There are a ton of good reasons to put a case on your phone, starting with the fact that a flagship phone will easily run you $1,000.
A case protects your phone, adds grip to an otherwise slick exterior, and adds, if you want, a little bit of style in a world of same-looking black rectangles. But on the other hand, cases add bulk, they tend to get grimy, and hey, this phone cost me a small fortune. Why would I cover it up with a $12 case?
So what are phone case haters to do when we want some of the benefits of a case but not all of the downsides? Look no further. If putting a traditional case on your phone makes you cringe, then you’ll be thrilled to know there’s a healthy assortment of case alternatives out there.
These grips, skins, kickstands, and wallets are designed to adhere to your phone, adding utility without all of the bulk of a case. And we’re talking a lot more than PopSockets, which you’re probably well aware of and already know if you’d like or not. We tested a wide range of accessories and picked some favorites for the phone case averse among us.
The best phone grips and stands
The best adhesive phone grip
If an accessory is going to live semi-permanently on the back of your phone, it might as well do more than one job. Moft’s $19.99 Invisible Phone Stand and Wallet does three: it holds up to three cards, folds into a kickstand, and offers a loop grip for one-handed phone use. Moft sells a magnetic version that works with MagSafe and any phone with a metal body, but it slides around a little on non-MagSafe phones. The adhesive version offers a very sturdy grip and is compatible with a huge range of phones.
It’s not the best phone wallet if you want to carry more than a few cards. With three (the most Moft recommends), it’s a snug fit. It’ll also make wireless charging impossible since it’s fixed semi-permanently on the back of your phone. But if your phone doesn’t support wireless charging or you’re fine surrendering this feature, then Moft’s adhesive wallet is an easy pick.
The wallet has an adhesive back, but if you’re putting it on a phone with a glass back, you’ll also need to use the included adhesive film. There’s no guide included to place it, so you need to just eyeball it, and Moft recommends letting the film set for 12 hours before sticking the wallet on top of it.
Once attached, it feels secure, and the hourglass-shaped panel pops in and out of place with magnets for a satisfying snap. Even with some chip-enabled cards in the wallet, I was able to use Apple Pay without a problem — neither its placement nor its contents confused the point-of-sale system at my local coffee shop.
It delivers on its promise of three functions
As a grip, it’s somewhat loose — good enough to make your phone a bit more comfortable to hold in one hand for a long time, but it doesn’t feel super secure. The stand puts it at a comfortable viewing angle in portrait orientation. It works in landscape configuration, too, but because the wallet is positioned to one end of the device, it wobbles a little when I press the volume buttons.
Overall, though, it delivers on its promise of three functions, looks great, and it’s compatible with all kinds of phones. When it’s time to remove the wallet, it comes off without leaving a trace of residue. That’s 20 bucks well spent.
If you’re less interested in the wallet function and you’d rather add a little grip and style to your phone, a Dbrand skin is an obvious pick. These skins are more or less fancy stickers that adhere to the back of your phone — some are designed to cover the sides, too, but the kind I tested just covers the back plate.
Sure, the marketing is a little obnoxious, but the product is high quality. The leather in particular is a favorite — it’s $34.95, and it’s the real deal (Dbrand is eager to remind you that cows died to produce it, which is a look). Putting the skin in place isn’t hard, but it takes a little bit of time and concentration, as well as access to a hair dryer. Being patient with placement pays off; it looks and feels great.
The leather grain adds a little bit of textured grip to the phone, though that’s sort of a secondary feature to looking really nice. When you want to take the skin off, it pulls up without leaving any residue.
The best bumper phone case
A wallet or a skin isn’t going to offer much protection when you drop your phone. If you want a little more peace of mind but you don’t want to commit to a full case, the Arc Pulse is a sleek bumper case option. It’s pricey at $59, and it’s not even really a case, just two separate pieces of aluminum that cover the top and bottom of your phone. It covers the phone’s corners while only taking up a little space on the back of your phone. By the looks of my un-cased iPhone 11, the corners are where scuffs tend to accumulate when you drop your phone, so it seems like a good tradeoff — relatively unobtrusive but offering some helpful protection.
The aluminum Pulse is very sturdy. I’ll admit that the polished aluminum Pulse looks kind of goofy to me, but the matte black version I tested on a black 14 Pro doesn’t look half bad. You need to apply a good amount of pressure to slide it into place, but once it’s there, it’s not going anywhere. Since the back of the phone is exposed, it doesn’t interfere with MagSafe charging, and you have plenty of space to add a MagSafe wallet or grip if you want. Unfortunately, it’s only available for a handful of iPhone models: the 14 Pro, 14 Pro Max, and 13 Pro Max.
If you don’t have one of the above, consider Rhinoshield’s CrashGuard NX case. It covers all four sides of your phone with a frame and interchangeable rim, and you can mix and match colors to your heart’s content. The button covers are interchangeable, too — take that, indistinguishable black rectangles.
The frame itself fits on snugly, and the color options are appealing. On the downside, it adds as much bulk around the sides of your phone as a traditional case, which might defeat the purpose depending on what you’re after. But it does leave the back open for wireless charging access, and the color customization options are a plus.
The best MagSafe phone grip
There’s genius in the simplicity of the $15.99 Anker 610 grip. It’s basically just a donut-shaped magnet designed to attach to the MagSafe area on the back of an iPhone. In the middle, there’s a metal ring that pivots to either sit flush against the phone or act as a grip or kickstand. Simple but effective.
The magnet in the grip is really strong, making it the sturdiest MagSafe grip accessory we tested. You’re not supposed to hold your phone upside by hanging onto the ring, but… you can totally hold your phone upside down by hanging onto the ring. It’s a solid hold if you put the grip directly on the back of your phone, but it’s also strong enough to provide a strong grip with a Dbrand skin.
I think it looks better than a PopSocket or a loop
The inner ring moves freely, so unlike kickstands that snap into a fixed position, you can adjust it to get the viewing angle or hand-hold just right. On the downside, it takes a lot of force to move. I need two hands to pull the ring out into position to use as a grip, something you don’t need to do with most other grips.
But the upside of the design is that with the inner ring tucked against the phone, the grip adds very little thickness to your phone. It doesn’t catch on my pockets thanks to its round design, and I think it looks better than a PopSocket or a loop.
If you’d rather have an elastic grip, the MagSafe Lovehandle Pro is a nice alternative. It’s a little pricey at $49.99, and the prominent “Lovehandle” branding on the back of the strap isn’t my style, but at least on the black version I tested, it’s not all that obvious. The Lovehandle’s handle is a loop attached to a kickstand, and the whole thing is mounted on a credit-card-shaped backing. The magnets aren’t quite as strong as the Anker’s, so it will give if you apply enough force, but it feels secure enough in daily use.
The kickstand offers two angles for portrait or landscape viewing, so you don’t need to reposition the grip to switch from one to the other. The elastic strip is a snug fit on my hand, making for a very secure fit. It’s not as minimalist as the Anker grip, but it works well, and its two-position kickstand is handy.
The best small phone grip
If you’re looking for something slim and functional, the $19.99 SleekStrip is surprisingly good. It occupies a lot less real estate than a PopSocket or the Moft wallet pick above, living up to its name as just a thin strip that sticks to the back of your phone. It pops out when you press the side of the strap, providing a rigid loop for hand-holding or propping your phone up in landscape orientation. It uses adhesive and comes with a couple of extra bits of film and 3M adhesive, so you can take it off and put it on another device.
Its best feature is that it’s out of the way, tucked to the side on the back of your device. Even though it prevents the phone from sitting flush on a charging stand, the strap is thin enough and out of the way enough that wireless charging still works. It’s not the most secure grip since it’s rigid rather than elastic, but it’s good enough.
Its best feature is that it’s out of the way
On the downside, the SleekStrip is a little bit cheap-feeling. The mechanism where the strap slides to pop up is essentially just metal sliding across metal, and it will likely accumulate some scratches over time. There are some innocuous color options, but the available patterns stray into tacky territory. And it won’t hold your phone propped up in portrait orientation, just landscape.
Photography by Allison Johnson / The Verge