The iPhone 5s comes in gold, silver and space gray. If you're of a mind to protect your new 5s with a case and would like the colors to show through nicely, here are five cases that do that in varying degrees, balancing protection with transparency.
While I tested with a gold iPhone 5s, I should mention that the companies mentioned here sell these particular cases in many other colors than those tested, and those would also complement a silver or space gray iPhone 5s in the same fashion.
First, some definitions are in order. In the assessments here, I've used a rating scale of: unacceptable, poor, moderate, high and excellent. I defined the term "showcase factor" to indicate how much of the native color of the iPhone shows through the back and sides.
Right after I ordered my gold Phone 5s online from Apple, I decided to ask a few accessory companies if they had cases that would let that that glorious color show through. Here is my assessment of the cases received so far.
1. iLuv - Vyneer. Available in white or black. I received a white one that matches the white face of a gold iPhone.
This case has a clear plastic back but with hybrid clear and white edges. The frame is made of thermoplastic polyurethane (TPU). The top of the case is white and has a push-thru button for the power/sleep button. The long sides are clear on the face but with white trim where it wraps around the face of the iPhone. There is a single opening for the volume buttons and silence switch. The aperture at the bottom for power and speakers is one continuous opening. That leaves some weak spots in the plastic, but I tugged moderately hard, and it didn't break.
Assessment: The white plastic complements the white face of the gold iPhone 5s nicely. The transparent sides and back allow the gold color to shine through while the top and bottom do not. The iPhone slips in and out fairly easily, yet is secure in place. Protection level is moderate. Grip is moderate. Beauty is high. Showcase factor is high. US$19.99.
2. Griffin - Reveal. Blue, citron, fluoro fire, fluoro orange, grey, pool blue, purple, white. I received a white one.
The Reveal is very similar to the iLuv Vyneer but has some notable diferences. The biggest difference is that only the back face is transparent. All four edges are a solid color. There are push through buttons for the volume, but an opening for the silence switch. On the bottom, there are three openings for the speakers and power, and that looks more durable to me.
Assessment: If you want the sides of the iPhone to show through, this is not for you. However, the various edge colors are gorgeous, and if you like the idea of an offsetting. opaque side color, you may want to consider one of these other accents. The plastic edges are grippy, soft and pliable, so the iPhone goes in and out out very easily. Protection level is moderate. Grip is high. Beauty is moderate. Showcase factor is moderate. $19.99.
3. Griffin - iClear. The iClear is very minimal and is 100 percent clear plastic. The top and the bottom of the iPhone 5s are fully exposed while the sides are protected. There are two openings, one for the volume controls and one for the silence switch. This case is very smooth to the touch and minimalist -- you won't even know it's there.
Assessment: If you want the least possible case that's 100 percent transparent, then this is it. However, it's somewhat slippery, so care is advised. Also, it doesn't go on and off as easily as those with soft, pliable TPE sides. Protection level is poor. Grip is poor. Beauty is excellent. Showcase factor is excellent. $19.99
4. Griffin - Survivor Clear. Black, blue, green and purple edges. The Survivor is a step up in protection, but still has a clear plastic back. The edges are opaque and made of Thermal Plastic Elastomer (TPE) that's soft, grippy and cushiony. Each of the four edges is flared to provide extra protection in a fall. Power/sleep and the volume controls are push-thru while the silence switch is open. There are three openings on the bottom for power and speakers.
Assessment. If you want a good trade between extra protection and yet a clear back to showcase the iPhone 5s of any color, this is a good choice. The case I received was black and, amazingly, it looked very good against the white face of the gold iPhone, in contrast, to the matching white cases described above. However, while the flared edges are very functional, they're not aesthetically pleasing. Protection level is high. Grip is high. Beauty is poor. Showcase factor is moderate. $29.99
5. X-doria - Defense 720 Grey, blue and purple. I received a grey one. This case has two parts. First, there is a thin, clear plastic cover that goes over the face of the iPhone and protects it without losing any functionality. Then the plastic back is applied, and that goes on with ease. I tested the 5s's fingerprint scanner to make sure the plastic cover didn't interfere. It did not.
X-doria Defense 720
The back of the main case is not clear; it's translucent and has a pattern. Still, the gold color of my 5s was apparent. The sides are a soft grippy plastic that feels like TPE and is solid in color. The openings for controls are in the same style as the Griffin Survivor above.
Assessment. I asked for a Defense 360, which has a transparent back, but X-doria was not able to supply one. The Defense 360 doesn't have the this plastic display protector, but it would show off the iPhone color better. If I eventually receive one, I'll update this review. Protection level is excellent. Grip is high. Beauty is poor. Showcase factor is poor. $34.99.
Of these five, only the X-doria has a screen protector, and it's thin, clear plastic, not the adhesive variety. I liked it a lot. All of the cases have an ample opening for the iPhone's camera lens and dual-flash. Of course, for these cases to stay on, they have to wrap around the iPhone's face a bit, and that covers the colored, beveled edge. Finally, recall that any case that fits the 5s will also fit an iPhone 5.
There is, of course, no such thing as ultimate protection while still allowing the gem-like quality of an iPhone 5s to show through. For a year, I used an OtterBox Commuter on my iPhone 5, and every time I took it out the case for some project, I marveled at how drop-dead gorgeous the black anodized aluminum is. I always felt a bit deprived, unable to fully enjoy the iPhone. But that was my choice for protecting the device.
So there is a compromise. With these cases, if you want the ultimate in showcase factor with minimal protection and interference, I recommend the Griffin iClear. If you want a bit more protection, but with the iPhone's gold showing through all around, the iLuv Vyneer is a good choice. And if you just want a clear back with very good drop protection, but a somewhat nerdy design, the Griffin Survivor is a good choice.
I'll update this review if more cases arrive that look like they have a good showcase factor.
Teaser image via Apple.