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Three iPhone Cases with Secret Identities

David Pogue
Tech Critic
Yahoo Tech

Apple pours millions into producing the sleekest, thinnest, most beautiful phones allowed by the laws of physics. We get them home, and what do we do?

We entomb them in blobs of mass-produced silicone rubber.

You know: cases. For protection, for grippiness, maybe to express our individuality.

But I say if you’re going to saddle yourself with the bulk and ugliness of an iPhone case, you may as well get some extra mileage out of it. Fortunately, the world teems with bizarre and wonderful double-duty cases. There are, for example, cases that turn your iPhone into a stun gun, a bottle opener, or a Swiss Army knife.

Those secondary features have nothing to do with the phone’s intended purpose, though. Fortunately, there are some that do. For your entertainment pleasure, I present micro-reviews of three iPhone cases whose secondary functions address the iPhone’s own drawbacks: no keys, nonremovable battery, and nonexpandable memory.

Typo keyboard
How weird is this? Ryan Seacrest, star of screen and screen, is the driving force behind this idea: a case that adds a BlackBerry-style thumb keyboard to an iPhone 5 or 5s.

Now, before you read much further, you should know that BlackBerry, the company, thinks that the Typo keyboard is more than BlackBerry-style; it thinks it’s a BlackBerry ripoff. And it got a judge to agree. For now, the court has barred Typo from selling any more of this case. (You can, however, still find it for sale online.)

The good news is that the case really works. You pair it with your phone via Bluetooth, and then presto: Anywhere you can type, you just whack away at the tiny plastic keys with your thumb, like millions of BlackBerry-ites before you.

For a lot of people, a real keyboard truly does make typing faster and more accurate than typing on glass. (For one thing, you can touch-type on a BlackBerry-style keyboard. Nobody touch-types on an onscreen keyboard.)

One special key turns on key backlighting, which is extremely helpful in low light.

There’s a steaming-hot serving of bad news, though. The case adds height to the phone (three-quarters of an inch). The result feels weirdly elongated and top-heavy. And jumping back and forth between the keyboard and the screen (to tap things) is clumsy.

The Typo case also covers up your home button. A home key in the lower-right corner duplicates all the home button’s functions (double-press for the app switcher; hold down for Siri). But if you have an iPhone 5s, you can no longer use the fingerprint scanner.

Note, too, that you lose the benefits of the iPhone’s built-in autocorrection, auto-capitals, and auto-apostrophe features when the Typo case is on. Yes, I know autocorrect sometimes gets it hilariously wrong — but autocorrect truly does help with accuracy and speed, at least when you’re using an onscreen keyboard.

And, of course, the Typo keyboard is something else to have to keep charged up, using a USB cable. (Its tiny built-in battery powers the Bluetooth and the illumination and lasts about a week.)

The Typo feels a little cheap and unsubstantial, it makes accessing your jacks clumsy, and its future is in limbo. But I know there are old BlackBerry fans who can’t stand typing on glass (hi, Dad!) — and if they can find a Typo keyboard to buy, they may have a flawed but workable way out.

Prong PocketPlug
How great would it be if you never needed a charging cord for your phone? Never had to find one, lose one, coil one, borrow one, watch one stop working when the connector frays?

The dream is alive, thanks to the Prong PocketPlug case ($70; website is here).

It’s an iPhone case with two flip-out prongs for a regular power outlet. When you tug either prong, they both pop upright.

That’s right: You can plug your iPhone directly into a regular power outlet to charge!

(There are three PocketPlug designs: one for the iPhone 4/4s, one for the iPhone 5/5s, and, according to the website, an upcoming one for the Samsung Galaxy S III.)

There’s a micro-USB jack in the side, too, so that you can charge your phone from a laptop if you want to.

The PocketPlug is ingenious, it works, it’s long overdue — and it’s huge. This thing adds a half-inch to the phone’s height, and nearly as much depth. Talk about a power brick!

This case is so bulky that, really, carrying around a charging cord doesn’t seem so bad. (Or you could carry around this little guy on your key ring or in your wallet.)

Fortunately, Prong has seen the bulkiness of its ways. The company announced just this morning that there will soon be a better case in Prongtown: the Prong PWR. It’s exactly the same thing as the PocketPlug, except that the case includes a backup battery — it keeps your phone charged twice as long, much like the mophie case described below.

In fact, the battery portion of the PWR case pops off. You can charge it while you’re still using your phone, which is a truly great idea.

It’s a lot easier to forgive all that bulk knowing that you’re also getting a two-day battery out of the deal. The company says the case will be available this summer for $80 (it’s $65 if you preorder).

Mophie space pack
Back when Yahoo Tech was a mere sapling, only a day or two old, I reviewed this baby: a case for your iPhone 5 or 5s that doesn’t just double the battery life. It also doubles the storage.

If you’ve ever gotten one of those “Cannot Record Video” or “Cannot Take Photo” error messages because your phone was out of room, then you’re a candidate for this case. For $150, you add 16 gigabytes to your phone’s existing storage space. Or for $180, you add 32 gigs. And you double the battery life.

It sounds fantastic. Imagine a single case that largely eliminates three of the iPhone’s biggest drawbacks at once: fragility, short battery life, and non-expandable storage.

Now that the thing is actually shipping, I can confidently say that what I wrote about the semi-final prototype was correct: that your newly expanded storage doesn’t feel built-in.

“In effect, you’re carrying two phones in one. You can copy photos between your two storage buckets, but other kinds of files stay only on one ‘side’ of your phone or the other. And it’s up to you to remember which half contains which files.

“The other problem with this approach is that the sub-apps for music, videos and photos aren’t as full-featured as the iPhone’s built-in ones. In the Photos app, you can view or send photos, but you can’t edit them. … In the Videos app, you can play your movies, but there are no captions, and you can’t zoom the picture to eliminate letterbox bars, as you can in the phone’s built-in Videos app.”

I mean, maybe that’s not a big deal for you. If you’ve ever used Microsoft’s SkyDrive, or Google Drive, or Apple’s old iDisk, you’re already used to the notion of having some of your stuff stored in a separate cabinet; doesn’t mean it’s useless.

It’d just be better if your new memory were pooled with your built-in memory, so that all your apps drank from the same trough.


So there you have it: Three cases that address real phone shortcomings. All three are ingenious, but all three are disappointing in spots.

Then again, all three are 1.0 versions. With any luck, the trend of phone protectors harboring secret identities has only just taken off.

You can email David Pogue here.