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One to carry it all: When your smartphone case is also your wallet

It's a case! It's a wallet! It's a smartphone wallet case, and it can carry those physical objects that are still needed despite our increasingly digital lives -- plus keep your phone safe. Here's a look at two contenders.

Danny Sullivan
Danny Sullivan is a journalist who has covered the search and internet marketing space for over 15 years. He's founding editor of Search Engine Land and Marketing Land, and writes a personal blog called Daggle (and maintains his disclosures page there).
Danny Sullivan
4 min read

OtterBox and Speck wallet cases Danny Sullivan/CNET

Tired of carrying both a smartphone and a wallet? Why not get a wallet case that can do both things at once?

There are two essential things I need whenever I leave the house: my wallet and my smartphone. But I also hate carrying anything at all. Fortunately, I've found smartphone cases that double as wallets to ease my burden.

Ideally, our smartphones would make needing a wallet -- and more specifically the things carried within wallets -- unnecessary, though you can try. But as of yet, there's no digital replacement for my driver's license, or any virtual payment system with the universal utility of a credit or debit card. And making small tips to a car valet via Square? Forget it.

I still need something to hold my ID, my credit cards, and a little cash, and both OtterBox and Speck have excellent products that have allowed me to abandon my wallet and let my smartphone case carry it all.

I've had ordinary smartphone cases from both companies before -- and good cases that, at the times when I've inevitably dropped my phones -- have served to protect them well. But toward the end of last year, I swapped these regular cases out for their wallet-case counterparts, and I haven't gone back.

The OtterBox Commuter Series Wallet

With OtterBox, I moved from the Commuter Series case to the Commuter Series Wallet. The wallet version is slightly thicker than the regular version, to accommodate a little drawer that opens to hold credit cards and cash.

OtterBox Commuter Series case in foreground, with slightly thicker wallet version behind. Danny Sullivan/CNET

The drawer is designed to hold up to three credit cards and one cash bill. I can attest that this works. Yes, you have to become the master of the bill trifold, but that's not hard:

I usually carry two bills plus two cards, and I find the whole thing closes better if you put the money in first, at the bottom of the tray. Sometimes you have to fiddle a bit to get it to close properly, but that's not often and usually down to a bill not being folded quite right.

Now you see it, now you don't. OtterBox's wallet case closes with a snap and keeps cards and cash hidden away. Danny Sullivan/CNET

The downside to the OtterBox is that it's thicker that the ordinary Commuter Series. I found that bulge off-putting, at first. But over time, I've hardly noticed it, to the degree I've never gone back to my regular case.

The upside is the drawer is super-secure. It closes with a click, and I've never had it accidentally open. Whatever goes in stays in.

Speck CandyShell Card Case

Speck makes a wallet version of its popular CandyShell case, the CandyShell Card Case. It holds just a bit less than the OtterBox, only three credit cards without a bill -- or two cards and a bill. It's also different from the OtterBox is that there's no drawer. Instead, everything slides into a small gap in the case.

The open gap worried me at first. Speck promises that the design of the card area means things won't fall out. Inside the gap is a rubber stopper that keeps anything you slide in there secure:

Stopper inside slot of Speck case keeps cash and cards secure. Danny Sullivan/CNET

Still, I worried. I needn't have. I've used the case for weeks now and never had anything fall out or even slip alarmingly loose. I am careful to put my cash between two cards, because I'm paranoid that somehow, if the cards don't rest against the rubber securing stopper, they might slip.

I have tried to see if you can get the cards out with a sharp movement -- and yes, eventually you can make them come out if you start flicking the case hard with your wrist. But it takes a lot of force, a huge amount.

Cards and cash slide inside a gap of the Speck wallet case. Danny Sullivan/CNET

A part of me still wishes that the card area was entirely enclosed, as with the Otterbox, but I no longer worry about it. Plus, unlike the OtterBox, I love that the Speck case is hardly thicker than the regular CandyShell.

Loop Mummy wallet case

While I was testing the cases above, both of which I purchased, I also heard from Loop, which makes a Mummy wallet case for the iPhone 4 and 5. The company sent me a sample to try.

It wouldn't woo me away from either OtterBox or Speck. The chief reason is I feel the other two provide far better impact protection, should I need it, with their combination of exterior hard shells and interior impact-absorbing soft cases. Loop is just a soft-shell.

Loop Mummy case Danny Sullivan/CNET

I also found it more awkward to get my cash or cards out versus the other two, plus the case bulged when anything was in it, not making me feel things were secure.

Wallets galore

There are, of course, many types of wallet cases out there, as you can find such as through this Amazon search. Some years ago, I used to use a Belkin Folio case, which they still sell for a variety of phones

But if you've got an iPhone or Samsung Galaxy, and you're after a wallet case with good protection, both OtterBox and Speck are excellent choices to consider. Speck has you covered for the iPhone 5 models and Samsung Galaxy S4. Unfortunately, the company told me it won't be releasing a version for the Samsung Galaxy S5. OtterBox covers the iPhone 5 models plus both the Samsung Galaxy S4 and S5 models.