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Samsung Galaxy S4 Cases Review

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Ok, so you read my review of the Samsung Galaxy S4 and decided to pick up a new phone. Now what? Let's look at some accessories for your new toy / tool. This is a multipart, curated collection of stuff I liked, including both strengths and weaknesses. Generally, products that proved unsatisfactory are omitted.
The first thing you'll want to do with such a cool device - after playing with it for hours - is protect it. Smartphone cases have become a seemingly commodity item, but there are differences. I wanted one with a kickstand, so I could set the device down and watch video on that stunning AMOLED screen. This narrows the options dramatically.
A great choice is the Seidio Active, also available in a combo pack with a holster for a geeky look (I'll pass, thank you). It's a smooth silicon case with a matte-finish soft-surface hard plastic exoskeleton that gives added protection at the corners and top while adding minimal bulk. The overall look and feel is quite pleasing. A variety of colors of the skeleton are offered, allowing for a two-tone look; the silicon comes only in black. The unit includes a small aluminum kickstand. The kickstand creates a bulge, but the effect is minimized by smooth edges that keep it from getting caught on your pocket. A magnetic catch keeps it out of the way when not in use.
Build quality and fit are excellent and the phone, encased in the case, feels great in the hand, easy to grip and well-protected.
In addition to protecting the phone, the case helps you hold the device without your fingers accidentally touching icons that are near the edge of the screen, which I'd found to be a problem without the case. On the other hand, even with my small fingers, it's slightly awkward to access the back and menu buttons. This is probably true with any case though, since those buttons are close to the edge of the screen.
Overall, the case is well-designed, with one caveat: I found the power button difficult to press with the case on. This was a surprise, since my friend with an S III and the Active case does not experience this problem. The volume rocker is easy to operate, but the power button sometimes requires multiple attempts to press when the case is on. This is not due to any inherent stiffness in the power button, since it's easy to press when the case is off.
Another case with a kickstand is the Amzer 95549. The kickstand is rugged plastic, and is not quite as chic for my taste as the Seidio. But on the other hand, it's half the price - and I had no problem pushing the power button. Even less expensive - but still with a kickstand - is the Amzer 95693 (not tested).
For fun, I also liked the Amzer line of soft silicone cases available in ten colors, with one of my favorites being the 95557 (orange). Amzer has a particularly wide range of S4 cases of various types, available at competitive prices. Click here to search Amazon for Amzer Galaxy S4 cases (double check the search results before you buy, because a few S III cases show up too!).
A step up in ruggedness, but also in bulk, is the Ballistic SG. Like the Seidio Active and the Amzer 95549, it's a two-layer case made from silicon and hard plastic (probably polycarbonate). There are differences though. The SG's corners are oversized silicon, whereas on the Seidio and 95549, the silicon at the corners is not particularly thick - but the Seidio's and 95549's corners (unlike the Ballistic's) are reinforced with the hard plastic. In addition, with the SG, the back of the phone is protected by three layers of material: silicon, hard plastic, and then an extra layer of silicon on top of the hard plastic.
The fit of the Ballistic case is not quite right at the top: a bit of the bezel is not covered. Also, the hole at the bottom of the case is much bigger than the USB charging port and is asymetrical. This is so that the phone's microphone isn't covered. The Seidio case adopts the more elegant-looking solution of having a separate hole for the microphone (as do the Amzer cases I tested). Overall, these cases are similar, but the Seidio is sleeker and has a kickstand, while the Ballistic appears to be more rugged. (I didn't drop test either one.) Also, it was easy to push the power button with the Ballistic case on, in contrast to the difficulty I had with the Seidio.
If you're a woman looking for a high style case at a reasonable price, check out the Musubo Chamfer case, available in silver, black, burgundy, magenta and blue. I sampled the black and the burgundy. The matte-finish black was, frankly, boring, but the burgundy had a metallic sheen that would pair well with the right lipstick and nail polish for a sexy night out clubbing. (Here's a link to the iPhone 5 version of the case; the S4 version is coming soon.) Be aware, though, that this is a minimalist, hard shell case with no silicon rubber lining. Translation: it won't protect your phone as thoroughly as the Seidio. But it does make the phone easier to keep hold of than no case at all - and it looks great.
Club kidz of any gender, orientation or identity will find something to like in the x-doria Engage Form VR, a textured, shimmering 3D design made of metalized plastic. Very sharp. Again, this is more about high style than high protection.
Another case that skews towards a female demographic is the Odoyo LiteFolio, a leatherette folio case. It's textured and has a professional rather than clubby look. Since it's a folio, the entire device is protected.
Les femmes chic should also take a look at an offering from Belkin, the Sartorial Wristlet (not tested). Yes, the company known best for cables and routers actually offers a cellphone case that's "Runway Inspired" - and judging from the pictures, this clutch case (which doubles as a wallet) is quite attractive.
Also in the high style category, I like the ZAGG's ifrogz Natural Series, a line of three cases made from a layer of exotic natural woods bonded on hard plastic. Suitable for men and women, these cases have no cushioning and cover only the back, top and bottom of the phone (not the sides). So, as with the Chamfer, we're talking about a case you buy for style, not for super protection.
On the more rough and tough side, if you want something that withstands the rigors of outdooring, check out the Otterbox Defender case. I didn't test it for the S4, but I did for my old iPod touch. It's bulky, but will take a lot of abuse. It includes a cover for the screen - i.e., a clear plastic sheet that lays over the screen and is held in place by the case, as opposed to a plastic or glass sheet that attaches directly to the screen - and port covers that help keep dust out of the USB and headphone jacks.
Another buffed out option is the Ballistic SG MAXX Series Case. Like the Ottorbox Defender, it features multilayer construction, a plastic screen cover, and rubber port covers. Here again, I didn't test it for the S4, having already examined the iPhone 4 version.
Unfortunately, the G-Form XTREME case is not (yet?) available for the S4. Here's a link to the S III version. Don't be surprised if your phone runs away and joins a SWAT team wearing one of these cases.
Also in the "I'd love to see one of those" category are the dramatic Lunatik Taktik Extreme cases, which are not available for the S4 (here's a link to the iPhone 5 case). They look like you could run them over with a tank, then still dial out for pizza.
That's it for cases. Look for my next installment, where I examine screen protectors for the S4. Afterward will come Bluetooth speakers, power banks (external batteries), Bluetooth keyboards and mice, USB chargers, USB cables, and miscellaneous accessories. You can find all this at http://www.huffingtonpost.com/jonathan-handel/.

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