PROTECT: Cases for your smartphone or tablet

These days, cases for your new smartphone, tablet or e-reader are just as important as the device itself. Whether it's to fit a specific style, taste or customization, there are hundreds of different options for dressing your tablet up.

We've scoured through a lot of those cases to present our picks of the year's best offerings, courtesy of the 2012 Cool Yule Tools holiday gift guide.

Holiday gift guide 2012

A quick guide to Network World's favorite gifts

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Note: Products listed in no particular order or preference. Prices are also rounded-up estimates from either the product's website or Better deals may be offered online during the holiday season.

X-doria Campfire


X-doria's website says "CampFire is like a custom sleeping bag for the new iPad & iPad 2." While true, it is like a warm puffy pillow that easily slides onto your iPad, that warm cozy feeling goes away quickly if you suddenly jump up and the iPad falls and the glass breaks (but I suppose that can be the case with any sleeve that goes around the iPad).

I already have a case that tilts the iPad up, so having the sleeping bag feel didn't seem like much of an improvement. When not in use, you can reverse the cushion to protect the iPad. However, the reversal took more time than I was willing to invest. At almost $60, the cost seems a bit, well, stuffed.

- Ryan Francis

Eyn phone case (iPhone 4/4S) with storage space & mirror


For many iPhone 4/4S owners, keeping their phone thin and light is a high priority. But for others, protecting the case from drops and scratches is more important. For the latter group, we present the Eyn phone case, which not only has a harder case to protect the phone from drops and scratches, but also comes with a "secret compartment". OK, it's not-so-secret - it's a compartment in the back that you can open up, revealing a handy mirror and a clip that can hold cash, credit cards or your driver's license.

Installing the phone into the case is quite easy - I mention this because some harder/protection cases can be a chore. The bottom of the Eyn case pops off, the iPhone easily slips in, and then you snap the bottom back on.

Opening and closing the compartment can be slightly tricky, but it's better if you have a thumbnail to do this with. In addition to storing things in the compartment, you can open the case like an upside-down V and use the backing as a kickstand for viewing movies or doing a FaceTime video chat. The unit also comes with a wristband that you can attach, giving you some extra protection in case your hand drops the phone (it reminded me of the wristband for the Nintendo Wii that stays attached to your wrist in case the remote flies off your hand). You can get the case in three colors - black, turquoise or pink, to fit a personal style or matching coordinated outfit.

The only downside is the extra bulk - this will add extra weight to the phone, so if you're like me and you carry your phone in your pocket, you're going to notice - but you'll also know that you have your phone on you as well. The extra bulk also means it won't fit into a power charging docking station correctly - but if you already charge via the cable only anyway, that's not a big deal.

- Keith Shaw

Marware C.E.O. Hybrid for iPad (3rd generation)


We receive a lot of iPad and iPhone cases for our holiday gift guide, so my first rule in reviewing one is to figure out if there's something unique about the case that makes it worth writing about. If that doesn't happen, is the price low enough to make it worth recommending?

In the case of the C.E.O. Hybrid, neither of those options really fit the bill, but the case does a good enough job with the basics (and the price isn't outrageous), that it may still make for a good holiday gift. The case is a folio style that can also double as a horizontal viewing stand - it provides two positions for viewing content, or you can just lay it flat on the cover and use it for on-screen typing.

The case also features an internal hand-grip, which lets you hold the iPad with one hand so the second hand can operate it - after a while, though, that might get uncomfortable. The material feels like leather but probably isn't, but there is hard interior plastic spine that provides some protection for the iPad if you drop it. Getting the iPad into and out of the case was not super-easy, but it also wasn't as difficult as other cases I've tried.

The case comes in a choice of four colors (black, brown, red and pink), making it stylish enough for the CEO or CIO on your holiday list. The CEO Hybrid case doesn't try super-hard to get your attention - it just does what it does - I guess that's an endorsement of sorts.

- Keith Shaw

Marware MicroShell Folio for iPad (3rd generation)


I'm not up on my chemical compounds, so the claim that a case made from a hard polycarbonate offers greater protection than cases made from polyurethane goes right over my head. That said, I suppose the polycarbonate can be made thinner and still offer protection, because this is made out of thinner materials than ones made from a hard plastic. With the thinner profile, the MicroShell Folio won't add extra bulk to your iPad if you are fearful that a larger case will suddenly bulk down the tablet.

The case offers an automatic sleep/wake lid, which means when you open the lid the iPad will turn on (a feature of the 2nd and 3rd generation of the tablet). On the lid side there are also two ridges of softness (that sounds like a band name), which can be bended back into a triangle shape to create a small stand for the iPad for horizontal viewing or typing. The viewing stand isn't as high as you'd like for viewing things while laying back on the couch (if it's on a table or desktop, you still have to sit up to see it), but it's better than nothing I suppose.

Soft magnets help secure the lid closed to the iPad, and you still have access to all of the iPads ports, buttons, cameras and speakers. Getting the tablet into the case was quite easy. The MicroShell Folio comes in metallic silver or black - my sample was the silver, which made it look slightly like Robocop.

At $60, the price seems higher than what I'd pay for an iPad case, but then maybe that's because I'm not aware of the pricing for polycarbonates.

- Keith Shaw

CM4 Q Card Case (iPhone 4/4S model tested)


The Q Card Case combines several elements seen in other iPhone cases into one package. First, there's a tough rubber casing that protects the sides and back of the phone from drops and general handling. Next, there's an integrated wallet pocket on the back, letting you fit up to three credit-cards or a bunch of cash inside the soft-touch and stitched pocket.

The unit then also comes with a scratch-resistant plastic screen protector that you can lay on top of the screen to help protect the front of the iPhone. I didn't test this function (with so many cases to try, I tend to not do anything that might permanently change my phone), but it appears to be quite easy to apply.

The company announced a Q Card Case for the iPhone 5 in early November, so this same form factor should fit an iPhone 5 if you like these features. Several color choices are also available to fit any stylish desires.

Just remember that if you're putting your cash and credit-cards into your iPhone, it's that more valuable and devastating should you lose or have the phone stolen.

- Keith Shaw

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