$4 iPhone 3G/3GS Case Is a Winner

Can you really buy a decent iPhone case for under $4 shipped?

My iPhone Died

Last Wednesday, my iPhone 3GS died at work. It had a 70-80% charge when I got to work, but by lunch, it wouldn’t even turn on. I put it in the dock to charge as soon as I got home, and when it had some juice, I discovered that it had a blank white screen. Very weird.

I could sync the iPhone with iTunes, and I could answer the iPhone by sweeping my finger where I knew the slide to unlock bar is, but that was the extent of it. Very frustrating, so I did some online research and learned that the problem was most likely a loose screen connection. On Friday, I brought it to the local Apple Store, where a genius looked it over, tried to reseat the screen connectors, and then swapped out the screen in hopes of reviving my iPhone.

Apple Replaced It

No luck, but the next step impressed me. He handed me a brand new iPhone 3GS and offered to swap the SIM card to add my contacts to the new phone. I politely declined, since I’d synced the phone just before going to the Apple Store, and I would have to restore all the apps, preferences, music, etc. anyhow.

Restoration took a while, which is part of the reason I got on about USB 3 earlier this week. USB 2.0 is a real bottleneck between an Intel-based Mac and an iPhone with flash memory. Why should it take two hours (give or take) to restore less than 8 GB of files?

Anyhow, I was mightily impressed at how thorough the restoration was. Safari went to the exact page I had last viewed. I did have to reenter a few passwords, but otherwise the restoration seemed complete.

I Needed a New Case

What I lost in the process was the Zagg wrapper on my iPhone, something I had been excited to buy with the phone last June – and mostly disappointed with ever since. First of all, getting the screen cover straight and bubble-free eluded me. After several tries, I just decided to live with a couple bubbles on the display.

Then there was the back cover, which greatly improved my grip of the slippery iPhone 3GS but was not a perfect fit. There were small areas where the cover was loose, which makes for a great dust magnet when carrying the phone in your pocket or using it in a warehouse.

Pink and purple Speck case for iPhone 3GS

That said, I did install a Zagg cover on the front of my wife’s iPhone 3GS with none of the problems. I guess all that time trying to get mine right gave me the skills to get hers right quickly. And when my back cover got too ratty, I used hers, because she had purchased a pink-and-purple Speck CandyShell Case to protect her iPhone (coincidentally the exact same one my sister has). I suspect that Zagg’s cover for the iPhone 4 and 4S doesn’t have this problem, as the back and sides are flat, not curved like the back of earlier iPhones.

At work, I carry my iPhone in my back pocket, and all that sliding in and out took its toll on the screen protector. Eventually I cut off the loose corner, but I had expected it to stick better than that. After all, Zagg extols their materials as the same stuff used on the leading edge of helicopter blades.

Maybe nobody puts those in their back pocket….

Anyhow, when I got my new iPhone, I lost the old protective skin, and I just couldn’t see paying full retail price at the Apple Store or the AT&T Store a hundred yards down the mall. I did my online research, found a very highly rated black gel case at Amazon.com, and spent some time this past weekend looking at (or, more precisely, for) iPhone 3G/3GS cases at Meijer, Target, and Walmart. Each had a couple, most of them were hard plastic, and none of them were reasonably priced, so I place my order with Amazon.com and hoped I would not be disappointed.

Black Okeba gel case for iPhone 3GS

The case I chose was the Okeba Black Rubber TPU Gel Hard Case Skin Cover for Apple iPhone 3G 3GS, which seems to fluctuate in price daily. As I write this, it’s $1.49 plus $2.49 shipping, for a total of $3.98. When I ordered mine, it was $3.79 shipped. Your price may vary slightly, but this is one inexpensive protective iPhone case. (The case is currently available in white also for $1.45 plus $4.98 shipping.)

White Okeba gel case for iPhone 3GS

More color options would have been nice, but at this price, I’m not going to complain.

This case has a 4.5 star rating from Amazon.com customers and almost exclusively positive feedback, so even though it cost less than $4, I had high expectations. The case arrived with Wednesday’s mail, and I had no trouble putting it on my iPhone 3GS. The fit is comfortable – almost snug but not overly tight or too loose. It has a bit of give that should help fend of bumps, and it eliminates the slippery case problem. With the Okeba gel case, the iPhone feels very comfortable, and it’s as easy to slide it in and out of my back pocket as my old iPhone was with the Zagg film.

I also ordered some screen protector film, but that’s coming in from the Far East and may not arrive for several weeks. At 61¢ for five protectors, I’m not going to complain about the time!

Speaking off screen protection film, the Okeba case provides about a 2mm raised lip around the display, which should keep future screen protectors from rubbing off when I put the iPhone in my pocket.

I have only one complaint, which I’m sure applies to almost any cover made: I can no longer put my iPhone in my dock (which came with my 60 GB iPod photo years and years ago) to charge and sync it because of the added thickness of the case. Using a USB charge/sync cable isn’t a big deal, just a bit less elegant than using the dock.

Likewise, it doesn’t fit the dock connector on our TEAC stereo or my old iLive boom box, yet it works just fine with the very low-end 19″ Audiovox FPE1909DVI TV/DVD player with iPod dock. Then again, I still have that iPod photo if I want to play music with the other devices.

All things considered, this is a steal at $4. If you’re the kind of person who is getting a free or 99¢ iPhone 3GS, this should fit your budget just fine. And if you’re the kind of person who has been using an iPhone 3G or 3GS for years, using it until you have no choice but replacing it, this should provide a little extra protection and peace of mind at minimal cost.

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