Looking to buy a phone case? With so many different models / brands / revolutionary new materials on the market, it´s becoming increasingly difficult to know which one to go for!
Probably the first question you should be asking yourself on your quest to find the perfect case is whether you´re team hard or soft!
It may seem like a simple question but these two ´types´ of case actually have distinct advantages and disadvantages!
So, without further ado, let´s get to it!
Which is better a hard or soft case (quick summary) – hard cases are the clear winners if you want your case to be ultra-protective (go check out the Otterbox Defender Series)! Whereas soft cases are generally grippier, more durable AND a little easier on the environment.
Types of hard case
Hard cases are normally made from either metal or plastic.
Stainless steel or aluminum are the materials of choice for metal cases (or, if you´re prepared to spend a pretty penny, maybe even silver or gold). These cases are (usually) ´ultra-protective´ and often cover the phone in its entirety.
Plastic cases are FAR more common than their metal counterparts; most of the ´standard´ hard cases you find on Amazon are plastic.
Hard plastic cases are usually made from ´polycarbonate´, a thermoplastic polymer which is both ´high-performance tough´ and ´transparent´. They tend to be see-through OR come with a fun / funky design printed on the back
Types of soft case
Silicone is the unrivalled king of the soft case, I think at some point in our lives we´ve all probably met someone (friend / colleague / Tinder date) who ONLY uses silicone Apple cases!
Another ´soft´ material used to make phone cases is TPU (thermoplastic polyurethane).
TPU is softer and more flexible than polycarbonate and is just as popular with phone case manufacturers (these cases are favored by the big print-on-demand companies, such as Printful + Printify).
Here´s a short YouTube clip so you can better understand the difference between the two –
Hard vs. Soft
Overall feel & Bulk factor
Soft cases generally feel good in the hand (I´m sure I´m not the only one who loves that soft, rubbery texture) AND are nice and grippy (especially silicone), which is obviously perfect for all you serial phone droppers! They´re also, almost without exception, sleek and bulk-free.
Hard cases, on the other hand, can be VERY cumbersome, especially those made from metal (don´t believe me, just type ´protective metal case´ into Amazon and you´re sure to find some absolute stonkers).
Obviously, there are some ´slim line´ hard plastic cases on the market as well!
In terms of feel, well, your hand probably won´t be all too pleased if you get your phone a hard case. I mean, who doesn´t prefer the feel of something soft and squidgy over something hard and rigid?
Winner – soft cases
Cleaning & ´Maintenance´
Both hard and soft phone cases are likely to require a bit of a scrub down after prolonged use, dirt will collect in ridges and exposure to sunlight tends to turn polycarbonate and TPU a little yellow!
Hard stainless-steel cases are the easiest to clean as they obviously don´t go yellow or smudge!
Hard plastic cases shouldn´t pose too much of a problem either! You can literally ´bathe´ them in a bucket filled with water and dishwashing soap (and maybe a little bleach)! After a little toing and froing with a scrubbing brush / toothbrush, they should emerge sparkling clean (ok, maybe ´sparkling´ is a bit of an exaggeration)!
And you know what? Soft cases (especially TPU) are also pretty easy to clean! Official Apple silicone cases do, though, have a microfiber lining inside them so require a little more delicacy. Apple themselves recommend using a soft, damp cloth and advise against the use of bleach!
Winner – the jury´s out but I reckon hard cases just about pip their soft counterparts to the post
Variety of design & Aesthetics
The aesthetic? Well, that´s a bit too subjective to be covered here! I personally know many people who swear by either soft or hard cases and wouldn´t touch the other variety with a ten-foot pole!
So, what about variety of design?
Silicone cases come in a number of different colors and there are some super funky 3D silicone offerings to be found on Amazon (think glittery pineapples and giant cacti!).
Both TPU (soft) AND polycarbonate (hard) cases can be printed on with pretty much any design imaginable, so let´s call this one a draw!
Winner – tie
This answer may surprise you, but soft cases are generally (though there are some notable exceptions) more durable than hard cases! Soft cases are flexible and ´bendy´ and, due to their chemical composition, they´re not going to scratch or ´snap´.
Here´s what the experts have to say about silicone – ´[Silicone is] known for its outstanding temperature stability … and high resistance to weathering and other materials. ´
Hard cases, on the other hand, are prone to both snapping AND scratching! Put simply, they´re probably not going to last as long!
Winner – soft cases (with silicone receiving the gold medal)
Yet another closely fought category!
Hard cases made from aluminum and stainless steel are, in general, going to be easier to recycle than almost any other type of case! After all, steel is the most recycled material on the planet!
Plastic on the other hand …
Well, we all know that plastic is more difficult to recycle. Unfortunately, polycarbonate has proven particularly difficult to recycle, and it mainly ends up in landfills.
And silicone? Well, it´s not as easy to recycle as metal but, yes, it CAN be recycled!
Another eco plus point for silicone is that, if it ends up in the ocean, it doesn´t break up into micro-fragments (as plastic does)!
If you´re looking for a REALLY eco-friendly phone case, then you need to go check out Pela Case; all their cases are 100% compostable (and, yes, they´re all soft and flexible).
Winner – soft cases (but hard metal cases give them a run for their money) / all plastic cases come in last
This one´s kind of a no-brainer, hard cases lap soft twice over!
You´ve probably already heard of OtterBox, they´re pretty much the industry leader in terms of protection. And their toughest, most protective case?
Well, that would be any case in The Defender Series! And what are they made from? Polycarbonate, of course!
And what about Mous (the guys who famously drop-tested their design from atop a 45ft crane!)? Well, their most-protective iPhone 12 offering is also made from (you guessed it!) polycarbonate (with a sprinkling of TPU)!
Winner – hard cases (sorry, soft cases, you didn´t stand a chance)
N.B. obviously not ALL hard cases will withstand a 45ft drop, make sure you do your research before making a purchase!
The winner ...
Looking for something soft, grippy and a little bit more environmentally friendly? That´ll be a soft case, then!
After a phone case akin to an armored tank? It´s a hard case all the way!
Which one´s the ´winner´? Well, that´s a decision you´re going to have to make by yourself!
Erika is a Mexico City based stylist and self-confessed phone case fanatic! She´s been building up her case collection ever since she got her hands on her first iPhone! Her husband reckons that she has more cases than she does clothes!