Photos by Manufacturer, Lead Photo by Carl Duguay
Smartphones have become indispensible tools in the workshop and on the job site. They’re the one device most of us now carry around all the time, simply because they enable us to do so much. They’ve replaced a slew of once-popular devices, including MP3 players, voice recorders, cam-recorders, eBook readers, calculators, and GPS trackers.
Smartphone apps now turn your device into a flashlight, compass, barcode reader, credit card scanner, level, measuring tape, light meter, decibel meter … the list goes on. And, there are apps that make it a lot easier to manage your business. Among other things, you can access your customer data, schedule appointments, manage your marketing and advertising, do the majority of your invoicing and ordering, manage your inventory, and quickly access technical information.
You’ve spent a lot of money on the phone, so it’s worth spending a bit extra to protect your investment, especially considering how relatively fragile it is and how frequently during the day you use it. Drop a phone onto a concrete or tile floor and you risk damaging the external case, the internal components, the display screen, or all three. It’s not just the risk of dropping your phone. Fine dust can infiltrate the power charging and sound ports, while coarser materials, such as metal filings, can scratch the display screen.
There’s a wide range of phone cases on the market – we looked at four different styles that provide varying degrees of protection. The case that’s best for you will depend on the nature of the work you do, and personal preference. We’ve stayed away from cases made from polyurethane, as they’re not very durable, and from metal cases, which can interfere with digital signals.
The four case styles we looked at protect your phone from inadvertent bumps and knocks. The ToughBuilt and the Hand and Hide are essentially ‘carry cases’ – you remove the phone from the case to use it. While in the case, both provide very good protection. Outside the case it’s a different story. The Otterbox and UAG provide drop protection, as the case remains on the phone all the time. Both of these cases also provide screen protection. The Otterbox incorporates screen protection into the case frame, while the UAG has a separate add-on screen protector. If your phone has a screen that uses Corning’s Gorilla Glass, a toughened, hard glass with high scratch resistance, then it likely doesn’t really need extra screen protection, unless you work in an environment with a lot of contaminants in the air. Some phones have a camera lens flush with the back, which makes them more susceptible to scratching. On others, the lens is slightly recessed into the housing, which provides more protection for the lens. However, none of these cases offer protection for the camera lens.
There are cases for every level of protection, and oodles of colours and styles to choose from. If protecting your investment matters, get one and use it.
The Holster Case: Job Site Simplicity
The ToughBuilt TB33 is a traditional jobsite pouch that is both durable and functional. It’s made from heavy-duty nylon, so should give years of service. The interior of the pouch is lined with a smooth fabric to protect the phone from scratching, and it’s padded to provide some cushioning. The hook-and-loop closure is quick to open and close. It has room for the ubiquitous carpenter’s pencil along with a pen or stylus, and a small note/sketch pad. There’s a handy carabiner for attaching keys, and a large steel belt clip. Even with these accessories it only weighs 5 ounces. It accommodates cell phones and smaller smartphones up to about 2-3/4″ wide quite easily. Wider phones are more difficult to insert and extract. Also, it won’t accommodate phones covered with a hard shell case, unlike the Otterbox or UAG below. Still, if you’re looking for an inexpensive case to tote your phone around the jobsite or workshop, you can’t beat the ToughBuilt TB33.
Hand and Hide Phone Wallet
The Wallet Case: Contractor High Style
It’s important to present yourself well when meeting with prospective clients, and this folio-style case is all about presentation. It’s also a very classy item when you’re out for an evening of Salsa or a day on the croquet range. The wallet is made from hand-stitched full-grain leather, and feels fantastic in the hand. At only 2-1/2 ounces, it’s less than half the weight of a typical smartphone. The phone doesn’t have to be removed from the wallet for most operations, but if required, you can quickly extract it, and then re-insert it back in the wallet. The phone fits the wallet securely. There are four credit card slots, and one wide slot for folded cash. It offers a level of protection as good as, if not better than, the ToughBuilt, but in a considerably more debonair way. Each Hand and Hide wallet is custom-made – the company makes wallets for 39 different smartphones in a choice of nine custom colours. You can have it inscribed at no extra charge, engraved for a modest fee, and outfitted with an optional metal belt clip. Great protection and stellar looks all in one.
The Tough Case: Ultimate Protection
If you’re looking for the ultimate in phone protection for a workshop environment or jobsite, then you’d be hard pressed to find a case that trumps the Otterbox Defender. It’s a bit bulkier than other styles of cases, but at 2-1/2 ounces, not much heavier. It consists of three components: an outer synthetic rubber slip cover that provides excellent grip and a tight, dust-free barrier; a hard polycarbonate internal shell that protects the phone from drops, bumps and shock; and a plastic film screen protector that guards against scuffs, scrapes, and scratches. What’s nice is that the screen protector is attached to a frame that easily installs over the hard shell. The case covers the entire phone except for the control buttons and input ports. Otterbox offers an optional polycarbonate holster with a belt clip that doubles as a kickstand and rotates a full 360°. Available in a wide range of styles and colours for the most popular smartphones on the market. When push comes to shove the Otterbox Defender has the upper hand.
The Slim Case: DIYer Delight
Not everyone wants to drive around in a Hummer – sometimes a sleek Miata will do nicely. Likewise, if you’re looking for a less bulky, lighter case than the Otterbox, but still want good protection from knocks and drops, the UAG might just fit the bill. These cases are made from polycarbonate hard plastic for structural rigidity and thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU) rubber for impact resistance. And, at just over 1 ounce, you won’t find a lighter hard-shell case. Large textured buttons make it easy to control phone functions. The case itself is somewhat smooth so if your hands are damp it might lead to a less secure grip. Unlike the Otterbox, there is no front cover. Instead, the UAG comes with a peel and stick plastic film screen protector. These can be tricky to install without leaving bubbles between the screen and the phone screen. Fortunately, UAG offers a tempered glass screen protector that’s easier to install, and provides superior scratch resistance than a film screen.
It comes in a plethora of colours for all the major phones and, overall, is light, sleek, and strong – very sweet.
Carl Duguay - [email protected]
Carl is a Victoria-based furniture maker and the web editor at Canadian Woodworking & Home Improvement.