Many people still keep their money tucked away in wallets, but there has been an interesting trend in the last few years of manufacturers creating cases that house both your smartphone and your important cards in one package – the idea being that all you’ll need to nab on your way out of the house […]
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Of Calling and Cards: A Comparison of Three iPhone Wallet Cases

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison 1

Many people still keep their money tucked away in wallets, but there has been an interesting trend in the last few years of manufacturers creating cases that house both your smartphone and your important cards in one package – the idea being that all you’ll need to nab on your way out of the house is your keys and phone. That’s it.

That’s one less item to remember, but two to lose should you forget your iPhone while hurrying out of the café to catch the bus. There’s definitely an inherent risk in using wallet cases, but there’s no denying there’s something very interesting about the concept. Forward thinking, even.

So this holiday season I threw my regular leather wallet into a drawer, reached out to Sena, CM4, and TwelveSouth, and put the following cases through their paces:

CM4 Q Card Case – $40

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison x  1

I’ve written a full review of the Q Card Case already so I’ll let that piece do most of the talking, but it essentially boils down to a thicker silicone case with a card pouch attached to the back. It also comes with a screen protector, which is a nice extra touch.

Sena WalletSkin for iPhone 4/S – $52

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison x

Sena produces some of the best leather cases on the market, and the WalletSkin they sent me is a very smooth, lustrous black. The case puts the iPhone right up front and attaches a two-compartment wallet to the back, and seals the whole deal with a metal clasp. The WalletSkin is fairly slim when empty, but expands when loaded up with four cards. It’s also the only one of these cases that comes with an optional ratcheting belt clip, although I opted not to use it (I like keeping my wallet in my pocket).

TwelveSouth BookBook for iPhone – $60

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison 6

This is a case that’s been around for quite a while, but most of the reviews I’ve read have left me with many questions, prompting me to give the case a whirl myself. The BookBook features a “novel” design and looks more like a leather-bound tome or a pocket bible than a smartphone case. Open the BookBook up and you’ll find a wallet compartment on the inside of the cover and an iPhone compartment on the right. The leather looks nicely worn and has loosened up nicely over the past weeks of use. It also provides a surprising amount of drop protection, since it sandwiches the iPhone between two hard covers.

There are obviously all sorts of pros and cons to each case design, so this review is divided into specific use cases and ends with my overall recommendation.

One-handed iPhone Use

You don’t really expect to wield your wallet with one hand, but it’s common to have to answer your phone with one hand while you balance groceries in the other.

In this regard, the BookBook tends to suffer the most due to its covered design. It’s manageable if you use your right hand to pick the case up, flip it open with a thumb, and then answer a call…but it’s not nearly as easy with the left. In other words, the BookBook can be used one-handed, but it’s something you’ll have to think about and work around.

The WalletSkin and Q Card Case don’t really suffer from this. They simply feel like thicker versions of other similar leather and silicone designs.

Picture Taking (The Taking of Pictures)

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison 7

The Q Card Case is once again the simplest one to use here, as it just feels like a bigger, less slippery iPhone 4S.

The WalletSkin is a little more involved, as you’ll have to unclasp the wallet portion first, or simply live with taking dark close-ups of your credit card. There’s also the matter of what to do with the vertically oriented wallet flap once it’s open. It’s easy to take portrait picture since you simply let the flap hang down, but landscape pictures require you to awkwardly hold the flap out to the side while you frame your shot.

The BookBook doesn’t really offer a camera option so much as it does a workaround. There is no camera hole in the case, so you’ll have to unseal the bookmark (which secures the iPhone), and slide the phone up until the lens can actually see something. TwelveSouth suggests in their videos that you use the friction of a thumb against the screen to move the iPhone upwards, but that’s touch-and-go for me. If my hands are very dry, it can work out, but if they’re even a little sweaty, all I end up doing is smearing my screen. Then there’s the matter of the BookBook frame blocking a portion of the screen as you take a picture. To make a long story short: this is easily one of the BookBook’s biggest compromises, and will definitely be a big sticking point for iPhoneographers thinking about a purchase. I’d love to see a BookBook2 that somehow finds a way to address this.

General Access / Skins

The Q Card Case acts the most like a naked iPhone, but for a set of touch-through buttons for sleep/wake and volume. What it doesn’t do however, is allow for any sort of skins aside from a screen protector. So if you’re a fan of using Gelaskins or InvisibleShield, you’re simply out of luck here, as the Q Card Case fit is too tight to accomodate protective films without doing them damage.

The WalletSkin is really the simplest case here, with great access to all controls and ports. It also easily accomodates a Gelaskinned iPhone.

The BookBook is also Gelaskin-friendly, but tends to require a few habit changes. You’ll have to get used to flipping the cover open to access the volume, silent switch, and home button. The case is usable when you simply keep the front flap open and dangling, but I’ve found it more comfortable to fold the whole cover behind the case during extended use (this also exposes your ID, so I inverted mine).

Cards

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison 2

The Q Card Case holds three cards and doesn’t have any straps or covers to open, but it was actually my least favourite way to carry my cards around. That’s because the open design showed off a little more detail on my cards than I was willing to share, and the lack of extra pockets meant that picking out one card usually required unloading them all first.

The Sena WalletSkin looks more promising because of its four card slots (one of which is for ID), but I really didn’t like how letting the rear flap hang would leave two cards hanging upside down. I’ll admit that this may simply be my own paranoia, since the leather is very tight and takes quite a while to break in, but there’s just something about having one credit card and my ID dangling that made me very nervous. As a result, I usually only loaded two cards into the WalletSkin, and only in the pockets that were right side up, and right up against my iPhone.

The BookBook is really the winner when it comes to keeping cards. The front cover features two card pockets, an ID slot, and a larger sleeve for cards or cash on the inside. The cards are easy to take out, even when the case is brand new, and they’re never tilted or dangled in such a way that they’re at risk of dropping out. The one real criticism here is that not everyone may want their IDs showing all the time, and the BookBook basically advertises yours when the case is open.

Cash

Let’s get this fact out of the way first: with each of these wallet cases, you’re going to have to get used to folding a bill in thirds, or at least in half, or they simply won’t fit. I see this being a dealbreaker for a lot of people who are used to full-sized wallets that you can simply throw 5s and 20s into without thinking. Each of these wallets is also a bit tighter than one might like, so you’ll probably need to make a habit of putting certain bills in certain places (e.g. 20s folded up top, 10s folded and kept in the middle, and 5s kept below).

The Q Card Case still feels like the least secure solution here, since you’ll be tucking your cash right in with your cards into a single pocket. It’s not unusable, but it is a precarious setup. Some sort of lid, flap, or strap would have helped here.

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison x  2

The WalletSkin is a bit better, although it is a bit of a workaround. I found cash fit best in the ID slot, where I could use the small cut-out in the plastic cover to thumb cash out as needed. The cash isn’t visible when the case is closed and it’s pretty secure, but it will also be hanging upside down if you open the wallet flap and let it dangle below the phone.

The BookBook functions most like a mini wallet, thanks to the slim pocket that’s tucked behind the card slots. You could keep other cards here, but I prefer to tuck folded cash in (oriented vertically, like the cards) and use my index finger to pluck the bills out as needed. It’s still a workaround, but it’s the best of the workarounds in these cases.

Protection

All of the cases in this round-up do a good job of offering general drop and scratch protection. The Q Card Case is thick, padded silicone that should handle a drop well (especially given how tight the fit is). The WalletSkin’s rigid leather around the edges do a good job of absorbing drop impact (I’ve dropped Sena cases before). Finally, the BookBook’s dual hard covers look stiff enough to take the worst part of a fall, although there is, admittedly, a chance that it may open and fall flat on its face. The leather securing the iPhone itself definitely isn’t thick enough to shield the phone from impact.

Conclusion

IPhone Wallet Case Comparison 3

I haven’t used any points system in this review, but there is definitely a clear winner for me in this roundup. The TwelveSouth BookBook was the case I thought I’d have the most trouble using (I thought opening the cover would get annoying), but it has turned out to be the most delightful of the bunch.

The Q Card Case just doesn’t feel as well designed as the other two products, and looks too much like a silicone case with a pouch attached to the back. I’m looking for something more elegant in my wallet case combo.

The WalletSkin looked a lot more promising, but the wallet portion of the case was ultimately disappointing to me. Four card slots and the premium leather are fantastic, but the flip-out design doesn’t inspire confidence, and it also makes landscape picture taking awkward. In fact, were I to do this roundup over again, I’d probably have chosen the Sena WalletSlim, which is basically the WalletSkin without the flap. However, two card slots is usually too few for my needs, so that’s why I opted for the WalletSkin.

Ultimately, it’s the BookBook that strikes the best balance between case and wallet. It’s definitely much bigger than a naked iPhone and it’s not always easy to take out of your pocket, but I love the quaint hard cover design, the worn look of the leather, and how immediately usable the case is (no major break-in needed). The major sticking points are the strange camera slide-up workaround (I’d prefer an “ugly” cut-out) and the compromises you make for one-handed use (best in the right hand), but there’s something about the BookBook that makes it a lot of fun to use nonetheless. When it comes to wallet cases, it seems that there’s nowhere else for me to go but TwelveSouth.

The Q Card Case, WalletSkin, and BookBook were provided by CM4, Sena, and TwelveSouth for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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