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Almost all smartphones sold today have the same two flaws -- and the cases you're buying prove it

Commentary: Today's smartphones are incredibly sleek, well-designed electronic devices except for two glaring issues. Maybe someday that will change.

Our Sony Xperia Z3v review sample after it took a 4-foot dive onto a hard floor.
Sarah Tew/CNET

The other day CNET's Jessica Dolcourt, who isn't a fan of smartphone cases, wrote an article about her favorite cases for protecting the Galaxy S6 and S6 Edge, Samsung's sleek new flagship smartphones.

The irony of the piece wasn't lost on our readers. "Samsung updates the Galaxy to 'premium' materials, (CNET) shows you how to cover it with plastic," a user named supersoulfly quipped with the first comment out of the gate.

"Ah, the look and feel of a metal phone you slip it in that new case to protect it," remarked another reader, AStepInTime. "Sort of like putting seat covers on your new car -- or sofa..."

I don't know if the car seat-cover analogy is quite correct since you're actually covering your entire phone. But close enough.

The fact is today's high-end smartphones are incredibly well-designed, sleek electronic devices -- except for the fact that they require a companion accessory to safely survive day-to-day living with their human owners. It's a weird conceit, and one that we've all grown to accept.

I think the whole existence of the case industry highlights the fact that modern smartphones have two basic problems. And as phones get larger and more sophisticated, those flaws seem to be getting worse, not better.

Flaw 1: Smartphones just aren't durable enough

Look around next time you're in an airport, on a train, or at a Starbucks. I bet almost everyone in your field of vision has a case on his or her phone.

Of course, there's a class of confident souls who carry their phones naked, sans case. Many never have a problem. Others aren't so lucky, as evidenced by the number of people I see riding the New York City subway using case-less phones with cracked screens.

Some, including Recode's Walt Mossberg, chalk the flaw up to human error.

"Late in my testing, I dropped the iPhone 6 Apple had lent me for this review," Mossberg wrote in his review of the iPhone 6. "It fell flat on its screen from about 5 feet onto a concrete driveway when I got distracted while taking a photo. This was entirely my fault. But the entire screen was full of cracks."

It was Walt's fault he dropped the phone, but why shouldn't it survive a 5-foot fall onto concrete, let alone a 4-foot fall onto a gymnasium floor that a butterfingered friend of mine experienced recently (the screen shattered).

Cars have bumpers on them. Smartphones don't. Which is why we put our own bumpers on them. And screen covers. Both cottage industries are flourishing.

Compare that to 10 or 15 years ago -- I bet your old flip phone or old-school BlackBerry could take a beating and come back for more.

Insurance is an option. But who wants to pay even more money for a phone that already costs too much to begin with. And AT&T, for example, has a $200 deductible for any higher-end phone you insure. So a case seems like the most cost-effective protection solution, and if it helps keep your device in pristine condition, you might get more money for it on eBay or a trade-in down the road when you buy your next $750 phone.

Speaking of pristine, the other problem with today's smartphones is that the sleeker they are, the worse they look with any sort of blemish. Drop your iPhone 6 or 6 Plus the right way and you may just end up with a dented corner because metal dents, it doesn't break. But there's no body shop to take your iPhone to. The dent stays. Some can live with it. Others decide to hide it with a case.

A handful of more rugged phones exist, including those in Samsung's Galaxy Active line . And Samsung's standard Galaxy S5 could withstand a full dunk underwater, a feature the company decided to leave off the S6 and S6 Edge (perhaps a theoretical "S6 Active" will have it). However, a lot of these "tough" models are only marginally more rugged than their non-rugged siblings (and to be clear, Samsung doesn't describe its Active line as "rugged").

Who knows what we can expect from the future? Apple's rumored Sapphire-screen iPhone didn't materialize (yet), but Corning is launching its Project Phire Gorilla Glass by the end of 2015. Whether it will be truly unbreakable or not under normal wear and tear is anybody's guess.

Flaw 2: Lackluster battery life

The typical high-end smartphone is supposed to have enough battery life to get you through a full day -- at least with moderate use. But over time a lot of people find their phones want to take a siesta by mid afternoon.

Perhaps the biggest frustration is that battery life actually seems to be getting worse, not better, with successive generations. As smartphones get superfast processors, ultra-high-res screens and app multitasking, manufacturers are struggling to maintain power efficiency.

The Genuises at your local Apple Bar sometimes chalk that up to human error. Battery life can be reduced by the way you operate your phone. Some people are able to run it more efficiently than others. There are apps you can turn off, settings to tweak, tricks you can learn.

And that's not the only battery suck. Introduce streaming video, gaming or excessive camera use, and you might not even last a few hours. Which leaves you with a few choices: charge your phone the old-fashioned way (use a wall charger); charge it with an external battery option; or keep your phone in a battery case that gives you extra juice on demand, in many cases doubling the battery life you'd normally get.

The Lifeproof Fre Power is a waterproof battery case shipping later this month. Lifeproof

For those who use a Mophie or any number of other battery cases, I don't have to tell you that these accessories start at around $80 and go up from there. But at least you're killing two flaws with one case.

And if you really want to take it to the next level, you can buy a waterproof case with a built-in battery. Both Mophie ( Juice Pack H2Pro) and Lifeproof (Fre Power) have such cases arriving this month for the iPhone 6; the ultimate premium cases for the ultimate premium phones.

Where "premium phone" means a device that can't survive a sidewalk fall, and can't last more than a day on a charge.

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