Looking to protect your Nexus 5 (our review of the Nexus 5)? After a great deal of research, I personally tested some of the best reviewed cases and screen protectors, each tested for a period of 5-7 days. There’s no such thing as “the best” case, but rather, there are cases that fulfill specific niches.
I’ve come to the conclusion as to which case is the best for four different audiences — those who want:
- ultimate protection;
- a middle ground between protection and minimalism.
I also review three kinds of screen protectors: Dry-apply, wet-apply and glass.
Criteria for Evaluation
- Does the case protect the most sensitive part of your phone, the screen?
- Does the case interfere with any wireless feature of your phone, including Qi wireless charging and NFC? In general conductive materials and magnets can cause serious performance issues with GPS, WiFi and other wireless features offered by your phone. In general, you should avoid the more exotic cases that use these materials.
- Does the case protect against drops from all angles? Many cases only protect from certain kinds of drops.
- Does the case offer a combination of rigidity, which protects from crushing forces, and shock absorbing qualities? Dropping a phone causes primarily shock, but sitting on a phone causes crushing damage. Ideally, you want to protect against both kinds of trauma.
- Additional criteria: I also look for 3.5-inch jack clearance space, for larger peripheral devices. Also, the aesthetic qualities of the device are quite important. Another important factor is whether or not the case causes screen protectors to lift up.
Hybrid, two-layer cases provide the absolute best protection for the Nexus 5. A number of manufacturers produce high-quality, high-durability cases similar in construction to the Ottercase Defender. There’s actually two Ottercase clones, which I was unable to review, sold by Evecase (and others) and Symbiosis, available for anywhere between $9 and $15. I have reviewed the Evecase for the Nexus 4 and it provided some of the best protection for your money. You can read the Nexus 4 Evecase review.
Two-layer cases provide structural rigidity along with a shock-absorbing inner liner. While they add bulk and weight, they also provide excellent durability for all circumstances.
Acase Superleggera Pro ($13.95)
The Acase Superleggara’s ultra-minimal design looks fantastic. It features a two-layer design, incorporating an inner silicone jacket with a hard-plastic outer shell.
- Sleek: The Superleggera remains the best-looking case
- Great feel: Silicone covering for the Nexus 5′s buttons feels more natural than the buttons themselves.
- Durable: Dual-layer silicone and hard plastic make the best protectors.
- Slippery: The Supperleggera was easily the most slippery case I tested. While its aesthetically minimal design turns heads, it also doesn’t provide much grip. While this helps it slide in and out of your pocket, it also helps it slide in and out of your hand.
Verdict: My impression of the Superleggera is that it’s among the best of cases made for the Nexus 5. It’s not the best, but it’s the best balance between aesthetics and protection that I’ve yet seen.
Amzer or AIMO Hybrid Case (around $5)
This particular two-layer design (produced by a variety of companies and sold under different brands in the US and elsewhere) sheathes the phone in a jacket of silicone. A hard plastic shell covers the silicone jacket. The jacket uses a unique patterning on its interior surface, which I assume doubles as an air-cushion. It also sports a kickstand which allows both vertical and horizontal positioning.
- Best protection: Other than an Ottercase, you can’t get better protection than this particular design. It features enlarged silicone bumpers on its corners, which enhances its drop protection substantially. It doesn’t feature any particular weaknesses.
- Kickstand: The kickstand feature allows both horizontal and vertical positioning.
- Inexpensive: This one costs around $5 on Amazon.
- Interferes with screen protectors: The tight fit of the silicone around the screen caused my XtremeGuard protector to bubble and lift up in one place.
- Slippery: It’s unfortunately quite slippery. Prepare for accidents.
Verdict: For my purposes, this is the best case I found. It provides superior protection to all other cases and offers excellent value. Like most generic cases, this case costs very little and yet protects a lot.
i-Blason Holster Case ($19.88)
The i-Blason Holster Case comes in three pieces: A silicone under-jacket covered by a hard-plastic shell. It also includes a face-covering belt clip.
- Highly protective: Aside from offering a hybrid, dual-layer case, there’s also a belt clip sheath.
- Kickstand: It includes a horizontal kickstand.
- Good grip: There’s a bit of texture on the hard plastic outer shell, which gives good grip.
- Achilles’ Heel: The bottom of the case is protected by only a small amount of silicone. This may only provide mediocre protection from impacts to this part of the protector.
- Cheap belt clip: While the part of the i-Blason case that clips to the belt is of good quality, it appears to be constructed from hard plastic. I would guess that this is going to break apart in very short order.
Verdict: This is a good case, with a lot of additional features, such as the belt clip and kickstand. On the other hand, it has a fairly bad Achilles’ Heel. The construction of its belt clip is somewhat questionable.
Multifunctional Wallet/Cover Cases
Some cases can double as a wallet. These come in several varieties of style and materials. While I only tested one of these out, it’s worth noting that Amazon carries both wallet and clamshell models.
Poetic Slimbook Wallet Case ($9.95)
Poetic’s wallet case offers a hard shell clip for the phone, combined with a combination of leather (real leather) and vinyl-like material. It also uses a three-card holder.
- Beautiful: The stitch work is extraordinarily good.
- High Quality: Aside from the hard shell plastic protector that the phone clips into, the quality on this case is pretty amazing.
- Sleep to Wake: Like many modern wallet phones, the Poetic Wallet includes the sleep-to-wake function. Just close the wallet and it automatically puts your phone into sleep mode, turning the screen off. Opening the wallet turns the screen on. This saves you a lot of unnecessary button pressing and mechanical wear.
- Won’t interfere with peripherals: The top and bottom of the hard-plastic phone holder don’t cover the ports. You can attach pretty much anything without worry.
- Scuffs phone: The rigid, hard-plastic that anchors the Nexus 5 into the phone will cause minor scuffing on the Nexus 5′s corners and edges.
- Difficult to remove: Once you pop your phone into place, it won’t remove without some difficulty. I found myself really wearing down my fingernails trying to pop it out without damaging my phone.
- Minimal Protection: While closed, it offers excellent protection. While open, there’s a strong possibility that you may break the glass if dropped face-first onto the ground. There’s no protection on the top and bottom of the case.
- Magnetic interference: The magnetic clasp used to keep the phone closes potentially can interfere with the phone’s wireless capabilities. In particular, its internal compass.
Verdict: Poetic’s wallet-case is nice, but the hard plastic phone holder will cause scuffing on your phone. I haven’t yet found any wallet-cases that provide the essential features that I believe are neccessary for a wallet-case: All wallet-style cases should include a close-to-sleep or open-to-wake function in addition to providing a TPU bumper to hold the phone. None I’ve looked at provided all three functions. Also, be aware that wallet-cases place your credit cards in close proximity to your phone, which may activate the NFC feature.
I have mixed feelings toward minimally protective cases. On one hand, they add very little weight to your case and oftentimes preserve much of the feel of a naked, unprotected device. On the other hand, they tend to provide very little protection. A five-foot drop can easily smash your screen. Unlike the Nexus 4, the Nexus 5 lacks the super-fragile glass-back. Even so, if you are accident prone, consider a more protective case.
Poetic Borderline Bumper Case ($9.95)
Constructed from TPU and hard plastic, the Poetic Borderline bumper provides the bare minimum amount of protection for your phone. Its lightweight construction protects against both rear and front-first drops.
- Lightweight: The Borderline bumper weighs in at 8 grams.
- Decent protection: Bumper cases use a shock-absorbing combination of TPU and plastic, This gives it some degree of rigidity and impacting-resistance. No matter how the case drops, it should always land on the plastic, thus protecting the phone.
- No crushing resistance: If you sit on your phone, the case doesn’t provide much protection.
- Scratches: The Poetic Borderline case doesn’t cover the back, which can allow your phone to receive scratches from sliding in and out of your pocket.
Rearth Rinke Slim Case Protector ($6.99)
This sheath-style protector from Rearth Slim is one of the most minimal and lightweight protectors you can find anywhere.
- Wide ports: The Rinke leaves the Nexus 5′s ports completely open.
- Lightweight: At 12 grams, only bumpers are lighter.
Minimal protection: The sheath style protectors provide almost zero protection against face-first drops. In particular, the Rinke leaves the top and bottom of the phone completely unprotected, meaning you run a higher risk of smashing your glass screen.
Verdict: This was my least favorite protector. While extremely minimal and aesthetically pleasing, it appears that the Rinke Slim won’t really protect your phone.
This sheath-style protector, purchased from eBay, comes covered with a sandpaper-like substance. It has the feel of soft plastic combined with the grip of sandpaper. It’s one of the most unusual cases I’ve ever evaluated.
- Lightweight: This case is tied for the second-lightest weight case that I’ve tested out.
- Grip: The Quicksand protector possesses the greatest grip out of all
- Ports: Because it doesn’t protect the top and bottom of the phone, it also makes it very easy to attach oversized headphone 3.5″ jacks, charging cables or whatever you want to connect to your device.
- Soft: This cases is covered with a highly-grippy, soft veneer. This makes it easy to slip in and out of the protector, with a diminished likelihood that you may cause a scratch.
- Inexpensive: At around $1 to $2 shipped, this is the cheapest case that I’ve tested out.
- Quality: It feels like quality case. It doesn’t suffer from any obvious manufacturing flaws. And the material doesn’t scrape off as one might imagine a sand-paper like case would.
- Weak protection: The QuickSand protector doesn’t cover the top and bottom of the glass side of the phone. This means if you drop your phone face-first, you may get a cracked screen.
Verdict: The QuickSand case is an excellent, minimal protector. However, it doesn’t protect either the top or the bottom of your phone. I would consider it only for those who demand minimalism over protection.
Midrange protectors provide a middle-ground between toughness and aesthetics and light weight. I consider them strictly inferior to the dual-layer cases. However, if you want to show your phone off, these generally provide superior aesthetics to tougher cases.
amCase Hybrid Bumper Case ($5.95)
AmCase’s case is built from a combination of TPU (soft plastic) and a frosted polycarbonate shell. The frosted rear shell allows the display of the “Nexus” branding.
- Good protection: amCase used good design methodology by combining a TPU bumper with a rigid polycarbonate shell. The phone rests inside of the plastic bumper giving it a fair amount of shock protection. The shell provides rigidity, which protects against crushing or bending forces.
- Displays Nexus branding: You can see the Nexus branding through the clear, although frosted, rear plastic shell.
- Lightweight: At 22 grams, the amCase is among the lightest cases I’ve tested.
- Stiff buttons: The part of the case covering the phone’s buttons are quite stiff and difficult to press.
- Small 3.5-inch jack hole: The 3.5-inch jack cutout is on the smaller side. It will accommodate normally sized jacks, but anything larger may not fit.
- Interferes with screen protector: My XtremeGuard screen protector lifted up on the corners of this protector.
Verdict: amCase’s product feels very similar to the Rearth Rinke Fusion, which finds an equilibrium between aesthetic appeal and durability. It’s in many ways better priced and designed than its competitors in the midrange niche, but even so, I would prefer using a case with better grip.
Poetic Atmosphere Case ($9.95)
This protector from Poetic uses a combination of clear polycarbonate combined with a soft thermoplastic. The hard plastic forms a see-through shell, which allows its user to view the “Nexus” logo on the back of the phone. The softer plastic protects the phone’s buttons and to some extent, the screen.
- See-through: Because of its see-through polycarbonate shell, you can actually see the Nexus 5′s design.
- Light weight: At 22 grams, it ranks among the lightest of the full-body cases.
- Rigid: The polycarbonate shell in Poetic’s protector provides good protection against crushing forces.
- Weak shock protection: The phone rests inside of the hard polycarbonate plastic shell. This means it doesn’t protect well against shocks, such as being dropped. It will do well enough for short distances, but longer drops may damage your phone.
- Stiff buttons: The soft plastic covering the buttons is unyielding. Pressing on them doesn’t feel like I’m actually pressing anything. It also takes a fair amount of pressure to activate buttons.
- Slippery: The smooth plastic shell doesn’t provide much grip. Prepare for accidents, if you buy one.
- Smaller ports: The 3.5-inch jack cutout is somewhat smaller than its competitors. Don’t plan on plugging in overly large headphone jacks.
Verdict: Weak shock protection and stiff buttons make this protector one of my least favorites. On the other hand, if you absolutely must show your phone off, there are worse cases to buy.
Caseology “Vintage Hybrid” TPU Bumper Case ($8.99)
This full-body protector is constructed from a combination of leather and soft TPU. It’s semi-rigid and feels soft to the touch. Caseology also makes this same design using a variety of materials, including carbon fiber.
- Shock resistant: The TPU construction, combined with an additional layer of leather, provides good protection against drops.
- Beautiful: The leather backing looks fantastic.
- Great grip: TPU and leather provide excellent grip. You’re less likely to drop this one.
- Interferes with screen protector: Caseology’s TPU material causes my XtremeGuard screen protector to lift up slightly on the corners.
- Slightly heavy: At 34 grams, it weighs-in a bit closer to hybrid cases than it does to midrange cases.
Verdict: This is a great case for those looking for a middle-ground between protection and aesthetics. On the other hand, it offers minimal protection against crushing or bending forces. I prefer using a heavier case, but this is the best of the midrange protectors.
In general, there exist three kinds of screen protectors: Dry-Apply, Wet-Apply and Glass.
Dry application protectors generally provide less protection and don’t stick as well as wet-applied screen protectors. Dry-apply protectors generally include matte, clear and oleophobic (grease resistant) coatings. I tested out two dry-apply protectors: A Halo-branded matte and a generic clear protector. In general, I prefer matte coatings over clear, but matte finishes rub off over time, as do oleophobic coatings. We’ve covered the best methods of dry-applying screen protectors.
- Halo (Matte): The Halo matte screen protector has a matte finish, which makes it somewhat daylight readable. Overall, it doesn’t have any vices and applies easily.
- Generic Clear: I received an unbranded, clear screen protector. I can’t tell the difference between this and a Spigen Ultra-Oleophobic protector that I previously owned for the Nexus 4 (read our run down of the best cases and screen protectors for the Nexus 4).
Wet application protectors stick to your screen better than dry-apply protectors. Their thickness offers better impact protection as well as a softer, more organic feel. On the downside, if you aren’t careful you can ruin your device by leaking water onto your devices circuit board. They are also more labor intensive to apply, unlike dry-apply protectors.
- XtremeGuard: I can’t tell the difference between the cheaper XtremeGuard screens and the Zagg screens. Other than using different water-based solutions to adhere the screens, these feel pretty much the same. XtremeGuard doesn’t come with a solution. You must instead mix a small amount of dish soap with water.
- Zagg: Zagg protectors include a wet-application solution, which comes in a spray bottle. These often run a great deal more in price than products from XtremeGuard. On average, they have fewer screen imperfections, but in my experience, the price difference is not worth it. Amazon currently charges $18.99 for the Zagg protector.
Glass protectors generally offer the feel of naked glass as well as some degree of impact protection. In theory, they also need to be changed less often than dry-apply and wet-apply coverings. On the downside, they add quite a bit of weight, compared to alternatives and cost upwards of $20. I haven’t evaluated any glass screen protectors, but they frequently cause incompatibilities with certain cases. Users also report difficulties adhering the protector to their phone’s screens.
The Gorilla Glass 3 used in the Nexus 5 has a hardness of around 7. The second version of Gorilla Glass has a hardness of 9. According to XDA-Developers.com, a correlation exists between hardness and brittleness. Harder substances exhibit a tendency to shatter when flexed. The screen protectors tend to have a very high hardness, which potentially will make them quite brittle.
Here’s a few glass protectors that I’ve seen:
- Spigen Tempered Glass: This supposedly has a hardness of 8 or 9 and costs $37.99 from Amazon.
- TechPro Tempered Glass: This supposedly has a hardness of 8 or 9 and costs $14.99 on eBay.
The Nexus 5 may lack the fragility of its aesthetically superior cousin, the Nexus 4, but even so you will want to protect your investment. I recommend equipping it with the AIMO/Amzer Hybrid Case. It features great protection and a kickstand. If you prefer a lightweight protector, go with the QuickSand back case. For midrange cases, go for the Caseology Leather TPU case. I don’t recommend a multifunctional wallet case at this point as all suffer from pretty critical failings. Finally, wet-apply screen protectors are much better than the alternatives.