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Cheap iPhone Cases Buying Guide

Our picks for the best cheap iPhone 5 case, the SwitchEasy Tones (starting at $17), and the best cheap iPhone 4 case, the Speck CandyShell Flip (starting at $20), use a combination of materials to provide effective protection for all parts of the phone and maintain easy access to buttons and ports. Our runner-up for best iPhone 5 case, the Griffin Protector (starting at $15), takes a simpler approach, wrapping the phone in reinforced silicone, but still earns props for protection.

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Many users prefer the look and feel of the Incase Snap Case (starting at $12), but review after review derides the flimsy plastic. Reports of cracked corners are disappointingly commonplace. We also looked at iPhone armbands to consider if you go running or hit the gym often. In this category we're partial to Grantwood Technology's TuneBand (starting at $23) for the iPhone 4/4S or iPhone 5.

While protection is paramount, features such as button and port accessibility and color options also factor into this purchase decision.

Button and Port Accessibility.

The many buttons and ports around the outside of a phone risk being impeded by a poorly designed case. This is where the Speck CandyShell Flip excels. A hinge on the back, about an inch from the edge, lets users to flip up the entire bottom of the case, so the phone can fit onto a dock or hook up to a cable. ILounge named the Speck CandyShell Flip for the iPhone 4 its 2011 Case of the Year and awarded the iPhone 5 version the same title in 2012. In addition to that site's vote of confidence, this cheap iPhone case earns commendations on Amazon, where reviewers note that the buttons line up perfectly with the iPhone 4/4S case and respond immediately to the slightest touch.

The SwitchEasy Tones doesn't have a nifty flip feature, but users who have reviewed the cheap iPhone 5 case on Amazon report that the ports are all easily accessible and the buttons are very responsive. Another plus: The case doesn't create a ghost effect on images taken with the phone's camera -- a common problem with cheap iPhone cases. The Griffin Protector doesn't harmonize as well with the buttons on the iPhone 5. ILounge points to the side volume buttons as particularly unresponsive from underneath the case. Users reviewing the Incase Snap Case on the Apple website appreciate that the design of the iPhone 4 case doesn't cover up the buttons, but many complain that the plastic around the opening for the volume seems particularly weak and cracks easily.

Reviewers on Amazon note a key difference between the iPhone 4/4S and iPhone 5 TuneBands: The former has a cutout on the front for the home button. Reviewers who've used both cases say the iPhone 5 version feels sturdier and protects the button from sweat. Many users note that other armbands cover the touchscreen with plastic and appreciate that the TuneBand leaves the screen accessible. A screen protector is included for those who prefer to use one.

Aesthetic Appeal.

Generally consumers don't want a cheap iPhone case to detract from the look of the phone itself and may want to make a statement with the color or design. The Speck CandyShell Flip comes in at least a half dozen color combinations (more for the iPhone 5), although a couple of reviewers ding the case for its prominent display of the Speck logo on the back. The Incase Snap Case features a variety of colors, patterns, and even textures. The sleek, minimalist design adds hardly any bulk.

Review continues below

The SwitchEasy Tones and Griffin Protector each come in seven colors, but the rubbery Griffin Protector is not particularly pretty in any color, says an editor at MobileTechReview. That cheap iPhone 5 case suits consumers more concerned with price and protection than appearance. The Tuneband case, our top choice for exercise, comes in just four colors for the iPhone 4/4S and six for the iPhone 5. The armband is black and comes in multiple sizes, to fit most arms.

by Raechel Conover (Google+ Profile)

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