Review: VRS Design Cases for Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+
Updated: Fixed typo.
Smartphone cases must outnumber smartphones 10 or 20 to 1. Finding the right combination of style, usability, protection, and price takes more than just a few moments thought. If you're exploring less expensive alternatives to what's available in most carrier stores, VRS Design has a wide variety of cases to protect your Samsung Galaxy S8 or S8+. Here are our thoughts on a few options.
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The Samsung Galaxy S8 and S8+ present a conundrum to smartphone buyers. The glass-and-metal designs are among the most exquisite out there, and the phones are correspondingly expensive as hell ($750 and $850, respectively.) Balancing the need to let your phone's beauty be seen and appreciated with the need to protect your expensive investment is a hard equation no matter which math you employ.
I've said before that I prefer to go case-free; I usually prefer the manufacturer's intended appearance and experience. But sometimes reason must intrude. With two curved glass surfaces, the S8 and S8+ are delicate and breakable. (Gorilla Glass 5 helps, but it's far from unbreakable.) If you plan to carry either of these devices with you day in and day out, it might be prudent to wrap them up in some sort of protection.
VRS Design sent us nearly a dozen of its latest cases to put through the wringer. While the company's assortment of hardware add some bulk and weight to the S8 or S8+, the cases will safeguard your phone with varying degrees of style. Here are the 5 VRS Design cases we liked most.
The Simpli Mod leans toward the minimalist end of the case spectrum. It's a snap-on job that covers the rear panel and most of the side edges. Made of plastic and leather, it is thin and among the easiest from VRS to install/remove.
I like the simple plastic panel that forms the rear surface. It's covered in a thin leather veneer complete with faux stitching. The dark brown or black color options are conservative to a fault. The materials and manufacturing quality of the case are appealing. It doesn't feel cheap at all, despite the thin profile. The four corners of the case have slit, which is partly responsible for the case's ease-of-use. There's no struggle to get all four corners tucked in.
As for usability, the side edges wrap around the majority of the S8's curved glass while still leaving open access to the side buttons. I had no trouble finding and using the power button on the right nor the volume toggle on the left. Decent-sized cutouts provide plenty of room for the USB-C cable, 3.5mm headphone jack, and speakerphone on the bottom edge. A large, rectangular hole on the back leaves the camera, flash, heart rate sensor, and fingerprint reader exposed. The case actually makes finding the S8's oddly-placed fingerprint reader easier by giving your finger a hard edge against which to gauge the location. (This is true of every case I tested.)
The Simpli Mod is not the most protective case ever made, but it suffices in preventing scratches from everyday use and may even help keep the phone from splintering during drops from waist height. I noticed that the case is prone to popping off the phone when it hits a hard surface.
The Simpli Mod, in black or brown, costs $25. It's hard to find cases that cost less, and it does offer some protection and style. Based on its performance and value, I'd rate it 3 out of 5 stars.
The Crystal Bumper is a clear case that provides plenty of cushioning for the S8 and S8+ while allowing users to focus on the phone rather than the case. Sort of.
Clear case designs are always meant to let the phone shine through, but they manage to obscure the phone just the same. Rather than see the svelte S8 through the Crystal Bumper, I see the gooey-looking lines of the case and its added bulk. That's not VRS's fault; it's simply the nature of this type of case.
Like many clear cases, the Crystal Bumper is flexible and wraps all the way around the S8. It requires a bit of work to stretch all four corners of the S8 into the case. I like that it's a bit tight and hugs the S8 firmly once fully installed. VRS selected great materials or the Crystal Bumper. A microscopic, dotted texture lines the inner panel of the case and creates a thin space between the case and the phone (ostensibly to reduce scratches from trapped dust). You can feel it with your fingernail. The exterior of the Crystal Bumper is perfectly smooth and yet also still somewhat rubbery.
The Crystal Bumper is so-named thanks to a removeable, plastic rectangle that attaches to the four rear edges on the outside of the case. It's impossibly thin. The purpose of the bumper is to allow you to select one that matches the color of your phone. I can't say that it adds more protection against drops. You may not even notice it is there, or comprehend that it's removable. You're better off just ignoring it. Certainly don't us the case without it, as it will look and feel weird.
VRS made sure all the buttons and ports are usable with the case installed. Travel and feedback of the buttons is a bit mushy through the case, but they are all still usable. Similar to the Simpli Mod case, large cutouts on the bottom edge allow you to charge the phone, take speakerphone calls, and listen to music via wired headphones. Moreover, the large hole on the rear panel ensures the camera is free to do its thing while also improving use of the fingerprint reader.
The Crystal Bumper is far more protective than the Simpli Mod. It covers more of the side edges, provides more cushioning, and gives the S8 a better shot at surviving drops thanks to the thicker materials throughout. It's fairly tough.
The Crystal Bumper, with swappable colored bumpers, costs $30. You may be able to find gel cases from Amazon for a bit less, but similar options in your local wireless store are more likely to set you back $40 or more. The Crystal Bumper delivers a fine amount of protection for the dollar. I'd rate it 4 out of 5 stars.
High Pro Shield
The High Pro Shield recycles the basic materials and functionality of the Crystal Bumper, but offers its own personality thanks to a non-transparent design and added texture. The High Pro Shield combines a modern look with a substantial build to deliver contemporary protection for your pricy phone.
The High Pro Shield is made from polycarbonate and thermoplastic polyurethane. It is pliable like the Crystal Bumper, but is solid dark gray with a brushed-metal-looking outer texture that I rather like. Some grooved lines on the back outline the camera module and give it just a bit of personality. Like the Crystal Bumper, a thin plastic bumper affixes to the rear edge and lets you color-match the case to your phone, after a fashion. For example, the review unit we have on hand included a silver bumper to go with the silver Galaxy S8. The rest of the case is still dark gray, but the silver accent is nice to apply and makes it more cohesive with the phone itself.
The button covers along the side edges are easy to find, and, like the Crystal Bumper, make the buttons mushy to use. I had no issues interacting with the headphone jack, USB port, nor speaker on the bottom, and the hole on the rear panel leaves the camera, fingerprint reader, and flash array unobstructed. The High Pro Shield provides just as much protection as the Crystal Bumper thanks to the thick, elastic material that stretches around the S8's frame.
The High Pro Shield comes in five colors and costs $30. I like how tough it is and the textured appearance of the rear panel. There are lots of cases that share its look and price point, however, and the High Pro Shield could do more to stand out. I'd rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
The Layered Dandy is for the fancy-pants people who want a combined folio-style wallet/phone all wrapped up in leather.
I really like leather. Whether we're talking leather jackets, leather seats in my car, or leather-covered cases, I really dig it. The Layered Dandy has a plastic shell at its core to protect the Galaxy S8 with a leather outer to give it that extra bit of class. Available in black, brown, and wine red, the Layered Dandy looks at home on the dashboard of your Mercedes, with your golf clubs at the local country club, and on bar during your classy Saturday night around town.
I personally find fold-over cases that cover the screen to be awkward. With that said, the Layered Dandy does a fine job of fitting on the Galaxy S8. The plastic shell is firm and solid, and the phone snaps in easily. Similar to VRS's Simpli Mod series, the base shell of the Dandy provides minimal plastics to cover the rear panel and side edges. There are large gaps along the side and bottom edges to accommodate the buttons and ports. The same goes for the rectangular opening on the back for the camera, etc. The screen lock / power button is accessible with the case on, but you have to open the case to effectively adjust the volume or use the Bixby button. That might bug some people.
When open, the Layered Dandy reveals three slits for credit cards / ID, and a sleeve for cash. Even if you have the S8+, it's a tight fit. I managed to stick my driver's license, debit card, Starbucks card, and some cash in the Layered Dandy, but this was enough to cause the case to bulge a bit. It wouldn't close easily or flatly on its own and required the magnet flap to stay shut.
Like many fold-over cases, the fit of the Layered Dandy's top half isn't the best. You'll notice odd (non-squared) angles with the cover closed. The Dandy doesn't include advanced integration, such as automatically dimming the screen once it closes. But hey, it's leather and it looks kind of sweet. Speaking of the leather, the quality is good enough. It's not any extra luxurious style of leather, but it makes its point.
As for protection, cases that cover the screen automatically do more than those that don't. It's not fully rugged or anything, but the core plastics, thin padding, and leather that cover the front andback do a lot to keep the Galaxy S8 safe from bumps, scrapes, and drops. It's not meant to be fully rugged, but the Layered Dandy provides a lot of protection for the Galaxy S8.
The Layered Dandy comes in three colors and costs $35. This is a good price point for a leather-covered case. Many of the leather wallet cases sold by carriers cost $60 or more. If you're looking to spend less and still enjoy your purchase, the Layered Dandy is a good bet. I'd rate it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
This case is a bit more rugged than VRS's other offerings and has the angular looks to go with its tougher hyde.
The Terra Guard is about the polar opposite of the S8 itself. Where Samsung's smartphone is all curves, gentleness, and class, the Terra Guard case is all corners, lines, and bulges. The Terra Guard has a cushioning core paired with sturdy exterior to provide the best protection possible for its slim profile. All four corners of the case have extra cushioning to save the S8 from the worst drops, but these do make the case less comfortable in your pocket. The rear panel is busy with rectangles, textures and faux screws (seriously, VRS?) Of all the cases I tested, the Terra Guard is the most difficult to install because it takes more work to stretch over the S8's corners.
Usability ranks about the same when compared to VSR's own Crystal Bumper and High Pro Shield. The buttons are a cinch to find thanks to rubberized mounds on the side edges, though it takes more effort to depress the buttons. The materials along the bottom edge of the Terra Guard are just a bit thicker than the other cases. I never had a problem with the USB port or speakerphone, but your mileage may vary depending on the way your headphones' 3.5mm jack is designed. Traditional jacks should be fine, but those at 90-degree angles might run into trouble with respect to fit. Like all of VRS's cases, the hole for the camera, flash, and fingerprint reader is an asset that helps you find and use the fingerprint reader quicker and more accurately.
As noted, the Terra Guard is the beefiest of the VRS cases we tested and surely provides the most protection. It's not a fully rugged case meant for mountaineering, dropping in rivers, and bashing against boulders. Still, I can see it at home in the pockets of those with more active lifestyles. Were I to accidentally drop the S8 onto concrete or any other hard surface, I'd prefer it to be wrapped in the Terra Guard as opposed to the Simpli Mod. You do, however, completely lose the silky smooth appeal of the smartphone itself.
The Terra Guard comes in five colors and costs $35. It's no Otterbox or Lifeproof case, which often cost $60 or more, but it's a good in-between option at a reasonable price point. I'd give it 3.5 out of 5 stars.
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