Review: Case-Mate Barely There Case for iPhone 3G

The Case-Mate Barely There case for the iPhone 3G, available for $19.95 from the TiPb iPhone Store, is designed to accomplish several things:

  • Protect your iPhone from minor impact and abuse (e.g. bumps and scratches)
  • Do so without adding significant bulk or making it un-pocketable (if that's how you roll)
  • And to look good while doing it.

How well does it hit these targets, and what if anything could it do better? Find out in our review...

I'm not a huge fan of cases. More often than not, my iPhone goes commando in my pocket. Well, almost. I have a sticker-skin on it to protect from minor scratches since the plastic iPhone 3G backing is so prone to them. I do worry, however, that one day I'll drop my pride and joy and that same plastic backing will chip or crack on me. Living with that fear in the back of my mind is what drove me to try out a few options, starting with one that's as close to naked as a hard case can be.


Case-Mate's Barely There case comes in a rainbow of colors. Enough to make the latest gen iPod nano jealous. Case the rainbow. Seriously. Black, white, red, orange, purple, pink, and blue are your options. Being somewhat stalwart and sedate myself, I went with black.

It covers the back and sides of the iPhone 3G, with cutouts at the corners to increase flexibility and aid in getting it on or off. Cutouts are also provided for the controls, speaker, mic, and dock port, and a hole is cut in the back so the big Apple logo on the iPhone can represent. Fandom rejoice. Everyone else scratch your heads and hope nothing spears it right in that target spot.

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For the front, in lieu of armor, Case-Mate provides a fairly typical screen protector.


Slide your iPhone in, volume buttons first, and the other side flexes and snaps into place securing your iPhone in its protective shell. Simple, direct, easy. Win.

For the screen protector -- it's a screen protector. Clean thoroughly. Apply carefully. Squeegee down deliberately.

day in, day out, the case just does what it's supposed to from that point on -- protect your iPhone from the abuse of casual use. Living up to it's name, it often times felt like it really was barely there, adding nothing appreciable to the in-pocket experience, and even giving a tiny bit of extra, and appreciated, heft in-hand.

It's not coated in soft-touch, so there's really no added security when it comes to actually preventing drops, but it feels tough enough to survive a pretty good whack. And hey, if you break it, at least you're only out an Andrew Jackson and not the heap of Ben Franklins a new iPhone would cost you.

Of course, the front is covered with only a thin plastic film, so while you still get the scratch protection, dropping it face down will offer nothing in the way of similar impact resistance.

Problems? A couple minor ones to start, mostly to do with fit and finish. The edges in the corners were left a tad sharp. Don't get me wrong, nothing skin-piercing here, just enough to give you an annoying poke. A little extra rounding off in the factory would have been appreciated.

Likewise -- and I preface this by saying I have a sticker-skin on top of my iPhone 3G which might have caused just a millimeter or so of extra girth, creating the problem -- plastic interiors make me to worry about cases causing scratches as much as they prevent them. I saw some depressions on my sticker-skin. No idea if that would have translated to anything on a bare iPhone back, but a little more inside finish at the factory would be reassuring here as well.

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Being a complete and single unit case, it's not compatible with all dock-port accessories. Anything slim and at the end of a long cable, like the standard USB sync that comes with the iPhone, should do you fine. Any kind of cradle, however, will almost certainly require you to remove the case first.

Lastly, the added size, even while minimal, will of course make it incompatible with some holsters and pouches. Without a belt-clip option, this case seems pretty much targeted at people like me -- those who prefer not to have cases or case-like trappings at all.

Again, just like the product name promises -- this case is barely there.


For those who prefer nothing to come between them and our iPhones, the Case-Mate Barely There case is definitely worth a look. In the eternal compromise that comes between comfort and protection, Case-Mate strikes an excellent balance. And, since Apple in its infinitely looped wisdom only offers the iPhone 3G in black and white models, the Case-Mate is also a great way to splash some color on your unit while keeping things lean and still getting some added peace of mind.

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  • Strong and flexible
  • Easy application and excellent fit
  • Wide range of color choices


  • Edges and inside could have better finish
  • Not compatible with some dock-port accessories
  • Not compatible with all holsters/pouches and no belt-clip option

TiPb Accessory Review Rating

4 star rating

Rene Ritchie

Rene Ritchie is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.

  • Nice review. I like these types of cases the best. There are some similar, cheaper, quality made offerings on eBay for round $10.00. Most notable is the Cozip.
  • I've had this case for about 2 weeks now, and like it quite a bit. took a bit of getting used to since i had a bulkier rubber case for months before hand, but like this one so far. I also agree that the finish where the molds joined could have been sanded down a bit before putting th finish colour on but other wise soild cover
  • If you like cases like this check out the Vaja iVolution Grip. It isn't as easy on the wallet but it's great quality, looks good, and feels good in the hand. It also takes a few weeks to get since it's hand made, at least they claim.
  • I like the Sena leather sleeve. Very slim, provides some fall protection (not a lot), good looking, easy on and off.
  • While a bit more expensive and limited in color options and having not checked out this particular case... for this style the Air Jacket with the Power Support Crystal or Anti-Glare screen protectors it comes with kills it for me.
  • Elago case does this better because it doesn't have the slits in the corners. Those just gather junk and dirt.
  • I agree with IsraelS. I've been using the Elago case for months and I've become a big fan. The problem with the traditional cases is that they ruin the bezel.
  • I bought the chrome barely there case w/ mirror screen cover. The case itself reduced the phone signal strength to one or zero bars. I have a case that covers more phone now, so I believe it's the materials case-mate uses. The screen cover is a touch too big (like thier clear ones) causing air bubbles, unless you're good w/ scissors. So I threw away 35 bucks, maybe you won't.
  • It is compatible with my Speck Holster perfectly. It was a major bonus for me since every case I get I hope it will fit it lol
  • I agree with Tommy
    I just purchased the chrome barely there case and I immediately realized the signal strength went down to zero, and sometimes I would get two bars. I love the chrome look of the case but bad reception:(
  • Not at all what I was expecting. IT's not chrome, it's dark gun metal. And the "mirror" is for the screen savers which I haven't applied because I want to return it and don't know yet what their return policy is. Tried it on the phone and now it won't come off. No instructions in the package except how to wipe off the screen withthe soft cloth they gave me. Rocke science. I tried calling the number on the invoice... circle jerk push buttons to no name recording. The phone number on the web site.. same circle jerk, no info about hours or closed on 12/23. So their customer service is standard and poors. Not happy with this at all. Waste of time and money. CAREFULLY CONSIDER BUYING FROM HERE BEFORE YOU DO.
  • This isn't the chrome on, this is the regular colored one. We have a review of the chrome one coming up in a week or so and it's clearly and unmistakably mirror-like chrome. With the screen protector on, it looks awesome.
  • Thanks for your review, seems like this case is a good one like the Incipio Feather and SwitchEasy model, there are a lot of ultra thins out there and several are poor quality, eg. Ideal-Case Ultra Slim.
  • I like the Sena leather sleeve. Very slim, provides some fall protection (not a lot), good looking, easy on and off.
  • just don't carry your iphone with other metal things in the same pocket. and you don't need these kind of cases.
  • casemate is a good company; the only complaint I have is that the free shipping option means that you wont see your case for upwards of 2 weeks!