Should You Really Put a Hardshell Case on Your MacBook?
I tested out several protective covers on Apple's laptops. Here's what I found.
Updated May 25, 2022 5:05 a.m. PT
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Mary KingAssociate Editor
Mary is an associate editor covering technology, culture and everything in between. She recently graduated from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, where she served as an editor at The Daily Tar Heel and reported for newspapers across the state. You can usually find her decked out in UNC merch and streaming lo-fi hip-hop while she writes.
When you've invested in a high-end laptop like a MacBook, it's natural to agonize over the best way to keep it safe. Do you slap a protective hardshell case onto the pricey computer? Or would that detract from the sleek look and feel you've paid so much for? Could a case, in an ironic twist, actually end up damaging the MacBook's hardware?
I had to navigate that dilemma the summer after I graduated from high school, when I finally splurged with my saved-up grocery-store cashier earnings on the ultimate luxury: a 2017 MacBook Pro that I hoped would get me through my college years and beyond. Despite the MacBook's reputation as tough, the space-gray laptop still felt delicate in my hands. The next logical move was to buy an all-over hardshell case.
Casing the MacBook struck me as a no-brainer at the time: I shuddered to imagine my hard-earned, first Apple computer getting flung onto desks, jostled between textbooks and doused with coffee. Even a flimsy plastic case would offer a layer of protection from dings, dents and scratches, plus some peace of mind, right? It was certainly better than nothing, I reasoned.
As I carted my MacBook off to college, its cheapish teal case from Amazon did indeed protect it from scratches and dirt for the most part. But within two years, some serious problems still bubbled up. The hinge became loose, and every time I opened the MacBook, the display would gradually tilt backward. When neon pink bars started sprawling across my screen, I lugged it into the Apple store and learned I had to get the display replaced. Whatever messed up the display, it seems the hardshell case didn't do much to protect it.
The prospect of going caseless horrified me at first. How could I subject my precious MacBook to grubby surfaces and unprotected drops? But I gave it a try. And to this day, both my personal MacBook (now a 2020 M1) and work MacBook are in the nude. Nothing catastrophic has happened, despite my fears. The laptops feel light and sleek.
At the same time, though, I've spotted some scratches on the bottom. And with the stay-at-home world of the past two years shifting back into go-to-the-office mode, I thought it was time to give hardshell MacBook cases another look. Here's what I found:
This case is lightweight -- good news for the MacBook's hinge. But in this instance, the lightness seems more indicative of thin protection than of sleek design. It'll ward off scratches, but I wouldn't count on it providing much more protection than that.
The case technically snaps on, and it seems like it'll stay attached, but the fit is poor. The top anchors are unevenly cut, making the display half difficult to put on. On the bottom half, there's a distinct gap between the laptop and the case. The back vents appear to be partially blocked, which could lead to overheating.
Sadly, the color doesn't match the pretty cyan shown in the picture on the listing. It's more of a pastel mint. On the bright side, the case comes with two pretty keyboard covers. Alas, though, the pigment is spotty. It also comes with a screen protector, but what use is a screen protector on a laptop? The included cleaning cloth is helpful, however.
Overall, it's a nice-looking case, but it makes big compromises on quality. You could do better for the price.
The Fintie Protective Case looks and feels like an elevated version of the traditional hard shell case: It's a tough-feeling polycarbonate with a faux leather decorative coating on top. Small anchors secure the case firmly to the MacBook without covering up the speakers or encroaching on the display.
However, the sturdy material comes at a cost: It clearly adds a good deal of extra weight to the display. My work MacBook Pro weighs 3.2 pounds on its own and 4 pounds with the shell installed. I pulled the display down part way, and the weight of the case made the laptop clamp shut. Long-term, that might not be good for the hinge.
The cutouts were advertised to leave the vents unblocked to allow for effective cooling -- and at first, the MacBook seemed to have plenty of room to breathe. But after a few days of use, I noticed the MacBook was getting hotter and running the fan more often. When I took off the case during one of the computer's fits, it immediately calmed down.
Though the faux leather doesn't provide much in the way of cushioning, the case overall still gives MacBook an extra layer of protection from scratches and drops. Reviewers on Amazon are generally happy with it, especially for the price; the main complaint is that the plastic on the bottom half cracks and deteriorates within months.
But for only a few bucks more than some of the other options, it's a sturdier case with better value. I'd call it the superior budget option, even with its possible vent blockage.
Color me impressed. This case fits my MacBook flawlessly: It's as if the case were just a part of the computer itself. No wonder Apple sells it straight from its website. Unlike the previous two I reviewed, this seems like a case that will last for ages.
At $50, it's pricey, but it could be a worthy investment. The plastic here strikes an impressive balance between durability and lightness, and it protects the laptop without putting undue strain on the hinge or display.
When I brought my MacBook on a trip abroad recently, I kept this case on it to see how it would fare. I was initially nervous about the laptop's welfare as I shoved my backpack beneath airplane seats and hauled it around a big city. My worries were proven needless -- neither the laptop nor the case itself sustained any damage.
While this case costs far more than I'd typically like to spend on a laptop accessory, the quality makes it a worthwhile buy.
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Pros of casing
Some protection. While a case won't keep your MacBook totally safe from, say, dunking in a bathtub, it will grant the hardware a bit of mercy from scratches and spills.
Peace of mind. If you're frequently transporting your MacBook from place to place, you have many more opportunities to drop or ding it. It's comforting to know that even if your laptop does take a tumble, there's a barrier to cushion the blow.
Personalization. A colorful case will certainly differentiate your MacBook from its other doppelgangers in a room. This can be especially helpful if you're in a setting with a lot of other MacBooks, like in an office, classroom or an especially Apple-outfitted household.
Cons of casing
Overheating. Most laptops employ vents to help them stay cool. If your case blocks those vents, the laptop will run hotter, which may harm its performance. (But if you have an M1 MacBook Air, you don't have to worry about this because it doesn't have vents.)
Strain on your display. The top part of the case adds extra weight to your MacBook's display. This can loosen up the hinge and make it more difficult for the display half to stay put.
Nasty-looking after a while. A MacBook in its natural state is easy to wipe off, but once you throw a case into the mix, you have to deal with a different surface that can be resistant to cleaning. I've noticed that my cases have quickly accumulated dirt and lost their luster.
Other ways to keep your laptop safe
Get a sleeve instead. While a hardshell case stays affixed to your MacBook, a sleeve is simply a soft carrying case. It offers protection for your MacBook while it's not in use, and it allows you to skip the risks that come with a shell.
Avoid open cups. I once fried my mother's MacBook by knocking over a nearby glass of milk. To this day, I only let covered liquids (in a water bottle or a cup with a lid and straw) near mine.
If you use a keyboard cover, remove it before closing your laptop. A lot of cases come with a silicone keyboard cover that matches the color of the case. It looks cute, and it keeps crumbs and grease out of your keyboard. But remember to take it off the keyboard before shutting the lid, lest you harm the display.