Review: Urban Armor Gear Cases for Samsung Galaxy S8
Urban Armor Gear (UAG) makes a range of semi-rugged cases for today's top smartphones. The UAG Plasma Series and UAG Monarch Series for the Samsung Galaxy S8 are more industrial-looking than most, but offer a higher degree of protection in return. Let's dive in.
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With curvy glass forming most of its skin, the Galaxy S8 is prone to breakage when dropped, despite the use Gorilla Glass. As much as it pains me to suggest covering such a beautiful piece of hardware in a case, this expensive device more or less demands protection.
Urban Armor Gear (UAG) has been wrapping smartphones, tablets, and other devices in protective cases for years. The company focuses on function more than form. You won't find any pretty or dainty cases in its lineup. No, UAG's hardware is all about serious protection thanks to multi-layered shells that resemble spaceships.
Phone Scoop put some UAG cases to the test to see if they're worth the extra dough added to your wallet-draining Galaxy S8 purchase.
(By the way, UAG makes these same cases for the iPhone 7/7S, Google Pixel/XL, and LG G5/G6.)
UAG Plasma Series
The Plasma Series from UAG stands in the middle of its lineup as far as the degree of protection. The company makes cheaper cases that provide less protection, as well as pricier cases that provide more protection.
The Plasma Series looks like it came straight out of a science fiction movie. The main body of the shell is mostly transparent plastic that comes in clear, gray, and blue hues. This shell is patterned with hexagons that make me think of the medical lab you'd see on a spaceship. The hexagons are printed on the inner surface of the case, providing the smallest amount of cushioning between the case and the S8 itself. The back of the shell is crisscrossed with large, supporting structures that look like exposed beams you'd see propping up the bulkheads inside a Star Destroyer.
Black accents line the edges of the shell. These serve as some of the case's protective layers. Along the top and bottom edges you'll find flexible rubber and reinforced corners to prevent shock. This heavy duty rubber also forms a rim around the camera/fingerprint array.
Five black dots are distinctly visible on the back of the case. These dots are actually rubber cushions. Think of them as plugs, as they go all the way through the case and provide cushioning on both the inside and the outside of the case. The plugs are flat on the inside, but have a hex-bolt shape on the outside of the shell.
The S8 slips into the Plasma easily. The top and bottom edges of the case form bulges that allow you to place the phone face down on a flat surface without damaging the display. The side edges hug the S8's curves nicely. They allow the phone's attractive design to peek through while still providing some protection. The Plasma does increase the S8's footprint and weight, but not by much at all. The S8 still fits in your pocket easily when the Plasma is cradling it.
You'll have no problem using your phone's buttons and ports. Huge cutouts on the bottom of the phone leave plenty of room for your charging cable, headphones, and the speakerphone. As with most cases for the S8, the Plasma makes it much easier to locate the fingerprint reader by feel. I like the way UAG treated the buttons along the side. UAG created very distinct, raised patterns to cover the three keys. The screen lock button on the right and the Bixby button on the left get ridged patterns, while the volume toggle gets an angled strip of rubber. Bottom line: all of the buttons are easy to find and use when the case is on the phone.
Bonus: the case doesn't impede wireless charging. You can charge your S8 on Samsung's rapid wireless charger even with the case on.
How tough is this case? UAG says it's rated to mil-spec 810G for protection against drops and shock. I (wincingly) dropped my Galaxy S8 onto asphalt, concrete, gravel, grass, and wood surfaces from waist height and the phone came away with no damage whatsoever. This case does a fine job protecting against what I consider "normal" drops during use. You probably can't toss a Plasma-covered S8 off your roof and expect it to come away unscathed, but you should be all right if you fumble it walking down the sidewalk.
UAG sells the Plasma Series cases for $40. I like the science fiction design, slim profile, ease-of-use, and protection provided at that price point.
UAG Monarch Series
The Monarch Series is near the top of UAG's roster of cases as far as protection is concerned. It includes five layers of protection against drops, bumps, scrapes, and spills, and you'll pay extra for it.
The Monarch takes the basic form of the Plasma and adds an element of heavy metal. Black leather and metallic-looking pieces give the Monarch Series the appearance of a science fiction biker gang. I love it, though it's probably not for everyone. There's nothing feminine about it at all. You'll see patterned rubber, leather, exposed screws, and steel-colored supports on the rear of the Monarch. I wouldn't want to tangle with it in a bar fight.
The inner lining of the shell is a hardened plastic material. It has a faint hexagonal pattern across most of the flat section, but smoothes out along the inner top and inner side edges. The inner lining merges with the rubber sides of the phone, which are are thicker than those of the Plasma case and have their own hexagonal pattern for aiding grip. A sturdy, skeleton-like frame forms much of the rear surface. It's raised with beam-like structures going this way and that. Patterned leather fills the gaps in the frame, giving the case its personality. The entire thing is held together with chrome-colored screws. Yeah, it's bad-ass.
Usability is about on par with that of the Plasma case. The S8 slips into the Monarch with minimal effort. The thick top and bottom edges of the Monarch form hefty bulges. These make it possible to place the phone face down on a flat surface without worry. The bulkier side edges of the Monarch wrap tightly against the S8's curved screen without getting in the way. The Monarch is hardly any thicker or heavier than the Plasma. You can still stuff the phone into your pockets easily, though the rubber edges are more prone to grabbing your jeans' pocket liner.
UAG carried over the Plasma Series' solid functionality to the Monarch. The Monarch has the same selection of wide-open ports, fingerprint access, and rubber-coated buttons. Everything on the phone works as it should. The same goes for wireless charging with the Monarch attached to the phone.
UAG claims the Monarch exceeds the mil-spec 810G rating by a factor of two. I don't know what that means, but UAG is offering Monarch owners a 10-year warranty on the case. The phone will die long before the case does. I performed the same drop tests onto asphalt, concrete, wood, grass, and gravel, and added dirt, decking, and stone. I raised the drop height from waist to mid-chest. The Monarch provided plenty of protection. The S8 doesn't have a mark on it after more than a dozen drops into unforgiving surfaces that surely would have made splinters of the glass were the phone naked.
You'll have to pony up more cash for the Monarch Series. It costs a hefty $60. It does provide more protection (and personality) than the Plasma Series, but I'm not sure it's worth the extra $20. The same $60 gets you extremely rugged (but more bulky) cases from the likes of OtterBox.
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