Do you need a case for your smartphone?

In this edition of Ask Maggie, CNET's Marguerite Reardon offers some advice on smartphone cases and also helps a reader decide between the iPad Mini and the fourth generation iPad.

Marguerite Reardon Former senior reporter
Marguerite Reardon started as a CNET News reporter in 2004, covering cellphone services, broadband, citywide Wi-Fi, the Net neutrality debate and the consolidation of the phone companies.
Marguerite Reardon
6 min read

You know those old ladies who cover their sofas with plastic? That's what I think about people who get cases for their smartphones.

People love their gadgets, and some people will do almost anything to make sure they look as cool and clean as they did when they first came out of the box. There's a whole industry that has emerged to help people keep their shiny new devices just like new. There are hundreds of cases customized for just about any kind of smartphone. And because there are so many options, some people start to feel like they "need" one of these cases to protect their precious device. In this Ask Maggie, I explain why that is not the, um, case.

I also offer some advice to someone deciding between the iPad Mini or the fourth generation iPad as a gift.

The smartphone-case/no-smartphone-case debate

Dear Maggie,

Do I really need a protective case for my Galaxy S3?


Dear B,

The short answer to your question is no. You do not really need a case for any smartphone. I have owned various smartphones for many years and have never used a case. Personally, I feel the outer shell the device already comes in is adequate. I also don't like the bulk a case adds to the device. I'd prefer to risk getting a few minor scratches or scuffs than buy a case.

Sapphire Black Samsung Galaxy S3

I would describe myself as an average smartphone owner. I'm not overly cautious when it comes to my cell phone. I throw my device in my purse, backpack, tennis bag, or whatever else I have handy. I often slide it into my pocket and have been known to even sit on my smartphone when it's in my back pocket. (I don't really recommend this.)

So far, I haven't experienced any major issues. I've been using a Samsung S3 off and on for several months, I haven't noticed any significant scratches. The touch screen has also been fine. In fact, I haven't had any problems with my Galaxy S3 or any other smartphone I've owned getting banged up.

But that's me. I know plenty of people who feel more comfortable when their devices have cases on them. And there are plenty of good reasons to buy a case. There are a lots of people who drop their devices. There are lots of cases available that will absorb the shock from an unexpected tumble.

Best Samsung Galaxy S3 cases (pictures)

See all photos

Also, it's a good idea to get a case if you plan to resell your smartphone at a later date to help defray the cost of a new smartphone. Minor scratches and scuffs can devalue your device on the secondary market. So if you can keep your phone in pristine condition, you're likely to get a better price for it.

Another popular reason for getting a case is simply to show off some personal style. The Samsung Galaxy S3 is one of the hottest-selling devices on the market. And that means there are tons of people walking around with the exact same phone that you have. While I don't really care too much about that, some people do. A case offers you a way to add some color or style to your device to reflect your own personality.

In addition to protecting your phone and adding some style, some cases can enhance the functionality of your device. For example, the BoxWave Color Splash case offers a kickstand, so you can position your Galaxy S3 horizontally to watch video. The MiniSuit Versatile Case Cover + Stand + Book Folio Wallet is a cover and case that allows you to store credit cards or cash alongside your phone.

My CNET Reviews colleague David Carnoy has reviewed several cases for the Galaxy S3. He just updated his "Best Samsung Galaxy S3 Cases" post on Friday with five new additions. So if you're in the market for a new Galaxy S3 case, you should check out his article and the corresponding slideshow.

One good piece of advice David offers potential smartphone-case shoppers is that the same exact case with the same design may be offered by multiple suppliers. The name-brand case makers often offer it for much more than off-brand suppliers. So you may want to broaden your search and look around before you buy. With this in mind, he said you don't have to break the bank to get a decent case for your device.

"While higher-end cases tend to cost $30 to $50, perfectly good cases can be had for less than $10 shipped," he said.

So to reiterate. You definitely do not need to buy a case for your Samsung Galaxy S3 or for any other smartphone. But if you do want a case, make sure you shop around. And check out David Carnoy's "Best Galaxy S3 cases" post for some help. Good luck!

iPad Mini or fourth gen iPad?

Dear Maggie,

My dad's birthday is approaching and I am planning to buy an iPad as a gift. He would use it for occasional e-mail, light browsing, and mostly for Facetime chat with the grandkids. I am clear about buying the 32GB Wi-Fi version.

I need your suggestion on deciding between the iPad Mini and the fourth generation iPad. I feel that the Mini is underpowered and may not be useful after a year or so. But its size and weight (or lack of it) makes the Mini appealing. Is it worth spending roughly $200 more for the 10-inch model (including taxes) or is the Mini sufficient for his use?

iPad Buyer

Dear iPad Buyer,

As you've stated in your question the iPad Mini is less expensive than the fourth generation iPad. I'm a bit of a cheapskate. So I'd likely opt for the cheaper version.

But the less expensive price tag isn't the only reason I'd recommend the iPad Mini over the bigger fourth generation iPad for your dad. Personally, I just like the smaller size tablets. I don't own an iPad or an iPad Mini. But I do have an early Android 10-inch tablet and the Nexus 7-inch tablet. My husband and I use the 7-inch Nexus much more than we've ever used the 10-inch tablet. We've taken it on vacation with us. He uses it as an e-reader. And yet we still use it as a coffee table Internet device to browse the Web or check e-mail.

Meanwhile, I never found a real use for our larger tablet. It was too big and bulky to take on trips, especially since I already travel with a laptop and smartphone. And we almost never had it sitting out on the coffee table.

As for whether the iPad Mini is up to the tasks your dad will likely use it for, I'd say it's definitely a good fit for his needs. The iPad Mini is more than adequate for light e-mailing, searching the Web, and FaceTiming with grandchildren.

The only reason to get the 9.5-inch iPad is because you think he'd appreciate the bigger screen for viewing the grandkids when he's FaceTiming. Sometimes older people like the bigger screen size. But to be honest, the screen size is really only moderately bigger on the fourth generation iPad compared with the iPad Mini. Overall, the difference in size is really about two inches.

The only exception to my advice is if you think he'll watch a lot of video or view a lot of high definition pictures on his iPad. If that's the case, you may want to consider the fourth generation iPad, since it has a Retina display and the iPad Mini doesn't.

But just because the iPad Mini doesn't have the Retina display, doesn't mean the screen isn't nice. Again, I think the Mini is more than adequate for what your dad's needs are.

Keep in mind, if you go with the bigger, fourth generation iPad, it will be heavier than the iPad Mini. How much heavier? It's almost twice as heavy. The added weight and size sometimes make it more cumbersome to use.

So my advice to you is save the extra money and buy your dad an iPad Mini. I'm sure he'll love it! Good luck!

Correction Sunday December 23, 2012:This story mistakenly characterized the price difference between the iPad Mini and the Fourth Generation iPad. The price difference is actually $170. The story has been corrected to reflect this information.

Ask Maggie is an advice column that answers readers' wireless and broadband questions. The column now appears twice a week on CNET offering readers a double dosage of Ask Maggie's advice. If you have a question, I'd love to hear from you. Please send me an e-mail at maggie dot reardon at cbs dot com. And please put "Ask Maggie" in the subject header. You can also follow me on Facebook on my Ask Maggie page.