Don't have or want to spend $90 on LifeProof's ultimate protective Nuud case yet still looking for a not-so-bulky tough case to protect your iPhone from nasty drops and other daily hazards that don't involve water? We think we've found the next best thing, and that's Spigen's new Tough Armor case for the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5. Spigen is taking a direct jab at OtterBox's Defender case claiming that its Tough Armor case offers the same amount of protection, albeit without all the bulk and boxy styling. But protection is only part of what supposedly makes the Tough Armor a better alternative. The Tough Armor's $30 price tag and full iOS 7 compatibility prowess make it an enticing package. Has Spigen succeeded in making the next best dexterous drop-protective case with its new Tough Armor? Check out our in-depth review to find out!
We would show you what's inside the packaging, but Spigen opted not to include anything but the Tough Armor case itself. The company is known for including its above average plastic screen protectors with most of its cases, but it's not secrete that Spigen wants you to use their tempered glass screen protects which the Tough Armor is compatible with. The Glas.t Nano Slim is considered to be one of the best and thinnest tempered glass screen protectors you get your iPhone 5s, iPhone 5c and iPhone 5. Surprisingly not even a round protective film for the Apple logo is included given that the Tough Armor has a logo opening which Spigen has always been great at provided the necessary film kit to cover up any exposed areas of the device.
Inside the Tough Armor case is what Spigen calls the spider web pattern which supposedly provides superior drop protection and circulates the air around the back of the device keeping it more cool compared to other cases. You'll find the same type of spider web-inspired interior on Spigen'sNeo Hybrid and Slim Armor S cases as well. I don't know about that, but not once have I complained about any heat while using my iPhone 5s with the Tough Armor on. You can pick up a Tough Armor case in this all blacked-out flavor or in four other two-toned colors including champagne gold with black, white with black, metallic slate with black and satin silver with black for $25 on Amazon or $30 directly from Spigen's site.
In a nutshell, the Tough Armor case is Spigen's toughest case ever that shares an uncanny resemblance with Spigen's impressive Slim Armor case, which is just a slightly slimmer version of the Tough Armor with a few minor differences in design. Made up from two different types of materials, the Tough Armor employs a rigid polycarbonate midsection frame that gives the case its sturdy backbone support while a more flexible TPU layer hugs the iPhone snuggly creating an impact protective and shock-absorbing casing around your precious Apple device yet maintains a sturdy fit all around.
The back of the Tough Armor features an OtterBox-esque round opening that displays the iPhone's Apple logo as well as parts of the aluminum and its native coloring whether it be gray, slate, silver or gold. I'm generally not too keen of this OtterBox-like logo opening, but I'd admit that it looks really sharp on the Tough Armor being that its got such a slick and smooth design for being such a ruggedized case. Spigen promises the TPU won't stretch over time, and right away we can tell that the sides of the Tough Armor are absolutely solid and will not flex off of the iPhone. And although the top and bottom portions of the Tough Armor's TPU material is more forgiving and can flex if touched, we don't see any issues that would cause the case to sag or become less form-fitted around the iPhone.
Spigen was clear to point that the Tough Armor while a really tough case, will not interfere with the iPhone 5s' Touch ID fingerprint sensor home button nor will it restrict you from using iOS 7 swipe gestures like many non-iPhone 5s optimized case designs like the LifeProofNuud, Griffin Survivor and many other cases that provide additional touchscreen protection. And that's all true, the Tough Armor case doesn't get in the way of swiping up or down across the edges of the touchscreen to pull up Control Center and Notification Center.
One of the many popular tough cases that Spigen compared its Tough Armor case against was the OtterBox Defender. Up until recently, the Defender case has been designed to cover the iPhone's home button and box-in the touchscreen with a thick plastic frame. But since Spigen made these claims OtterBox has gone ahead and redesigned the Defender with an iOS 7 swipe gesture control and Touch ID-friendly front. Yet it still left out a restricting top edge that makes it hard to swipe down in order to access the Notification Center menu. In the Defender's defense however, it does offer complete port coverage which seals them against dust, sand and dirt compared to the Tough Armor's exposed bottom port design. So in that regard the OtterBox Defender is a little more protective overall.
The Tough Armor is one of the very few really tough cases that isn't without poise, an important part of what separates the atrociously clunky protective case designs from the more comfortable and sensibly designed cases that can still take a gnarly beating with not but a single strand of hair fall out of line. That hard polycarbonate mid section piece has been given a coat of a matte, soft-touch finish and that gives the Tough Armor an extremely nice tactile sensation which not only helps in providing you with grip, but it also gives the plastic material a high quality tactile feeling.
Spigen's attention to detail makes the Tough Armor case a real pleasure to use, and if the beveled edges front to back wasn't enough, the Tough Armor's neatly tapered lip around the iPhone's glass display forms a protective perimeter that lifts the toughscreen away from a surface whilst maintaining comfort. Even though the Tough Armor's lip isn't as shallow as in some other cases, it isn't bothersome and will even keep tempered glass screen protectors safe from coming in contact with a flat surface in the event of a drop or when intentionally setting the iPhone face down on a table. Of course, not matter how well a lip is designed, it takes a small pebble or gravel to come in contact with the iPhone's glass display to crack and damage it if dropped in such type of scenario.
I can genuinely say that I'm confident enough that the Tough Armor will do its job in protecting my iPhone if accidentally dropped; which is exactly what you should feel when using a case that is designed to protect your investment under all circumstance
In spite the fact that the matte black texture of this soft-touch coating tends to show oily fingerprints, the finish has proven to be durable in not scratching during our week+ usage with it. The Tough Armor's well polished exterior design features gives it an upper advantage over many drop-protective cases that even though we think are still great, lack the type of refinement that Spigen has put into the making of the Tough Armor. The combination of smooth and grippable textures, materials and tapered edges give the Tough Armor a much more pleasing sensation to be holding it compared to other cases such as the Urban Armor Gear UAG Composite case which by comparison has a grainy, slick textured polycarbonate construction that doesn't offer as much grip.
Looking at the Tough Armor's integrated covered button controls reminds me a lot of LunaTik'sSeismik case. The flat volume and sleep/wake buttons are easily one of the Tough Armor's best features and are an absolute joy to use. Having such a wide flat button makes the iPhone's rounded buttons much easier to press even if you've got gloves on. Finer detail includes button separation which gives you a tactile sense of where each button is located for quick identification using touch.
Spigen wasn't messing around when it designed the Tough Armor's bottom side openings. The Lightning connector port opening in particular is massive and will fit practically every Lightning connector adapter and cable except for Apple's 30-pin to Lightning dongle. I was able to plug in the L-shaped 3.5mm headphone plug of the Beats Studio 2 amongst other slimmer headphone plugs through the Tough Armor's headphone cutout. The pill-shaped back-facing camera opening has been properly outlined so that it does not interfere with the iPhone 5s' True Tone dual LED flash.
And while it isn't going to be called a slim case by any stretch, it's also not at all the sort of drop-protective case that you'd call bulky. Spigen has done enough with the design here to convey a sense of comfort with the tapered edges and well made materials that provide you with a nice amount of grip and a pleasant feeling when holding the case in your hand. At a side profile, the Tough Armor is even a tad thinner than the UAG Composite case and features a more streamlined, symmetrical profile all around.
It's hard to imagine how it can stack up against a case such as the OtterBox Defender, but what you can't see is the Tough Armor's reinforced TPU interior corner protection. Spigen calls this its air gap technology which essentially leaves a pocket of empty crumple zone that when hit upon impact, the corner will act like a bumper in that it'll absorb the shock by flexing before it reaches the iPhone. When corners are most susceptible to first contact when dropped, it's really an important area to focus on and we're glad that Spigen has put effort in creating such fantastic reinforced corner protection into their elite series of drop-protective cases.
The Tough Armor is in fact a two-piece case but treated as a single piece when installing the case on the iPhone. Meaning like the Slim Armor case, the Tough Armor's polycarbonate midsection can be removed and replaced with a different color should Spigen decide to release separate midsection frames for the Tough Armor in the future. Because there aren't any parts needing assembly, you can just pop in your iPhone into the Tough Armor with little to not effort whatsoever. But you should always insert your iPhone buttons side in first, while "snapping" in the rest of the phone into the case. Removing the iPhone from the case can be done with ease, and you'll find that it's much easier to simply push your iPhone out using that round Apple logo opening. Or you can proceed with pulling away the bottom corners first and the iPhone should then slide out.
The Tough Armor is one of the very few really tough cases that isn't without poise, an important part of what separates the atrociously clunky rugged case designs from the more comfortable and sensible designed cases that can still take a gnarly beating and still look good doing it.
Noting makes us happier than getting in a case to review only to find out that it's brilliantly designed and made using the perfect materials that make up a pleasing-to-use case. If you dislike using tough drop-protective cases due to their overly bulky and garish designs but find that you fear the inevitably day your iPhone will slip out of your hand or off a table, worry not. The Tough Armor is one of the most bearable tough cases we've ever reviewed. Spigen has done a superb work ensuring that every little detail is thought after, and the result is this amazing and comfortable to use case that's extremely sleek yet tougher than it looks.
And so it looks like Spigen does have a point when it boasted that its case is better than the leading rival. Compared to the OtterBox Defender, the Tough Armor is a superior drop-protective case because of its slimmer, more pleasing form factor and equivalent drop protection. We can highly recommend it if you're on the lookout for a great case to use on your daily grind that is fully compatible with both the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5 and will offer great protection without feeling bulky. In fact, we enjoyed using the Tough Armor so much that we think it deserves our Editors' Choice Award.