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So you've plopped down $270 for an iPhone 4 and obligated yourself to spending a minimum of $2,000 on voice and data services over the next 36 months. You'd better make sure nothing happens to your fancy new hardware. Here are some cases that will help protect your precious gear from careless tumbles.

Apple iPhone 4 bumper ($29.00;

The simplest protection you can get, this Apple-made accessory seems to be designed around the idea that a dropped phone always lands on its edge—a pretty safe bet, in my experience.

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It's basically just a thin, rubbery frame designed to keep the sides of your phone safe from scuffs and cracks. Holes are cut out for the speakers, charging port, headphone jack, and ring/silent switch (though this toggle rests deeply enough below the edge of the bumper that it can be hard to reach), while metallic volume control and power buttons mimic the feel of those found on the phone itself.

Keep in mind, though, that the screen is left completely unprotected. The bumper's edges raise about a millimetre above the front and back sides of the phone, but this won't safegaurd the screen from keys in your pocket or raised stones on the pavement should your tumbling cell happen to land display-side down (it's a good thing the Corning Gorilla Glass screens Apple uses have proven so resistant to scrapes).

So it's a trade-off: The Bumber leaves your handset open to some physical risk but preserves much of the iPhone 4's look and feel.

Ballistic HC ($49.99;

This iPhone case is akin to bomb disposal armour. It's bulky and unwieldy, but nothing short of an explosion is likely to damage the hardware hidden inside.

The Ballistic HC offers multiple stages of protection, beginning with a hard, three-layer snap-on shell that covers the entire handset and looks like something designed for the military. It has holes for ports, membrane buttons for switches, and a clear plastic screen to keep the phone's display in pristine shape.

Users have the option of wrapping this case in a thick gel body that provides protection against strong impacts and has plugs to help keep the mic and power connectors dry in rainy whether.

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Then the whole kit and caboodle gets snapped into a thick and sturdy plastic holster, face-first to provide additional screen protection.

The Ballistic HC weighs nearly as much as the phone it's protecting and greatly increases its dimensions, but I can hardly imagine how a handset inside one of these things could be unintentionally damaged. It's suitable for construction workers, mountain climbers, and regular folk obsessively worried about accidentally busting their phones—so long as the extra girth doesn't offend.

Dexim Supercharged Leather Power Case ($69.90;

This case provides good protection for the bottom corners of your phone, which slide into a plastic sheath, as well as the front and back, which are covered by sturdy leather panels (the front one flips down during use). The top side is guarded by a strong leather clip that locks the front panel in place.

However, those interested in full protection should take note that Dexim's case leaves the top corners somewhat exposed—particularly on the camera side, where the leather panel dips down to keep from blocking photos. I know I'd feel a little nervous if I saw my phone taking a tumble in one of these.

Keep in mind, though, that this isn't a case designed for consumers who are fanatical about safeguarding their gear so much as power users who often drain their phones' batteries before bedtime. A 2000mAh cell capable of powering up to six hours of talk time, 10 hours of video or gaming, and 40 hours of music is hidden in the back of the case. You can switch the secondary battery on or off via a toggle.

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The biggest drawback is that it doesn't come with a power adapter. You'll need to jack into a computer using the included USB cable to recharge. It seems a bit chintzy to skimp on such a basic accessory given the case's relatively steep price tag.

Belkin Shield Micra ($29.99;

I'm not entirely sure what to make of this austere cover from Belkin. It's a piece of clear plastic (available in various tints) that appears to be no more advanced or any sturdier than a playing card case.

I was tempted to test its durability with an intentional drop, but I couldn't bring myself to risk the loaner phone Apple provided. The best case scenario in my mind's eye is that the Shield Micra would crack or shatter but leave the phone unscathed. Perhaps it's more durable than it looks, but I just can't image the case not suffering significant damage from a moderate fall with the extra weight of a phone inside.

I also couldn't help but frown at its price. Belkin wants $30 for a piece of plastic that, to my eyes, almost looks like a chunk of product packaging that ought to be thrown in a recycling bin. It's terribly expensive for what it is.

All of this said, the Shield Micra has one big advantage over most other cases: It hardly changes the look, feel, or size of an iPhone—especially if you choose the non-tinted case, which is the one I was provided. It has no rubber edges to catch as you pull it out of your pocket, and when it was in my hand I felt like I was holding a naked handset. The edges are a little knife-like—I was afraid that I might cut myself if I ran my finger over one too quickly—but in keeping with the iPhone 4's sharp, squared-off look.

If you desire some form of protection but can't stand the thought of bulkier, uglier cases altering the appearance of your phone, this minimalist, lightweight plastic sheath could meet your needs.

Roots Tuff Skin Rubber Case ($24.99;

Canadian patriots might find themselves drawn to this well made case, which features a maple leaf on its back side stamped with the logo one of our country's most recognizable clothing brands.

The shell—available in a rainbow of colours—is made of thick silicone rubber with deep grooves that create a pattern similar to a tire tread on the sides and back of the case. The design provides great protection from harsh impacts; my test phone actually bounced a couple of centimetres in the air when I dropped it on a table. It's also comfortable to hold, adds surprisingly little bulk to Apple's slim device, and is a snap to slide on and peel off.

Spend $10 more for the Roots Tuff Skin Rubber Case kit and you'll get a holster with a swivelling clip that can be locked in open position, allowing it to function as a vertical or horizontal stand for video viewing. Also in the box: a carabiner clip for the holster so it can be attached to a purse or bag instead of a belt, and a hardly-noticeable stick-on screen protector.

Other cases may offer prettier curves and more high-tech frills, but this one is practical, durable, versatile, and affordable. iPhone 4 owners in search of hardware protection are unlikely to find much better bang for their buck.

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About the Author
Game and Gadget Reporter

Chad Sapieha has been writing about video games and consumer gadgets for the Globe and Mail since 2003. His work has been published in magazines, newspapers, and Web sites across North America, and he has appeared as an expert on television and radio newscasts. More

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