Review: Griffin Clarifi iPhone 3G case

I’m not the type of person who puts stuff in protective cases. I feel it’s like putting one of those leather bra things on the hood of your car; sure, it’ll protect the front of your car from rocks on the freeway, keeping it in perfect shape for when you sell it – but in the meantime, you’ve still got a funky looking leather bra thing on the hood of your car.

That said, I was intrigued by the idea of the Griffin Clarifi case for the iPhone 3G. While it’s primarily a protective case, it’s got a trick up its sleeve: the backside features a sliding close-up lens, theoretically allowing you to focus on items much closer than you’d otherwise be able to. So, does it work? Check after the jump for photo examples and more details.

What’s in the box:

  • Clarifi case
  • Screen protector
  • Premium cleaning cloth
  • Putting it on:

    The case comes with a pre-cut screen protector of the peel-and-stick variety, which I feel is a bit useless. The iPhone’s glass screen is damned tough to scratch – anything that does manage to scratch it surely won’t be hindered by a thin sheet of plastic. I read through the instructions real quick just to make sure it was the standard “Peel, stick, get out the air bubbles with a credit card” process – it was – and then proceeded to spend 20 minutes trying to get the screen protector on properly. No luck. Even after going crazy on it with a credit card, there were bubbles aplenty. Off goes the screen protector!

    The case itself is a different story. Installation and removal is dead simple. It’s a two-part design, with the pieces sliding securely together. All of the side buttons are easily accessible, as is the dock connector at the bottom. It won’t actually fit in the dock while the entire case is on, but the two-part design allows you to remove just the bottom piece when docking.

    The Lens:

    Sliding the lens in and out of position is as easy as you’d expect. On the inside of the case, the lens is recessed a bit to keep it from rubbing up against the iPhone each time you slide it in or out of place.

    Photo Examples:

    In the examples below, the image on left is without the close-up lens, the image on the right is with the close-up lens.

    Text, Shot from about 4 inches :

    Small objects, Shot from about 6 inches:

    Text, Shot from about 1 inch:

    Distant shot:

    As you can see, the Clarifi lens is most effective at a distance of a few inches. Once you get down to about an inch away, it gets a bit blurry – it still helps a notable amount, though. As it’s a close-up lens, it obviously isn’t going to be very good for your distance shots.

    What I like:

    • The case is easy to put on, and protects the handset well.
    • If you feel you need screen protection, they’ve included a screen protector in the box.
    • As long as you’re not expecting a macro lens, the close-up lens works really well.
    • The lens is recessed into the case, so sliding it on and off won’t mark up your handset’s paint job
    • Side buttons are easily accessible, as is the docking port

    What I don’t:

    • The screen protector is difficult to put on without getting bubbles
    • As the lens doesn’t snap into place in either the on or off position, it tends to wind up somewhere right in the middle, especially if you’re just pulling it out of your pocket for a quick shot. When it’s in the middle, the camera lens is partially obstructed, resulting in a finger-over-the-lens effect. If it manages to dance its way all the way to the fully on position, it’ll turn your distant shots into a huge blur.

    The verdict:

    If you walk into a brick-and-mortar store, a standard hard case would probably set you back right around $20 bucks. At $35, you’re paying around 15 dollars more for the close-up lens. Is it worth it? If it has a purpose for you, certainly. If you find yourself taking shots of things closer than a foot or two on a regular basis, it’ll serve you well. I was really impressed at how well it worked at a distance of around 3-8 inches. If you’re looking for a case and don’t mind dropping the extra $15 bucks for the added functionality, I’d easily recommend the Griffin Clarifi.

    I do hope that in a future release they figure out a way to lock the lens into place, at least when in the off position. The toughest case in the world wouldn’t survive the smashing I’d put on it if it made me miss that once in a lifetime shot.