Wednesday, March 6, 2013

X Line case for my Samsung Galaxy Note II

My biggest complaint about my Samsung Galaxy Note II phone was that its smooth exterior handled like a wet bar of soap. I could have lived without any additional protection, but I desperately needed a case that could provide better traction for my hands while still allowing the phablet to easily slip in and out of my front pocket in my blue jeans. For aesthetic reasons, I really wanted a grey case. A brushed aluminum look would have been perfect, but the only option there was made of hard plastic and provided zero protection. Adding just a little bit of protection for the phone was also on my wish list.

I eventually ran across the "X Line" series of TPU cell phone cases.  They got good reviews and looked decent, even though they weren't quite the look that I really wanted.  Most importantly, they offered a grey model.  I couldn't find a single gray model sold at the time (now there is one), but when I saw a 4-pack of black, white, grey, and clear cases for just $7, I gave it a shot even though there were not yet any customer reviews. I'm glad I did!

The black & white cases are completely opaque. The clear and grey cases are transparent. "Smoke" might be a better description than "gray," as it seems to have the tiniest hint of brown color. I'm wearing the grey case on my white Note 2. It's not quite the brushed aluminum look that I wanted, but it still looks good, and the functional design is top notch. If monochrome isn't your thing, I see that there are more brightly colored versions of this X Line case available on Amazon.

The case is a flexible, TPU design. It provides some minor shock absorption, so I have no qualms about tossing the phone onto my desk, but I still wouldn't want to drop it off a balcony. I'm not sure if it could protect against dropping it from chest-height onto a concrete sidewalk or not. I'll let somebody else test that one first. It's flexible enough to install easily, yet still fit tightly. I imagine the fit would get looser if you took the case on & off every day. It' still winter here, so I'm not sure how snugly the case will fit in really hot weather.

If you're not familiar with TPU (I wasn't), it's a somewhat hard, yet flexible, rubber. It's soft enough that you can leave a mark with your fingernail if you press hard. It's not nearly as squishy or as sticky as a silicone case, but it is moreso than a hard plastic case. It's not at all brittle, so there's no fear of it cracking on impact like a hard case might. Although I haven't tried, I imagine it would scuff pretty easily if you slid it along a rough, concrete sidewalk.

The front edge of the case wraps in about 2mm all the way around the front bezel of the phone to protect the screen when you lay it face down. The resulting ridge is maybe 1 or 1.5mm tall. The rest of the case is only about 1mm thick, which is enough to protect the camera from small bumps and scratches, but not so thick that this slim phone now feels like a brick. The case has roomy cut-outs around all of the phone's external features EXCEPT the power & volume buttons. Those buttons are covered by thinner TPU surfaces. The buttons are still easy to depress, but I find that I'm not quite as likely to accidentally depress the power button as I was with the naked phone. That's a good thing.

This texture provides great grip!
The best thing about this case is the texture. The main body of the case has a surface texture made of a gentle, diagonal grid of tiny bumps. It provides excellent grip when holding the phone, and the phone will stay in place when laid on a smooth surface with a 20-degree incline. However, the texture is still shallow enough that the phone will easily slide in and out of my jeans pocket (Wrangler Relaxed Fit) fairly easily, as long as I'm not belted into my car. Working around the seat belt is a chore even without the case.

The opaque, black version
The X pattern that runs from corner to corner on the case is completely smooth, but is still (obviously) TPU. If the entire case was this smooth (as some are), I probably wouldn't be happy with the amount of grip when holding the phone. I initially wasn't wild about the aesthetics of this X, but I later realized that having a smooth surface at the corners of the phone makes it easier to slide in & out of my pocket without significantly compromising any grip when I'm holding the device. Bonus!

Another little necessity that I picked up about the same time was a dust cap for the headphone jack.  Since I carry my phone in my pocket, lint tends to collect inside the 3.5mm jack and blocks the electrical contacts when you want to insert the earphones.  I found a 10-pack of tiny, transparent dust plugs that fit into the 1/8" port and keep it free from debris.  With shipping, the pack was only $6, so my whole family is now outfitted with them.  The only problem is that, being transparent, it can be difficult to see when you remove it to use the headphones.  Take care not to lose it!

I highly recommend these X Line cases, and am going to get a similar one for my wife's phone now, too.

One last thing that I just have to share.  Being a camera guy, I almost couldn't resist buying this case that makes your phone look like an old Leica rangefinder.  However, it's hard plastic, which offers little protection, and it appears to be smooth, which offers no traction, and it costs twice as much as I paid for four of these X Line cases.  Cute, but impractical.

Do you have a phone case that you truly love?  Please tell us about it in the comments below.

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