Fantastic but flawed, inexpensive but not cheap, Apple's iPhone 5c cases are worth getting if you want the complete Apple package, but there'll likely be a ton of better options soon enough.

The iPhone 5c is designed to be mass-market, to be popular, to be colorful, fun, and friendly in the same way as the nano-chromatic iPods of generations past. Part of that pitch is the iPhone 5c case, something as bright and bold as the phone itself. If... a little croc-ishly, non-ishly awkward. 5 phones times 6 cases allows for 30 colorful combinations. So how do they look, how do they work, and which are the best combinations to get?

Color theory

The iPhone 5c comes in Hulk green, Smurf blue, Pikachu yellow, Power Puff pink, and Space Ghost white. The cases come in all of those, matched as perfectly as polycarbonate and silicone allow, plus one color the phone doesn't come in, Batman black. Each phone will run you $99 or $199 on contract, $549 or $649 off, but each case only costs $29. That's a far lower cost of color. Apple's pitch is mix and match; get a few different hues for all your different dos. The result isn't a blend, isn't a color-wheel spun in art class that makes purples and magentas, cyans and oranges. You get an extension of the same pop art theme that permeates the phones themselves. You get an extension of the same dots that have bounced their way through Apple's recent marketing. You get something visually big, a contrast of texture, a scale of patten.

On that score and that score alone, on colors and combos, the iPhone 5c cases work and work well. They completely change the look, and can change it often and easily. Unfortunately, there's more to it, and to them.

Whole lot of holes

What makes the cases so colorful is that they let the phones shine through. To achieve that they all have large rows and columns of Home button sizes holes in them. 5 by 7 of them, 35 in all, arrayed in a grid pattern. In concept, it's great. It lets a ton of the color beneath shine through. Unfortunately, there's no finesse to them; they let part of the printing shine through as well. Most infamously, "non" or "hon" from the "iPhone" branding. And it's inelegant to the point of being distracting. Leaving a solid band that hid the branding and markings would, perhaps, have lead to a better result.

Fun but flawed, it mars what could otherwise have been a pretty fantastic look.

Grip and go

Beyond the color, beyond the cuts, the iPhone 5c cases are well manufactured. The soft-touch silicone on the outside looks and feels great. It contrasts not only the hard-coated polycarbonate of the phone itself but coats the smooth, slickness of that surface with far more give and grip. They're an absolute pleasure to hold, and beyond that, a reassurance whenever you put your iPhone 5c down that it won't slide off a sofa or carseat.

The microfiber lining on the inside is likewise top notch. What's more, the edges of the case come up above the phone, so you can put it face down without the risk of scratching the screen. There's enough room around the camera and the flash to avoid any reflection or distortion. There's a decent amount of room around the Lightning connector and 3.5mm headset jack, but not a lot, which could be an issue for people with especially beefy plus.

The finish is typical Apple. Near perfect. The circles are identically sized, identically spaced, and there's no fringing or flash around the edges. There's even an Apple logo on the back. And why not, Apple's the only accessory maker in the world allowed to do that.

The bottom line

The iPhone 5c case is available in 5 colors perfectly matched to the phone itself, and black. They're in plentiful supply, they allow you to change the look of your phone like changing jackets before you go out to party, and they have an Apple logo on the back. Yet they have a bewildering design that lets a smattering of non-sensical text show through.

After spending 4 days with the blue and yellow cases on my green iPhone 5s, I can't say I'm disappointed with them, but I'm not entirely thrilled with them either. And that's a shame, if only because of what could have been. Fantastic but flawed, inexpensive but not cheap, they're worth getting if you want the complete Apple package, but there'll likely be a ton of additional options soon enough.