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3 protective iPhone 11 cases that are so rugged, they'll survive a literal explosion

We put three top phone cases through our most extreme test yet.

Lexy Savvides Principal Video Producer
Lexy is an on-air presenter and award-winning producer who covers consumer tech, including the latest smartphones, wearables and emerging trends like assistive robotics. She's won two Gold Telly Awards for her video series Beta Test. Prior to her career at CNET, she was a magazine editor, radio announcer and DJ. Lexy is based in San Francisco.
Expertise Wearables, smartwatches, mobile phones, photography, health tech, assistive robotics Credentials
  • Webby Award honoree, 2x Gold Telly Award winner
Lexy Savvides
3 min read
Lexy Savvides/CNET

Tough phone cases can protect your phone from accidental drops. But we've shown that some of these cases are a lot tougher than they claim: Many can be dropped from almost 20 feet onto a hard surface, or protect your phone from harsh impacts like a steel ball. So how do they fare when subjected to one of the toughest tests of all: an explosion? We teamed up with the Science Channel's The Explosion Show and host Tory Belleci to find out.

We chose three tough iPhone 11 cases in different price brackets as our test subjects: the Otterbox Defender ($61), the Spigen Tough Armor ($45) and the Pelican Rogue ($25). And we put a brand-new iPhone 11 in each of the cases to see what would happen to the phones .

None of these cases claim to withstand a blast -- we just wanted to take our (nonscientific!) testing to a new level.

Warning: The explosions in this video were conducted by trained professionals in a controlled environment. Mobile phones contain lithium batteries that can explode when exposed to extreme heat. Do not try this at home.

Round 1

For the first round, our bomb technicians placed the explosive 15 feet (4.5 meters) away from the phone cases. We placed all the phones in the same orientation, with the back of the cases facing the blast.

After viewing the first explosion from a safe distance, we assessed each phone to see if there was any damage to the case or the phone itself.

All the cases passed the first test and there was no damage to any of the phones or the cases.


From left to right, the Otterbox Defender, the Spigen Tough Armor and Pelican Rogue.

Screenshot by Lexy Savvides/CNET

Round 2

To keep this experiment as fair as possible, we swapped out each case for a brand-new one with every round. Moving the phones in closer to the blast zone we set them in the same orientation 10 feet away.

After the second blast, we inspected the phones again. Like the first round, there was no visible damage to any of the phones or the cases.

Round 3

For the final test, we moved the phones in even closer to 3 feet. We had no idea what would happen.

Sorry to be a tease, but to find out the final result, check out the video above.

50 cool iPhone cases for geeks and nerds

See all photos

What do the case-makers say?

We reached out to all three of the case-makers to let them know the results. 

An Otterbox spokesperson said, "We hear from customers all the time that our cases have helped their phones survive crazy scenarios that we would never think to test for. Our cases are tested in a controlled environment with repeatable measures that take out as much variability as possible. We definitely have not rated our cases as 'explosion' proof but are happy to know that it held up well."

Pelican's David Becker, vice president of consumer division, said: "Those results are no surprise to us. For 42 years Pelican has been building cases to protect all that you value with the highest standards in the industry."

Watch this: The toughest iPhone XR case at CES 2019

Read more: 

Originally published earlier this year.