherwise I would accumulate a ton of them and spend more on new ones. Phones that are kept in better condition will always sell for more money, effectively saving you from paying as much for your next device.
If you’ve read any of my many reviews that have been posted over the years on XDA, you certainly know how much I enjoy phone cases. I tend to go through a variety of styles, companies, and protection levels just to find the perfect ones. I work in the energy sector, which is probably the worst field if you want to keep your devices in good condition. I routinely go out to field locations during less than ideal weather, with tons of dirt, chemicals, and other things that could be my phone's worst nightmare. When I’m not out in the field, I don’t want to carry around a gigantic brick of a case. I usually aim to have something a little more practical for the office.
Speck Presidio Grip
Only one company can pack style, protection, and grip into a streamlined case that doesn't make compromises. Speck crafted this handsome case out of their proprietary IMPACTIUMTM and some type of plastic for the rear shell. Verizon and Speck sell the case for $39.99 which is on the higher end for most cases in this category. You may be able to get it cheaper on Amazon, however (5" Pixel version here).
|Design||Excellent protection in a slim package.|
|Grips||Nothing beats the excellent grip, and unique styling it gives to the Presidio.|
|Color||Only one color option for the Pixel XL.|
|Price||Speck is charging a premium for their case.|
Speck is one of the many well-known case manufacturers and tends to be popular. Their cases offer great protection and grip, all inside a smaller profile than something like an Otterbox. I was excited to see Speck give Google’s Pixel/Pixel XL the special treatment by offering up a few varieties of their great cases. Recently, Speck completely redesigned their flagship Candyshell case line, and rebranded it as the Presidio.
The new Presidio line offers all of the same great things you’d expect from the Candyshell with a matte finish, better resistance to scratches, thinner profile, and more cohesive colors. There’s just something about having a matte finish that really looks great. I have a Quite black Pixel XL (I’ll use the word Pixel interchangeably for my Pixel XL) and the black Presidio Grip seamlessly combines to give you a fantastic looking setup.
Each cutout on the case looks precise, isn’t oversized, and really makes you feel like it is a tailored suit for your phone. Accessing Google’s new fingerprint scanner is even easier when using this case because of the seamless bevel around the cutout. The stock USB A-C, and C-C cables fit perfectly, as do all of my aftermarket ones from Tronsmart, Choetech, i-Orange, and other companies. You can press each button and still be greeted by that satisfying tactile ‘click’ that makes you forget the phone is even inside a case.
When it comes to drop protection, Speck historically has fared well and lived up to the 10’ drop test claim on their website. I’ve personally dropped my Nexus 6P using the older Candyshell Grip from close to that height without it hurting my phone whatsoever. The case will show some damage without it translating to your phone. I also use a Candyshell Grip with my work iPhone 6 instead of the provided Otterbox Commuter for personal reasons. Since it is a work phone, I try to keep it in good shape, although it has seen a few falls in the office and out in the field.
Another great mention is the new lifetime warranty that covers workmanship and materials under normal use. Now, I know some people will ask what exactly do the seemingly vague statements cover; I will give you an example of a warranty-covered issue I experienced with my S7 Edge Candyshell Grip. The S7 Edge was already an odd phone due to the dual edge display. This presented problems for case companies because it meant making the edges thinner to accommodate the phone. I had my Speck case crack right under the volume rockers from removing it multiple times. I contacted Speck, sent them a picture, copy of my receipt, and they replaced it without a hassle. I was allowed to keep the old broken one even though I had no use for it.
To date, I have not found a better case for my Google Pixel XL despite a plethora of them being currently available.
(Note: The smaller dedicated cutout that houses the laser, and microphone can accumulate dust. Some people mentioned this causing auto focus issues due to the sensor being covered by dirt/lint/dust. Since the area is harder to clean, you may need to use compressed 'canned air' or remove the phone and wipe off that area periodically).
Otterbox offers a more industrial themed case that combines function, and protection without considering looks. The case usually sells for $59.99 direct from Otterbox's website, or other retailers including Verizon. Amazon does sell the Pixel Defender (5" version here), but you may have a limited choice of colors for the XL.
|Holster||This addition really makes carrying the phone a lot easier on top of adding more protection.|
|Ports||Port covers help add protection to an otherwise ignored area by most companies.|
|Size||Let's be honest with ourselves, the sheer size of the Defender makes it almost unwieldy.|
|Weight||Make no mistake on top of the case being the size of a brick, it also weighs about as much.|
If you ask anyone what they think the best rugged phone case is they will tell you to get a Otterbox, more specifically their Defender. This marks the first time that Otterbox (the company that also owns Lifeproof) has made a case for a Google device. Like Speck, Otterbox is very selective when it comes to the companies they partner with for cases. Otterbox prides themselves on their Defender series, the tests they subject it to, and their unique drop standard. From the consumer perspective, you cannot compare their standard to the relatively loose Mil-STD 810G without conducting it yourself.
When I was active duty in the Marine Corps, most people I knew used an Otterbox. I always asked people why they bothered when it just adds bulk. The response was “it’s better” or “I need a heavy duty case." Both of these ‘requirements’ can be easily met by many other cases on the market. I always used a Speck case, even during my deployment back in 2010-2011; I have never broken a phone’s screen, or a phone while using a case.
There haven’t been a whole lot of changes in their flagship brick case, or their Defender series. The case is still oversized almost to a comedic point, and features one of the most frustrating systems to install on your phone. I was very hesitant when I first saw their Pixel XL cases because I don’t need that much bulk, and what trivial extra protection it might give you.
When you look at their Defender case it’s hard to imagine why they wouldn’t just use a similar methodology to Speck or Tech 21 with a thin, very protective case. I bought this for work, primarily for when I’m out in the field, yet I don't see the point.
Otterbox does have a few things going in their favor that most others don’t offer. Otterbox uses port covers on their Defender case so you can protect the ‘ugly’ Pixel/Pixel XL from getting dirt in it. For the record, I like the design of Google’s Pixel line; it takes a while to adjust to, but it’s a unique-looking design on the backside.
I was pleasantly surprised when I pressed the buttons on my Otterbox case and was greeted with a tactile ‘click.’ I had a less pleasant experience using Otterbox's cases with my S7 Edge where the buttons felt like trying to use a rusty typewriter. Most cables should work with the case (headphones too) unless you’re using some beastly audiophile aux cable or 0 gauge USB-C cable.
Outside, you will find the soft feeling rubber/TPU material that seems to resist oils and marks well. I can’t say the same for the plastic parts. Using the fingerprint scanner is sort of easier due to the long ramp that guides your index finger into place. As with all things on this case, the bevel around the sensor is complete overkill, sticking with the company's industrial design. There is some great attention to detail on the inner plastic shell where Otterbox put a thin (almost foam feeling) liner that helps distribute the shock from a drop over your phone.
A built-in screen protector is a very polarizing feature on this case; I personally have a few choice words for it. I removed mine in favor of the glass screen protector currently on my Pixel, since you cannot use both. If you decide to use the built-in screen protector, know that it scratches very fast, has an affinity for oils/dirt, and doesn’t like to wipe clean. I experienced no issues fitting the case using my glass screen protector. A lot of cases lately have such tight tolerances that you can’t even use a vinyl skin, like the ones dbrand sells.
Lastly, one of my favorite things about this case is the included belt clip that also protects your screen (when in the clip). More often than not, you’re going to want to carry the Pixel in the provided belt clip as it might get mistaken for a brick if you work in construction. Most belts should work with the clip from what I can tell. I measured it at ~1.75in, so I would recommend a belt that is 1.5in at the most.
I haven’t decided the fate of my Otterbox Defender yet; it might get used a lot, or just collect dust on my desk until I feel a need for it.
Spigen Rugged Armor
The Rugged Armor case from Spigen has become a staple in their product line by offering drop protection, unique styling, at an affordable price. Spigen always sells their cases on their website and eBay store, but it can also be found for $13.99 (as I'm writing this) on Amazon.
|Size||Spigen made a compelling case with a slimmer profile than their competitors without compromising drop protection.|
|Buttons||The serrations on the power button really are icing on the case.|
|Color||Unlike Spigen's other cases, the Rugged Armor is only offered in black.|
Spigen isn’t what I would directly call a household name unless you primarily order your accessories online. Most companies that sell cases online only have a harder time reaching out to customers in the same way that Speck, Otterbox, Incipio, or other brands would. I haven’t seen Spigen cases sold in stores myself, but that doesn’t mean they aren’t sold in store somewhere. Spigen is able to reach people better even with no big presence in your typical electronics or carrier stores. They constantly have sales online, promote their products, and more importantly make a large variety of cases for just about every flagship.
I first encountered their cases back with my Note 3. At the time I bought the NeoHybrid and never looked back. Over the years their cases have evolved into a more diverse lineup with a few exceptions. They have some cases that are hard to tell apart which confuses consumers. An example of this is their Slim Armor/Tough Armor series. The Slim Armor (SA) is always better compared to the Tough Armor (TA), and while they look nearly identical, the TA is bulkier and has worse button feedback.
There are a few lines they offer that I have an affinity toward: the Rugged Armor, Thin Fit, and Slim Armor. I’ve had more good experiences with these cases than some others making them a first purchase when I get a phone. I currently have their Rugged Armor (RA) case for my Pixel. It took me a while longer to get one; this was due to the RA frequently going out of stock on Amazon because of the popularity of the design.
Spigen opted for a carbon fiber-ish bottom, supplemented by a horizontally grooved region at the top covering where Google has the glass back. The [somewhat] fingerprint-resistant TPU construction gives you a pleasant soft-touch like feeling when you hold it, despite not having any real grip.
Don’t be fooled by the thin profile of this case, because Spigen claims it can take a beating. I’ve dropped my phones (S7 Edge, HTC 10, Nexus 6P, Note 7) in this case more times than I care to mention and never broken a screen or had any damage to my phone. TPU is a great material for absorbing shocks, maintaining its shape over time, and resisting oils /scratches to some extent. The case is said to go through 26 drops from 4 ft (48 in), thereby offering “Military grade” protection. I mentioned in my Otterbox review that bulky cases are more of a style than anything given how cases like this one, and the Presidio, offer equal protection the majority of the time.
My favorite part of this case has to be the textured power button. Spigen did the same thing with their HTC 10 version of the Rugged Armor, but not with any other phone’s RA that I’ve seen. The feeling of the serrations will make you crave member berries, as it feels like you are using the phone caseless without any harm coming to it. This makes the transition to the RA not as bad. I know some people hate cases on their phones—if you’re one of those people, give this case a try. It offers a thin profile, protective design, and doesn’t interfere with any functionality whatsoever. Pressing the buttons on this case feels no different than using the phone without one, aside from the subtle softer TPU vs. metal on the phone.
I highly recommend this case second only to the Presidio at the moment. There can be a lot of trial and error when finding the right case, but you won’t have that if you buy the RA.
(Note: The smaller dedicated cutout that houses the laser, and microphone can accumulate dust. Some people mentioned this causing auto focus issues due to the sensor being covered by dirt/lint/dust. Since the area is harder to clean, you may need to use compressed 'canned air' or remove the phone and wipe off that area periodically).
Pixel XL Case by Google - Clear
Google's case is only sold through their online store for a rather expensive $30 given what is being offered. The case features a very simple two-tone clear color scheme on the back and is made out of polycarbonate like most other clear cases.
|Looks||Google made a nice looking case if you enjoy the almost two-tone color scheme of the Pixel.|
|Support||Anything bought from the Google Store always comes with the best support if you have any issues later down the line.|
|Protection||Unlike last year's offerings, there isn't much in the form of protection offered by this case.|
|Design||The clear 'windowed' region suffers from rainbowing due to the poor design. Then you're left with no protection for the top or bottom of your Pixel.|
Google first introduced its own phone cases starting back with the Nexus 5 (I could be mistaken). There was a mixed reaction, mainly due to the much higher prices, delays, and rather mediocre quality at times. Each new Nexus device thereafter would have its own generation (style) of case in the Google Store.
I never owned a Nexus 5 because at that time I bought my first true phablet, the Note 3. I also used a Nexus 7 (2013) model while at school for some of my text books and other things. Google made a bumper case for the Nexus 7 that seemed to have its fair share of issues, such as the color rubbing off onto the tablet. Things changed with the Nexus 6 case which was made by CaseMate, as was their Project Fi case, if you were lucky enough to get one. These cases were still way overpriced relative to some other alternatives, on top of their already questionable design/quality. Following the 6, Google’s Nexus 5X/6P received a little more special treatment with their cases. Adopted is a company based in NY that primarily makes iPhone cases (gasp). This lineup offered better quality, unique Google-inspired designs, and a premium price to suit. I owned the clear and the felt-like backed grey one. These cases showed a big step forward compared to earlier years despite some small issues. Google went a step further many months after the phones launched with their Live Cases. Both my wife and I owned these with mixed results: Hers fit perfectly and looked great. Mine on the other hand was loose, creaked horribly, and the picture was nowhere near clear. I might have Artem’s luck with these things.
I decided to get the “Made by Google” clear case for my Pixel XL this year. On their website, the pictures are deceiving because you cannot tell whether the top and bottom are protected (they’re not). I was disappointed when I opened my brand new Quite Black Pixel XL and case, only to be greeted with something that I would personally never use—there was a total lack of top/bottom coverage. I enjoy thin cases such as Spigen’s thin fit, and Ringke’s Slim series, but only when they offer top/bottom coverage. I decided to try the case anyway since I already bought it. However, things didn’t get better for Google’s latest case offering.
If you look at the back, you’ll notice it has a frosted bottom and clear top corresponding to where the glass window is on the Pixel. I think this design looks good, as do other case manufacturers since they implemented a similar design of their own. The clear back region covering the Pixel’s glass is just as big of a fingerprint magnet, if not bigger than the glass itself. I also experienced a large amount of rainbowing when the case was on because it touched the glass. Google didn’t think that design through as they should have.
Conventionally, cases will use a ‘micro-dot’ pattern to keep the plastic a hair off the glass; so this issue doesn’t occur like it does with other cases. The issues kept getting worse when I noticed a lot of scratches on the inside of the case from where I cleaned it with a microfiber cloth. There was no dust or dirt on it when I cleaned it.
There is a trivial lip that keeps your display raised off hard surfaces, yet if you intend to use this case, should that even matter? One good thing Google did was make the buttons accessible, at least enough where I didn’t have any glaring issues hitting the power/volume keys.
I believe Google needs to make a good case that doesn’t suffer from these abundant problems year after year, especially when launching a whole ‘new’ line of devices. I wouldn’t recommend buying the clear case (I cannot speak about their other case’s quality) unless you enjoy throwing money away for something that won’t protect your phone any more than using a dbrand skin.
Clear cases are a popular way to show off your beautiful phone. Ringke offers interesting cases that fit this need for a reasonable price. They can be found on Ringke’s website or on Amazon for $20 or less depending on the day.
|Looks||This case will look great if you plan on using a dbrand skin to eliminate the rainbow streaking.|
|Ports||Ringke removed all port covers making the case easier to use on top of looking better.|
|Design||The lanyard hole is a blackhole for dirt to enter your case.|
|Design||The transparent polycarbonate back panel doesn't use microdots therefore suffers from the dreaded rainbow effect.|
Ringke (also known as Rearth USA) is another company that makes a very popular array of cases. Their collections include the Ringke Slim and Fusion series, both of which I’ve been using for quite some time. Depending on your phone, Ringke has a broad assortment of styles, materials, and colors. Unfortunately, only one case has been made for the Pixel/Pixel XL so far: the Fusion.
If I were to think back to the early days of my Nexus 6P, there were only a few decent clear cases out there; one of my favorites was the Fusion. My first Ringke case was a Ringke Slim that I bought for my favorite phone of all time, Google’s Nexus 6. The sheer size of the device was great, and even more manageable with a thin case from Ringke. I appreciated their attention to detail with the inclusion of top and bottom coverage, unlike some other thin-fitting cases back then. The Ringke Slim and Fusion cases both took a beating during their time on my Nexus 6—even some hard falls onto the pavement that left lasting marks on the plastic. My Nexus 6 never had so much as a scratch on it despite the very minimal design of both cases. In my opinion, the protection you get boils down to a few basic things: design, materials, and coverage. Neither case was what I would call bulky, yet the right combination of those variables gave my phone adequate protection.
I opted for a Smoke colored Fusion to compliment the Quite Black Pixel XL. There’s something about this combination that gives the phone a stunning appeal. Outside the Fusion is a TPU-based bumper fused to the polycarbonate back panel. This was done to give you the best transparency, while still having flexibility for impacts and removing the case.
Some changes were made to the design from last year. First, the infamous port covers Ringke used on their Fusion line are now gone with the wind. Second, Ringke found a way to avoid the scratch mark around the fingerprint cutout. This was a big concern among Nexus 6P case buyers last year; I spoke with an individual who detailed the cause of this defect. When the cases are made via injection molding or other methods, there is a large amount of heat. As the polycarbonate cools, air pockets can form in a long and narrow fashion stemming from the fingerprint cutout. From a consumer perspective, it looks like a scratch, yet this was a manufacturing issue.
The following areas of the case stayed the same despite not serving any real function for most people. There is a small lanyard hook at the bottom of all Ringke cases; maybe it’s a trademark design, or they just felt like adding one. This presents a large issue for their clear cases because it allows dust, dirt, and everything in between to get inside your nice clear case. Unlike their Air series, Ringke did not opt for a micro bubble texture on the clear region, resulting in what looks like an oil spill. As I mentioned in the Google Clear Case review, there is rainbowing on any place a polycarbonate section touches the glass. This is especially true with the large region covered by this case. I tried to carefully put the case on without pressing on that area, only to be met with gigantic rainbow effects.
Dirt is this case’s worst nightmare, as all of it shows easily because the whole back touches the phone. Every tiny piece of lint and dust will show through the case. I carefully removed all the dust, used a can of air, then briskly placed the phone inside. To my frustration, dust still managed to find its way in. I wouldn’t even consider placing this phone inside my work laptop bag because I know it would come out looking like I took it from a dusty closet.
On a more positive note, Ringke claims the Fusion offers MIL-STD 810G drop protection, making it just as protective as the Speck, Spigen, and Otterbox. This same protection is also offered by the fragile yet sleek looking V20, so keep that in mind. No one verifies the case lives up to that standard other than the company making the claim, but I don’t doubt the Fusion’s protection whatsoever. Some standards such as the MIL-STD 810G seem easy to meet if you engineer your case correctly.
I believe Ringke needs to work on addressing the rainbow issue, and in doing so they will fix my other complaint regarding the dust through the addition of micro dots. As of right now, I wouldn’t recommend their case until something is done to fix this.
Incipio Dual Pro
When it comes to color, Incipio has your phone covered with their Dual Pro. Gold, red, and black all are offered in a nice looking case that can be found on Amazon, Incipio's website, and Verizon for around $35 or less.
|Color||Incipio chose to offer some nice colors compared to other companies.|
|Buttons||All the buttons are very responsive and easy to find.|
|Size||The choice of materials here likely led to this case being larger than it should have been.|
|Cutouts||For some reason Incipio chose to make their cutouts on the back so large that even my Otterbox Defender’s look small.|
Incipio makes cases for everything from smartphones to laptops, giving them a very diverse background. As with most other case manufacturers, Incipio primarily caters toward Apple products, which can be seen with their excessive selection of cases offered for each Apple device. During my last year in school I owned a Surface Pro 4 and housed it inside an Incipio case. I tend to be overly OCD/cautious when it comes to electronics, hence why all my phones, tablets, and devices have been inside a case since day one.
While Incipio doesn’t offer a wide selection of cases for Google’s Pixel line, they do have a few good choices. I was surprised to see more cases being offered compared to last year’s Nexus 6P, which was only given one case and color, while the 5X had a slightly better lineup. I’ve owned both the Octane and Dual Pro cases for previous phones, but I haven’t tried the Carnaby yet.
The Dual Pro features a hard shell Incipio calls “Plextonium,” which is still just polycarbonate as they denote on their website. Silicone is used inside (I always thought it was a softer TPU/TPE), so reading that was certainly interesting. Silicone is not ideal for cases because it will stretch out over time, as Otterbox, Seidio, and other companies have come to find out. Most cases use TPE/TPU for its favorable properties, including retaining shape better even after removing your phone countless times. I’ve never had a Spigen case become loose over time, yet all my silicone ones have.
An interesting tidbit: only the black model has a soft touch finish to it. I don’t know if this is by design, or the way they finish the black one. I could only find a gaudy gold case when I bought my Pixel XL. I usually don’t care about the color if the case does its job. The gold does a decent job hiding fingerprints. This is unlike the black one, which is a magnet for oils and dirt. Compared to Dual Pro cases in the past, this one is exceptionally thick—and no, that’s not a good thing. I don’t see this case offering any more protection due to the added thickness. Rather, I feel it’s due to the use of silicone as opposed to TPU. Aside from the bulk, I can’t say I appreciate the larger fingerprint/camera cutouts. I’ve already noticed scratches on my fingerprint scanner, so any more exposed glass through the back is not something I want. I did order a skin to cover just the glass, but that won’t be here for about a week. Some of this added bulk might be a good thing because of the case’s slippery texture.
Just about every negative thing I’ve mentioned is more about me being a very picky person than there being something inherently flawed about the case’s design. There are several positive aspects of this case, such as the few color options (gold/black/red). The latter isn’t nearly as common these days. If you plan to keep your phone in this case without removing it more than a few times, I don’t see the silicone losing its shape as much over time. It is ultimately up to you when deciding which case to use.
Tech 21 Evo Check
Simple, elegant protection is what Tech 21 offers all without any added bulk or fancy marketing. You can purchase the Evo Check case from Tech 21's website, or from Verizon currently unless Amazon decides to stock it in the near future.
|Design||I don’t think there’s a way to look at this case and say it’s ugly. The checkered back looks stunning from all angles.|
|Protection||All good things can also come in a well-designed, sleek case with the benefit of great drop protection.|
|Buttons||Trying to push the power button is like trying to move a building. It won’t budge without a ton of force.|
|Cutouts||Tech 21’s choice for a precise fingerprint cutout and a large camera cutout confuses me. Why wouldn’t they stick to precision for both?|
I prefer cases that offer good drop protection and a slimmer profile, as I’m sure most readers will have noticed at this point. I chose the Tech 21 case because it was well suited to offer protection all with a nice looking low-profile design.
My experiences with Tech 21 only date back to when I bought my S7 Edge earlier this year. I found their case to be great in many areas, particularly with handling drops. Their claim to fame seems to be how well the cases hold up to drops while still protecting the phone/tablet inside. I’ve seen many YouTube videos showing someone drop the case off a balcony onto concrete/pavement with no damage to the phone. I would never test this myself, and I do not recommend ever doing so because anything is possible.
Tech 21 offers a few styles in their EVO line that all look too similar for most people to tell apart. They have the Evo Check, Evo Check Active, Evo Elite, Evo Gem, Evo Tactical, etc. Only the Evo Check is offered for Google’s Pixel line. Even though each style looks similar, their functions are different. Each case relies primarily on a material they call “FlexShock,” which is another fancy way of saying some sort of TPU/TPE material. One thing I will say about their materials is how hard they feel relative to other cases. They might be using a higher density form of TPU/TPE to protect the phone against larger drops.
I opted for a Black/Smoke Evo Check case since my Pixel XL is Quite black. The contrasting checkered pattern gives the phone a tactile or even stylish look. Physically, this case is only slightly larger than Spigen’s Rugged Armor, yet it claims to withstand bigger impacts. Inside, there are ribbed buffers lining the border along the sides; it then has thicker top/bottom sections that aide in impact absorption. I found the bottom thickness to be annoying at times because I rest my phone on my pinky, so these deeper cutouts started to hurt my finger after a while. The backside of each cutout is virtually flush with the phone to give you better access for charging and headphones. While their fingerprint cutout is great, I can’t say I appreciate how large the camera one is. I won’t say it hurts anything because it doesn’t, but precision is part of a case’s beauty when it’s this sleek. Speaking of sleek, you won’t find the Evo Check to offer much if any grip if that matters to you.
Let’s talk about my biggest issue with this case: the power button. I was very pleased with both the volume keys after pressing them, then came the power button… I don’t know why it’s so damn hard to press or how they let it ship like this, but it’s a nightmare. I thought my first one was defective, so I swapped it out only to find the same issue. The button simply doesn’t want to move when you press it. I’m currently using the case with the hope that prolonged use will cause the button to break in somehow. If Google made a native way to turn off my screen via the fingerprint scanner I would do that, but unfortunately only 3rd party apps can do that so far. This would solve the power button issue during normal usage, but it doesn’t excuse the problem to begin with.
Aside from my complaints with the awful power button, I find this case to be very pleasant during day-to-day usage. I will update this review later if the power button situation changes.
Case By Google - Silicone
Google is generally good at keeping things fresh. They have managed to continue that tradition by offering a wider variety of cases in a number of colors. The Silicone has many nice features, as well as a few flaws that may ultimately be the deciding factors for you.
|Appearance||The case has a sophisticated design that looks very professional.|
|Cutouts||Due to the open bottom, every USB accessory should fit without an issue.|
|Texture||It is very slippery and would be easy to drop.|
|Material||The silicone is bound to stretch with general wear and tear.|
Let me start by saying that this case is very simple and elegant. It does not try to be anything it’s not. There are no extra flourishes that make it seem too decorative, other than the “G” on the back (Google’s signature stamp). The Silicone case I was sent is grey, and this neutral tone gives me a more business-oriented vibe. I can picture it sitting on an executive’s desk during his coffee break. However, looks are not the most important thing.
Google chose to make this from a conglomerate of three materials: it has a polycarbonate shell wrapped in soft silicone, which is then lined with a velvety microfiber. This combination gives the case a very sleek feeling, but at a price. It is so slick it could slide across sandpaper. Some areas are not reinforced properly, allowing the silicone to pull away from your phone around the buttons. Unlike Google’s Clear Case, this one covers the top of the phone and leaves the bottom out in the cold. Since the case is so slippery, there is greater risk for damage if you should drop it. If dropping is not a concern for you, the fact that the buttons are almost impossible to find may be.
The buttons on this case are practically ghosts. If you go to push the power or volume buttons, you may wonder whether they are there or not. When you do manage to find them there is a good tactile response. It is a combination of the smooth texture and nearly flush edges that make them hard to locate. If Google were to make one change to the buttons, I would suggest giving them some kind of raised texture. If you are as anal as I am, the cutouts on Google’s Silicone case may be a nuisance to you.
Given all the precise engineering that went into making this case, you would think the cutouts would have received the same treatment. The fingerprint cutout is perfectly fine, but the cutout for the camera is extremely large. It does not appear like it was measured to perfectly fit the Pixel camera. This extra open space allows more dirt to get on the lens, which is easily scratched. Since the purpose of a case is to protect your phone from damage, this seems like a major oversight. I have resorted to buying a vinyl skin that covers the glass to protect it while in such cases.
If having a fashionable case with basic scratch protection is enough for you, then you will enjoy this case. If you do buy it, don’t drop it or have it on the counter while baking cookies. You’ll either end up with a broken phone or cleaning flour from your camera lens.
SupCase Unicorn Beetle
Despite what its name suggests, this case is not made of a casual greeting, a mythical creature, and an insect. The Supcase Unicorn Beetle is an example of a good case gone in the wrong direction. Imagine if General Mills took the marshmallows out of Lucky Charms...it’s that kind of direction.
|Design||The clear back is properly designed to eliminate rainbow streaking.|
|Ports||The charging and headphone cutouts are able to fit most cables without issue.|
|Design||The boxy design leaves a lot to be desired.|
|Buttons||The buttons are very hard to press the first time, even though they are easier to find than some other flush buttons.|
This case once had a lot of desirable features which have either disappeared or been altered completely. Previous case generations made holding it comfortable as the case mimicked the phone’s contours. In terms of shape, it is now very boxy. While the Otterbox is bigger, the Unicorn Beetle (UB) has a more cumbersome feel in your hand. The UB’s edges are very sharp, making it even more uncomfortable to hold. The look has also changed; the Nexus 6P generation UB had a frosted back, which has vanished from the new one. The only good thing about the clear back is that it doesn’t cause rainbow streaking, as it is lifted slightly off the phone. The major downside is that this allows dust to get onto your phone, defeating one of the points of using a case.
The former frosted back was made from acrylic, but the new one appears to be made of polycarbonate. This gives it a more slippery feel, adding to the reasons why it is more difficult to hold. The almost good news about the buttons is that the power key is textured, so you actually know what you are pressing. On the other hand, when pushing the buttons, you need to push them toward the front of the phone; you can’t just push them straight in. The buttons are also flush, making it hard to tell where the volume rocker is. At least you’ll be able to distinguish it from the power button.
Now, let’s talk about the cutouts. They are oversized, which again makes it easier for dirt to get on your phone. However, the large size of them keeps with the bulky, square theme of the case. While I am not a fan at them, I will say that they are consistent with the rest of the design. If uniformity is important to you, you’re in luck.
Much like Lucky Charms without the Charms, this case has left me disappointed. The UB has removed all of the features that made it such a good case back in previous generations. What were once smooth contours that blended the back panel with the outer TPU bumper are now sharp edges. Additionally, poor design led to the use of buttons that are nearly impossible to find let alone press the first time. In my opinion, there are too many better competing cases on the market to justify using this one.
Google Live Maps Case
Live Cases, particularly the maps ones, have been popular since Google first released them last year. Google gave anyone the ability to create a one-of-a-kind case with limitless possibilities for customization. At $40 customization doesn’t come cheap, so putting a picture of your new girlfriend on it might be a bad idea.
|Design||Infinite customizability allows you to have a truely unique case.|
|Software||The accompanying app ensures your phone's wallpaper can be as unique as its exterior.|
|Buttons||Despite the good intentions behind Google's NFC button, it falls short in real word use.|
|Color||Colors when you order may not match your actual case as I found out.|
There are many color and ‘texture’ options offered by Google for their maps case that are not entirely accurate when you physically get your case. I ordered this maps one in what I thought was a deep indigo, yet when I received the case it was a very light periwinkle. This was disappointing for me given the blatant color differences, especially the indigo. I checked the color on a few different screens (not the oversaturated AMOLED on my Pixel) to be sure. Aside from the colors looking like a faded pair of jeans, not the dark wash expected, the case was as I ordered.
While Google’s two other cases have a larger cutout for the camera module, and sensor array, this one has precise holes for each. If I were to speculate, Google did this to maximize the area for printing the image onto the case. Since the entire case is crafted from polycarbonate, the volume/power buttons received cutouts, otherwise they would be unusable.
On the inside you will find an NFC antenna linked to the large indent at the case's center. Google refers to this as a programmable shortcut button, although that terminology is a little misleading. The NFC antenna isn’t contacting the Pixel’s rear glass until you apply a lot of pressure to that spot on the case. Once contact has been made, the Pixel will read the NFC antenna, and do whatever task you assigned to it. A nifty, simple companion app was created to control, program, and otherwise play with the Live Case. One neat feature all Live Cases have is a unique wallpaper that matches your case. Maps cases will allow you to see the local map around you in any color array offered for the case. These wallpapers also scroll nicely with the Pixel Launcher, and can be alternatively used as a fixed image.
Style, scratch protection, and the cool factor are about all you can expect from any Live Case. There is a very slight lip for face down protection, and both the top/bottom are exposed. I personally don’t mind those drawbacks given how Google doesn’t intend for their Live Cases to offer real protection.
Personal expression in the form of cases is expensive no matter what Live Case you choose. I can’t say whether or not $40 is worthwhile for most people, but for me it’s certainly not. Between the inaccurate colors and almost useless NFC button, Google has a lot to work on for future live cases.
If you ever find yourself missing those old pixelated video games from the late eighties and early nineties, you may like the Diztronic Pixlee. At $10 and in a variety of colors what's not to like about this case? While it has its flaws in terms of protection and design, it is overall a whimsical case that will make you want to break out your old Nintendo.
|Design||It has an attractive design and easy-to-find buttons.|
|Colors||Diztronic offers a multitude of colors for your retro inspired needs!|
|Materials||It is not very sturdy and has a large camera cutout.|
|Durability||As with previous Diztronic cases the sides will loosen up over time making the case unusable.|
Why does this case make me so nostalgic for a simpler time? The answer is in the look. The Pixlee has a design that quite literally looks like little pixels you may have seen on an old computer. This design also gives it a rougher texture, allowing you to keep a firm grip on it. While I am describing the black one, it comes in a variety of colors for you to choose from including orange, and pink.
In terms of functionality, the Diztronic Pixlee has its pros and cons. Allow me to start with the positive and work my way down. The buttons are very nice and easy to push. Unlike buttons on some of the other cases I will be discussing, they are simple to find without having to visually search for them. In terms of the negative, the case is very flimsy. It will likely not shield your phone from much damage in the event of a drop. However, this may be moot, considering the rough texture should help prevent it from slipping out of your hand. Something else that may be considered a negative quality is the single, large cutout for the camera. It takes away from the otherwise preciseness of the case and could allow dirt to get around the camera glass. Lastly, Diztronic cases have been known to lose their shape over time thus becoming almost useless. I encountered this with 2 of their Nexus 6P cases, and my Nexus 6 one prior to that.
To put it simply, this case is very pretty. It has a design that I believe most people would enjoy, and you can pick from an assortment of color options. Despite a few minor flaws, the Pixlee is a case worth trying out.
Spigen Slim Armor
At first glance, the Spigen Slim Armor looks something like an android from Star Wars (this is good news if you’re into that kind of thing). This is a great looking case that is more than thick enough to give your phone the proper armor before doing battle with your floor. Like every case, however, there are good and bad things about the Slim Armor even for the $30 you'll pay to get one.
|Design||The Slim Armor has an appealing design and has buttons that are easy to find and press.|
|Features||Spigen's small kickstand holds the Slim Armor up better than its bigger brother.|
|Features||The bottom is quite slippery and the kickstand pops out easier than it should.|
|Color||There are only a handful of color options, none of which are particularity great.|
In terms of the way this case looks and feels, there is a major textural difference between the black top and the silver (gunmetal) or black bottom. If you are like most people, your hold your phone more toward the bottom end. This is where there is slight problem with this case. The silvery bottom (the magical element that gives it that robot look) is very slippery, while the top is not. The kickstand also easily comes off, though it is not clear if this has something to do with the weak plastic retainer. All of my previous Slim Armor cases made popping out the kickstand a nightmare, thus maybe Spigen addressed the issue. This smoothness may make it more likely that your phone will slide from your hand. Although, I suppose they call it “Armor” for a reason, as this thing could really take a pounding.
If it is not yet clear, design and functionality are really intertwined with this case. The buttons are raised appropriately, so you won’t find yourself feeling around for your volume buttons like you are trying to read Braille. It has smaller cutouts for the camera and flash, which adds to the sleekness and will help minimize the amount of dust and dirt that can damage the glass.
Ultimately, this case is like the little black dress of cases according to my wife. It is versatile and can take your phone from a professional to a casual setting. While it's slippery due to the contrast in textures, damage should still be minimized in the event you drop your phone down a few flights of stairs. The Spigen Slim Armor really is armor for your phone.
Spigen Tough Armor
Well, not all Armor is created equal. Some phone accessories really should not have been made to begin with, and the Spigen Tough armor would be at the top of that list for me. Despite a few redeeming qualities, you may want to save your money on this one. If you really want to buy the case it can be found on Amazon for ~$18.
|Design||Texture is easy to grip (black one), and it looks better than its clear counterpart.|
|Ports||Ample room was provided on both the top/bottom cutouts for your audiophile and charging needs.|
|Material||Oil from your fingers will dirty the case, and good luck finding the buttons.|
|Cutouts||For some reason Spigen opted for a bizarre speaker cutout on the non-clear version only.|
Let me begin by discussing some production flaws and a couple of positive qualities. You all know my thing with buttons by now...these ones are extremely elusive. Not only do they not want to be found, but they do not want you to know which one is which. If the case itself could think, it probably would not even know they were there. The buttons on the clear one are even harder to find because of the smoother texture. They attempted to put a little dividing line between the power and the volume buttons, but it is a barely noticeable afterthought. What really bothers me is why Spigen still insists on making the Tough Armor when their Slim Armor is always better.
Unlike the Slim Armor, the design on the Tough is somewhat boring. However, I will say it has a very grippy texture in addition to being sturdy. You should have no problem with your phone being damaged.
Some more good-ish news is that the camera cutouts are the same shape as the Slim Armor (only a tiny bit smaller). It gives the phone a slightly more sleek look, and little to no dust should scratch your camera lens. The kickstand also seems to remain in place when you open and close it. The texture has a somewhat leathery feel, and is very absorbent. Don’t commit a crime while using this case, as your prints could easily be lifted off. If your only concern is with the fingerprints, then I would recommend the clear one; while it is clear around the very top and bottom, it has a smooth, silver back that does not dirty easily. Just be careful holding this one, as it would be easier to drop.
Spigen decided to make different speaker cutouts for the clear version in a good way. There are tiny slits above the speaker cutout normally which distort/muffle sound slightly, but this was fixed with the clear one. Design continuity should remain in place across a clear version of the same case, yet Spigen doesn’t seem to agree.
While the Tough Armor was a fair attempt, I feel it is an example of why sometimes it is best to leave well enough alone. All it will take is a one-time use for you to realize that the Slim Armor is superior.
I am sure all of you know that looks can be deceiving, and the looks of the (~$15) Spigen NeoHybrid are just that. It will lure you in with a false sense of security until you actually touch it and put it on your phone. While appearing to be of high quality, it is actually quite cheap.
|Style||There is some color variety to choose from and it looks nice.|
|Design||Spigen's accent pattern follows Google's design language, and frankly is cool.|
|Design||It is flimsy and there is always a gap around the bumper when on your phone.|
|Buttons||The buttons sit flush with the bumper due to a design flaw.|
Apparently, some phone cases need bumpers...perhaps in case they fall down or bump into things. While the bumper offers a pleasing visual contrast to the body of the case, it presents a problem when you place it on your phone. No matter what you do, there will always be some sort of gap between the bumper and the actual case. This makes it so your case always looks cheap, and you will find yourself constantly fiddling with it in frustration. I wish that were the only issue. I haven’t seen a NeoHybrid fit perfectly since the days of my Note 3.
While the buttons are properly raised to my liking, the case itself is very thin and poorly designed. Ideally, cases should be stiff so they can do their job. The NeoHybrid acts like it is made of rubber, and if you remove the bumper you can bend it in half without damaging it. Except unlike rubber, this case is not as durable (...and won’t bounce when you drop it)). I don’t feel comfortable allowing the thin plastic bumper to take any impact without suffering a lot of damage.
One thing Spigen did right with this case has nothing to do with making it function better, but it is still worth noting. There is a textural difference between the top and bottom; the top has a raised design while the middle/bottom has a smoother texture. This adds to what is very “pretty” about this case. Putting the raised design on the bottom may have been more useful, as it would make the case less slippery while holding your phone.
Do not judge a book by its cover. The NeoHybrid seems very nice and appealing, but it falls short everywhere else.
LifeProof has finally given Nexus...umm, Pixel owners... a true water resistant IP68 case. (I say resistance because the IP rating is not a ‘waterproof’ standard). Google opted out of true water resistance on their flagship Pixel, leaving many users unhappy. This is where this LifeProof FRE case stepped in. Gone are the days of putting your phone in those awful pouches that render your phone useless. The case is sold through LifeProof's website for a rather pricey $89.99.
|Design||Excellent protection from dust and water thanks to its IP68 rating.|
|Materials||The durable exterior and reasonable screen protector make this a great case.|
|Buttons||These are by far the worst I’ve encountered on a case.|
|Cutouts||The speaker membrane hinders audio quality on an already quiet phone.|
When I heard LifeProof decided to take the plunge and make a Pixel/Pixel XL case, I was more excited than I care to explain. I need a good water/dust resistant case in my line of work, neither of which really existed for phones other than your usual Samsung/Apple flagships. There were a few select phones to receive the LifeProof treatment besides those, yet none were from Google’s former Nexus line... until now.
My experience with LifeProof doesn’t go back as far due to the phones I’ve owned. The first one I bought was for my work-issued iPhone 6. Since earlier this year I’ve used the FRE on that phone without any big issues, other than some wear/tear from various drops its encountered. The case has held up well despite my less than gentle treatment of it.
Moving on to this particular case, you will only find one color option so far (I hope that changes in the future). Even with the normal run of the mill black/grey styling, I’m happy this case exists at all. In the box, LifeProof includes some stickers, a small tool that aides in removal of the back, and a water resistant AUX extender. To maintain water resistance, there is a threaded portion inside the case and on the adapter alongside a small o-ring. I wasn’t able to fit a normal AUX cable into my phone without that adapter, not that I even use corded headphones these days. In the world we live in, dongles no matter their use have become a common site. Personally, I would rather not carry around extra gear if I don’t need.
If you crave a larger phone, and miss the size of your Nexus 6, then you will be happy to know how large this case is. My Pixel is now thicker, and just as tall/wide as my LG V20 in a Speck Presidio Grip. The size of my V20 doesn’t bother me (hence why I own one), yet it can make your Pixel seem like a small brick. Size isn’t the only area of concern on this case. The buttons and speakers also have their own set of ‘problems’.
Let’s face it, the Pixel has a quiet speaker if you even call it that. I rarely hear my alarm on it, let alone my ringtone. LifeProof used a membrane of sorts to protect the speaker, while still allowing sound to pass through (though muffled). I couldn’t watch a video or listen to music on my phone before with the low volume, now it’s a muffled mess. Don’t worry about trying to change the volume or shut off the phone inside this case; the buttons are basically glued in place. These might be the toughest buttons I’ve ever experienced. Oddly enough, my iPhone version works fine, even with the added resistance when pushing buttons.
I appreciate the attention to detail LifeProof put into different aspects of the case. A grey trip wraps itself around the display, giving the case a nice transition into the black frame. Along the sides you will find a subtle grey trim accenting the case while also showing you where it splits apart. Other cases can make it difficult to find, wherein you need to remove a certain piece to get your phone. Thankfully, there are no issues with that here.
Using the phone in the LifeProof case isn't difficult. In fact, I think it has a fairly decent built-in screen protector. Don’t expect to keep your beloved glass screen protector on in this case because it simply won’t fit. Fingerprint recognition has worked flawlessly for me even in this case, but gestures are another story. I can sometimes get the swipe gestures to work, but other times it’s a frustration-filled mess. That's a big deal to me, since I use gestures frequently.
Given the Pixel’s excellent camera abilities, you should know how this case poses issues in that department. I found focusing to be inconsistent, and the plastic ‘lense’ on the case appeared to affect image quality. I ensured both my phone and case were clean beforehand; even then, results were mixed.
With the many flaws I outlined, you might ask yourself why I still like this case. Nothing is perfect, or even close-- not even my Speck Presidio. The case might have its flaws, but I love it nonetheless. I can learn to work around some of the smaller more nitpicky things I mentioned because of the advantages LifeProof offers. Water/dust resistance are required when you live here in West Texas, and LifeProof provides them.
Toast Wood (Walnut) ‘Case’
Toast has made a name for itself by offering laser cut real wood ‘cases’ for a multitude of phones, tablets, and PCs. Their cases are not conventional because they use adhesives to stay in place instead of friction. Currently, there are 3 woods offered (Walnut, Ash and Ebony) for more variety. The case I'm reviewing sells for $44 on Toast' website if you include the front panel, $34 without.
|Design||Nothing beats the elegant simplicity of wood.|
|Customization||Toast offers 3 different woods (Walnut, Ash, Ebony) along with custom laser engraving if you want to go that route.|
|Design||The fitment of certain areas could use a great deal of improvement.|
|Materials||Simple sanding, or rounding of the sharp edges would give this case a significantly better feel.|
Real material cases (wood, carbon fiber, leather etc.) are highly sought after as a luxury accessory by most people. I always enjoy a quality leather or wood case, mainly for the smell (leather), or feel (wood) because it offers something ‘fake’ materials cannot. I’ve tried real leather cases, skins, alongside a random wood one from other companies, I was generally pleased with the outcome, yet I could never use any of them for a prolonged period. While real wood/leather have their own appeal, they come with many drawbacks, too. Toast shares these drawbacks by using an adhesive instead of framing the wood into a case.
Installation is no harder than doing a vinyl wrap or screen protector. I followed the instructions, and was able to have my phone covered in wood within 10 minutes. Aesthetically Toast nailed it, but the feel/durability is another story. Wood feels great most of the time, except with this case. I was constantly concerned about getting a splinter due to the rough texture and very sharp edges. Given all of the laser cut wood cases I’ve tried before where this wasn’t an issue, I started to question their intent. I understand how people enjoy a more rugged, natural feel, but there’s a difference between that and razor sharp edges.
Some issues were encountered on the corner segments, as they did not fully adhere. I reached out to the Toast rep seeking advice on how to address this after installing my case. I will post an update about their response when representatives come back from the holiday break. Make no mistake when I say my Toast was installed perfectly, so I had an issue when my buttons became hard to press. Toast uses little pieces of wood that go over your buttons. I installed them with tweezers to ensure there was no misalignment whatsoever. I tried to hit my power button and was met with a very spongy response. Buttons should be tactile no matter what, and these lost their touch.
Another area Toast really could have improved on was their button texture. If Toast mimicked the texture on Google’s Pixel I would be much happier with the case. Finding buttons, let alone these slippery wood ones, was hard enough without any clear way of identifying one from another.
Toast also included a front panel in their review sample I was sent. I chose not to install this because I’m using a glass screen protector, and the front wood piece is not compatible with it. Aside from my grips, the Toast still looked great as long as I didn’t use my phone. I cannot recommend their case in this state without some improvements, especially for what they’re charging.
One of my favorite S7 Edge cases made a return this time for the Pixel/Pixel XL. This simple frosted clear case with a selection of colored borders offers great drop protection without compromising style. Incipio offers 4 colors, (black, lavender, grey, pearl blue) all featuring the same frosted back panel. Amazon is the easiest place to purchase the case for around $25 right now in all of the color combinations.
|Cutouts||Adding a black border to the camera cutout eliminates flash issues.|
|Design||Frosted cases always have a nice cohesive look without the worry of smudges.|
|Buttons||Atrocious, horrible and other words would be a suitable description of how well the buttons do not function.|
|Grip||The Octane lost what little grip it had through the use of a different texture wrapping the sides.|
In the last generation of cases, there was a very nice, subtle tire-like pattern framing the case. This time we are met with a very rough, ribbed texture which detracts from the case's design. I never thought my S7 Edge version was particularly ‘grippy’ yet it was nowhere near as slippery as this one. Don’t let those deep grooves deceive you; even wrapping them in sand paper wouldn’t help.
Looking at this case, you can really appreciate how well the two materials from the back and sides seamlessly blend together. Incipio plastered their logo rather obnoxiously on the back, reducing the overall appeal. I didn’t mind their logo as much before, but now it looks bigger, bolder, and more in the way. An inherent flaw of all frosted cases is how they can get scratched from the inside, which ruins their nice look. Inserting your phone in such a way to avoid scraping the back can be quite the challenge.
I continued to look for some form of redeeming aspect of this case, only to be met with disappointment at every corner. I don’t know what buttons mean to Incipio because the ones on this case were essentially non-functional. LifeProof takes the cake (the cake is a lie...) for awful buttons, leaving Incipio firmly in second place. After an exhausting search, I found one area that Incipio designed well: cutouts. A lot of companies tend to overlook how clear cases will affect the camera, flash and other rear facing sensors. Incipio remedied this by using a black border around the larger camera cutout, eliminating any potential problem. My Pixel has issues focusing the majority of the time as it stands, even without a case. Thankfully, I did not run into this issue any more than usual while using the Octane.
Larger accessory manufacturers can lose sight of what attributes made them successful; sadly, Incipio is the latest victim to this trend. Only a few companies have really stuck to their roots while improving their product line throughout the years. Both Incipio cases I’ve tried for my Pixel have been disappointing (the V20 ones weren’t any better either), as if they lost focus on what makes them great.
Be sure to check back soon.
- LifeProof FRE
- Toast Walnut
- Incipio Octane
- Google Live Case
- Diztronic Pixlee
- Spigen Slim Armor
- Spigen Tough Armor
- Spigen NeoHybrid
- Ringke Fusion
- Incipio Dual Pro
- Tech 21 Evo Check
- Google Silicone Case
- SupCase Unicorn Beetle