If you just picked up the new iPhone SE, congratulations — It’s an impressive phone that certainly feels like it should cost more than $429. Speaking of cost, it’s a good idea to protect that investment by putting a case on your phone.
We know that shopping for cases, and figuring out your specific needs, can leave you scratching your head, so we did the work for you. After spending time using a handful of cases for the iPhone SE from brands like Smartish, Lifeproof, Gear4 and Otterbox, we can offer some hands-on impressions. Here are some of the best options you can buy right now, from subtle clear cases to rugged models designed to take a beating.
Smartish is well known for affordable phone cases that offer a flair of personality to your phone. The Wallet Slayer Vol. 1 comes in black, blue, white or gray and offers a spot on the back of the case to store three credit or debit cards, plus some cash. The card storage area adds some thickness to the already small iPhone SE, but it does allow you to quit carrying around a bulkier wallet. If the trade-off is worth it, you can get the Wallet Slayer Vol. 1 from Smartish for $20. If you want a completely customized version, the price goes up to $35 — which is a steal.
The Smartish Wallet Slayer Vol. 2 takes the same basic approach as Vol. 1, but swaps out plastic for a material that looks and feels like leather. There’s still enough room for up to three cards and some cash in the cardholder, although we wonder if the material will stretch over time, making it possible to fit more cards. Or, in that case, if your cards may be more prone to falling out. If you’re digging the design, you can get the Vol. 2 of the Smartish Wallet Slayer for $20. If you plan on using either of Smartish’s wallet cases with wireless charging, just remember you’ll need to remove your cards before placing your phone on a charging pad.
Gear4’s Piccadilly case has a funny name, but it’s all business when it comes to protecting your phone. The majority of the case is clear, showing off the color of your iPhone SE while also adding a touch of color on its edges. We have the black model on our iPhone SE right now and it looks great. Gear4 claims the Piccadilly is designed to protect your phone at drops of up to 13-feet. Our lone complaint is that a slight sheen makes the Piccadilly slippery right out of the box. Our hope is that handling the case will temper this, making it less likely to slip out of your hand.
If you want a touch of rugged protection in a clear case, the Otterbox Symmetry Series is a smart choice. Otterbox is synonymous with rugged protection, and the company now offers thinner, lighter cases like the Symmetry Series. The case itself is, well, clear, with buttons that are firm to press. A curious line in the housing goes around the entire perimeter, and after using the case, we realized it’s there to add a layer of grip-ability to your phone. Brilliant.
Another clear case we’ve enjoyed using is the Gear4 Crystal Palace. It looks and feels a lot like the Gear4 Piccadilly, but instead of having a line of color around the outside edge, the Crystal Palace case is entirely clear. We also noticed its stiffer edges could make it better able to withstand abuse.. That said, it’s only certified of a drop from 13-feet, the same as the Piccadilly. As far as we’re concerned, the difference between the two cases comes down to that extra pop of color.
The Lifeproof Wake series looks more like a traditional case, while offering a layer of protection and a unique pattern on the back of the phone. Made out of ocean-based plastic, it’s a durable case that will reportedly survive a fall from two meters, or over six feet. The wave-like texture on the back is reminiscent of the sea and speaking of, the material used in the Wake Series is an ocean-based plastic. Our favorite part of the case? The side buttons come in different colors, adding a nice touch to the overall look.
If you’re looking for a lower cost case with minimal protection, the Gripmunk Slim is a perfect choice. It’s thin, though some may say almost too thin, allowing you to bend and twist it when not installed on a phone. But when it is on an iPhone SE, the grip on the sides makes sure it won’t easily slip out of your hands. You can get a plain color like black or blue for $15, or a custom case for double the price at $30. The Gripmunk Slim isn’t going to offer best-in-class protection during a long drop, but it does look pretty and will protect your phone from everyday wear and tear.
The Gear4 Wembley Palette comes in a bunch of different colors. We have the marine blue on our phone right now, but you can choose from gray, mint, lilac and scarlet. We like the look and feel of this case, though it’s nowhere near as rugged as the other Gear4 cases we’ve covered. However, the top and bottom is reinforced, giving you just enough added protection from the occasional accident, and the case still looks and feels like it can withstand a good amount of abuse.
For someone who likes the look of Gear4 cases but wants added protection, we recommend Battersea. There’s nothing soft or bendy about the case, giving you confidence it’ll survive a drop, or seven. The rear of the case has a rubberized, semi-circle pattern, making it both easy to grip and a nice way to hold it in place when you set it down. You can get the Battersea in any color, as long as you like black. For what it’s worth, Gear4 states the Battersea case is built for 16-foot drops, which blows the other cases out of the water in terms of drop protection.
The Otterbox Commuter case is actually two different parts. There’s a soft interior that fits around the phone, with a harder, more rugged exterior piece that adds another layer of protection to your phone. One benefit of having multiple pieces is that Otterbox can mix up the colors, giving you a different look than the otherwise standard single-color cases. We’ve been testing the Teal version, but there’s also pink, blue and black. There’s also a charge port cover that adds extra protection when your phone isn’t charging — keeping things like lint, dust and debris out of your phone’s charge port.
Adding even more protection to the iPhone SE is the Otterbox Defender Pro case. It not only has multiple layers like the Commuter case, but it also has a built-in screen protector. The outside of the case is made of rubber, providing an easy to grip surface. Inside the box is a belt holster — yes, they still exist — letting you easily store your phone without a pocket or bag. We prefer a dedicated screen protector over the one that’s included in the Defender Pro, but at $30, it’s a hard deal to pass up.
The iPhone SE has a water and dust resistance rating of IP67. That means it can survive being in one meter of water for thirty minutes. However, that rating doesn’t do anything to protect the outside of the phone if it falls off your kitchen table, and we like that the Lifeproof Fre case adds protection and longer water resistance. With the Fre case on the iPhone SE, your phone will be safe and sound in up to two meters of water for an hour, using the built-in screen protector and port covers. Our favorite part of the Fre? It’s still small and thin, even though it’s considered a rugged case.