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Galoshes on a Botticelli

Should You Buy a Cell Phone Case?
Photograph by Brian Finke

Consider the smartphone -- slim lines, gorgeous materials, hyper-thin profile. Engineers ate out of a pizza box for a year to shave half a millimeter off that thing. Then you come along with your hideous rubber case. Why should they bother?

More important, why should you spend $600 on a triumph of design only to stick it in a sarcophagus?

A rubber case "will absorb some of the energy" of an accident "which would otherwise go into, and potentially damage, the phone, a bit like a car shock absorber," wrote Sigrid Adriaenssens , Ph.D, an assistant professor at Princeton's School of Engineering and Applied Science, in an email. She added in a follow-up call that if the case is very thin, "there's no point having it."

With plastic cases, "the frame acts more like an exoskeleton from non-impact loads on the outside," Adriaenssens wrote, citing "a little boy standing on the phone with one foot," for example. By the same token, a rigid plastic frame won't absorb shocks as effectively as a rubber one.

So a case, cumbersome as it is, offers some protection. But 27% of iPhone damage claims are the result of liquid damage, according to a survey by the insurer Squaretrade. Ordinary cases can't save a phone from drowning.

After all that, should you buy a case? Loot recommends you take a good hard look at yourself and ask: Am I a klutz? If you are, buy one. If not, just pick up some insurance and let your phone go nude. You know it wants to.

James Tarmy reports on arts and culture for Bloomberg Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News.

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