For a while I had it made. With four lines on my cellular plan, three of which started out without a contract, I could sanely upgrade my phone every six months at a discount/promo rate, pass the old device down the chain, and just repeat every time a new device came out.
To the death? No, to the pain.
I do use the word “sanely” very loosely here. It’s still about $300 for the upgrade with tax. Every six months. Re-learning the new phone’s customizations, quirks, ringtones, etc.
And there are two more painful problems with this model, though. One is that you often have to re-buy all your accessories. Car docks, home docks, cases, cool Doctor Who skins… they all have to be replaced with your phone changes form factor and/or manufacturer. The other is that my cellular carrier makes it increasingly challenging to keep an unlimited data plan. The last thing I want to do is slip up on an upgrade transfer and start paying current rates for a sharing plan that really doesn’t meet my needs.
So for a few months I drooled silently over the Motorola RAZR MAXX HD and the HTC DROID DNA, until I saw that Samsung was coming out with a new Galaxy S 4 any day now. Those of you on Big Red probably know that we got it last of the major carriers–I think Credo Mobile even had the GS4 before Verizon did. But finally it came along, and I started suffering the same curse I’d suffered when buying previous bleeding-edge machines, even going back to those sweet 60GB iPods I bought last decade.
So I’m here today with some thoughts on protecting a new phone, and on the accessory ecosystem for the Galaxy S4 specifically.
Disclaimer: With the exception of the Speck case (free sample) and the Skinomi case (birthday present), all devices and accessories mentioned in this article were purchased by me through retail channels, albeit some with standard Verizon corporate discounts. Also, links in this post might result in affiliate commissions if you buy stuff from Amazon through them.
Seriously. It doesn’t have to be ugly, or mint-flavored, but the first two things you should do with your new phone are protect the screen and protect the body.
I’ve found that the 3-pack screen protectors that the cell carriers sell are quite acceptable. I won’t leave the phone shop without one. You pay about $10-12 after discounts and you might never need the other two. Double-check whether the ones you’re offered are matte or glossy screen style (and if the shop doesn’t have the one you prefer, shop around quickly). Set them aside for when you sell the phone (more on this later). But if you’re mean to your phone, consider the Zagg option below.
As for protecting the body, you have a couple of options, depending on your aesthetics, usage needs, and your phone materials.
Slimline option – go with a clear protective skin for the whole phone. Zagg is the most prominent name, and if you install them properly (or pay the mobile folks at Best Buy $12 to do it), the skin will last forever. I’ve also used Skinomi once, thanks to a birthday gift from a coworker, with no concerns there.
Zagg Invisible Shield is a pain to install, although they now have different levels of installation difficulty/resilience. You can buy screen-only, which is good if you share your phone pocket with keys or bricks or angry rodents. I’d lean toward the full body coverage though.
Standard/slim case – you can get a variety of cases that basically cover the phone except for the screen, providing a somewhat resilient bumper for the edges (something the protective skins can’t really do). These are often available in different materials (silicone, hard plastic, even various metals) and opacities (solid, translucent, clear).
Standard/chunky case – If you want more of a sense of protection for your device, there are a lot of cases out there that provide more of a bumper, including Otterbox and the like. I wouldn’t recommend this for the Zoolander style of phone, but if you’re resigned to (or enamored with) a large phone already, and know you’re going to put it through abuse, you may find this option the best.
Featureful case – with larger screens and more multimedia, many people want a phone case that doubles as a stand, so you can watch a video or type with a bluetooth keyboard while using the phone’s display. There are also cases a couple of vendors which offer a mini-wallet for various devices. I tried the Bear Motion wallet case but got annoyed with having to open and close it. It does offer a stand feature, and more screen protection than some other options.
After I visited with Speck at Interop, they were kind enough to provide me with a free sample of the SmartFlex Card Case for GS4 (pictured here), which I’ve been using for over a month now. I wasn’t sure I’d be able to survive with just three cards of space, but it was perfect for a week around Disneyland and for most of my other travel (ID, work credit card, personal credit card). I could leave a thin wallet in my front pocket and rarely need it.
Battery case – With that huge brilliant screen, the high speed data, and the always-on mode we live in these days, you’re going to run out of power sooner than before. For a few devices (iPhones, Galaxy S3 and S4, probably others) you can find a case that contains an extra battery for your phone. I found a random import 3200mAh “Power Bank” case at a local computer shop for $30, and it saved my butt a few times at Cisco Live and other conference events. It also features a kickstand and an audio reflector to send the sound from your phone back toward you. The iDevice battery cases are a bit more polished, but hopefully this segment will expand a bit.
Cool But Not Protective Cases – When I bought my Galaxy S4, I got the Flip View cover, which lets you see notifications through the cover without flipping it open. I found that the flip view window picked up fingerprints from my screen, and I didn’t really use it as it was meant to be used, so it sits on my desk at home now. I’m glad Verizon price-matched Amazon on this, as I would have hated to write off $60 for the case.
There are also skins you can get that provide a nominal amount of protection (or distraction) from damage. I’ve been a big fan of the Custom Phone Skins line, especially their Doctor Who phone skins, and have bought 3-4 of them. However, while they protect a bit from scuffs, they won’t do much for you when you bounce your phone off the pavement getting out of a car. This would be a good choice if you go with a transparent/translucent case, or if your phone has a Kevlar coating like the RAZR MAXX did.
My daily driver is the Speck case these days, with the stock Verizon/Samsung screen protector. I keep the battery case in my laptop bag just in case, but most days when I’m not traveling, I’m rarely more than 200 feet from a charging cable. And as I learned in Nanowrimo in 2002, if you can plug in, do plug in.
So where do we go from here?
I’ll be sharing some thoughts on car accessories, as well as the evaluation process I went through before deciding not to change carriers, in upcoming posts. You can see some caveats for car accessories, and the TARDIS phone skin I had on my RAZR MAXX, at my earlier post on fun with Verizon phones and vehicle navigation mounts.
Have you found an accessory for your mobile phone or tablet that you can’t do without? Or something you wish you’d done without? Feel free to share in the comments.