Battle Of The Rugged iPhone 4 Cases! Ballistic HC vs. SharkEye

There’s no denying the iPhone 4 is a beautiful device, but like so many beautiful things, it’s also fragile. Almost immediately after being released, pictures began to appear showing a shattered glass rear panel or worse, a shattered screen; it soon became clear the iPhone 4 had to be treated carefully.

The slim, slippery chassis doesn’t help, but thankfully there are thousands of specially designed cases to help you keep a hold on your phone and protect it in the event of a fall. However, the vast majority only offer a small degree of shock protection, and leave the top and bottom of the phone exposed, or in the case of Apple’s own Bumper, the rear panel too.

So what if your iPhone 4 is regularly exposed to dusty, dirty or wet environments or your work means your phone could fall from a great height? Or perhaps you’re just quite clumsy and would like to give your beloved iPhone 4 a fighting chance of survival? Step forward the ‘rugged’ sub-genre of cases, all designed to make sure your phone stays safe no matter how badly it’s treated!

There are several manufacturers making this type of case, and we’re going to pit one of the established names against a relative newcomer to see where they differ, and to find out who would benefit from each one.

The Ballistic HC iPhone 4 Case

The HC in the Ballistic’s name stands for Hardcore, and just by looking at it you can see it’s going to live up to its name! This protective case provides four layers of protection and comes in four different parts. Your iPhone 4 sits in the tray-like base before being covered with a clip-on top panel with a built-in screen protector. Once inside, the phone is protected by a polycarbonate shell and soft, shock absorbing polymer sections.

At this stage, the headphone jack, mute switch, speakers and dock connector are the only things left exposed. The screen is covered by the protector, the Home button has a polymer coating, as do the volume buttons and the sleep/wake key. If you want, you can use the phone like this, however for complete protection you wrap it all up in silicone!

This adds another protective layer over the phone, plus it has silicone flaps for covering the previously exposed ports. Finally, the whole thing is attached to a plastic belt clip assembly, where the screen faces inwards. Once it has clipped home, it’s never going to come loose on its own, so unless your belt breaks – it’s not going anywhere!

With the iPhone 4 deep inside the Ballistic HC case, the chances of it being damaged are tiny. In the demonstration video below, Ballistic themselves throw it around and drop it several times, and the case takes all the abuse in its stride. In fact, you get the feeling it laughed the tests off!

You may wonder how usable the iPhone 4 is inside this much casing, but the truth is it doesn’t make any difference at all. The screen is still just as responsive, the Home button works every time you press it, as does the sleep/wake key. If anything, they’re both slightly easier to locate if you’re not looking at the phone. The camera lenses are both uncovered too, and I have never noticed any shading or flash problems with the Ballistic HC case fitted.

The compromise comes in the form of added bulk and weight.  Here’s the difference between a naked iPhone and one inside the Ballistic HC:


  • iPhone 4:  137g.
  • iPhone 4 with Ballistic HC case:  222g, or 268g with the belt clip.


  • iPhone 4:  H: 115mmW: 58.6mmD: 9.3mm
  • iPhone 4 with Ballistic HC case:  H: 130mmW: 70mmD: 20mm (all without belt clip).

So, you move from one of the most compact phones on the market to easily one of the biggest, but at least inside the Ballistic it’s unlikely to lose those good looks!

SharkEye iPhone 4 Case

While the Ballistic HC hit the market around the same time the iPhone 4 was released, the SharkEye iPhone 4 case has just come out in the USA and is expected to launch in Europe soon. However, the company does have an established name and has previously offered a 3G/3GS version.

Before we go into how the SharkEye will protect your iPhone 4, we’ll explain the name. A shark has a membrane which slides over its eye when it’s exposed to danger, and using this as inspiration, the SharkEye has sliding protective screen cover built-in to the case!

The SharkEye also comes in four pieces – one of which is a belt clip – but it assembles in a very different manner to the Ballistic. Taking your iPhone 4, you slip it into the base section first. The entire outer casing is made from a solid plastic, with a hidden, shock absorbing elastomer lining which protects the corners of the device once inside the case.

With the base section in place, you slide on the retractable screen cover before finishing by putting the top part of the case on. Once it’s on, the fit is excellent, but the process is a little fiddly as you need to line up some clips to keep it all together. The Home button, dock connector, volume buttons, headphone jack and sleep/wake key are all covered by the same elastomer found inside the case, while the camera lenses, speakers and mute switch are uncovered.

The screen cover – or ‘garage door’ as SharkEye like to refer to it – is very easy to operate. On the rear of the case is a slider which pushes the cover into place or pulls it back to reveal the screen.  Opening it is a one-handed operation, and while it can be closed with one hand too, using both is quicker. As the screen can be used without any barrier in-between it and your finger, the SharkEye case provides a very natural iPhone 4 user experience; and it’s a big benefit.

It’s tough too, and SharkEye has videod the case resisting impacts from a sledge hammer and a steel ball being dropped on the covered screen from a height of nearly 40″! The belt clip is a little more versatile than the Ballistic’s, as the case can be mounted with the screen facing inwards or outwards; however the screen guard can’t be operated when it’s clipped on.

Here are the differences in size and weight with the SharkEye case fitted.


  • iPhone 4:  137g.
  • iPhone 4 with SharkEye case:  196g, or 234g with the belt clip.


  • iPhone 4:  H:115mmW: 58.6mmD:9.3mm
  • iPhone 4 with SharkEye case:  H:124mmW: 72mmD:17mm (all without belt clip).

As you can see, the SharkEye is slightly more compact and lighter than the Ballistic, and it really feels it in the hand. It’s better looking too, as the Ballistic is very ‘industrial’ and looks as if it belongs on a soldier’s utility belt. The SharkEye however, not only has that cool sliding screen protector, but its softer, more rounded design makes it appear much more ‘friendly’.

Without putting the pair through some rigorous tests, I can’t say whether one provides more protection than the other, however under normal circumstances – a short drop is all most will have to endure – both the Ballistic and the SharkEye will keep your iPhone 4 safe. In terms of appearing to be more protective, the Ballistic has the edge thanks to that super-absorbent silicone wrap. If I was mountain climbing/off-roading/any-other-extreme-situation, I think I’d take the Ballistic, but for all other occasions I’d use the SharkEye.

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