Cracked iPhone 4: The Cheap Man Payeth the Most


“The cheap man payeth the most,” is something my mom used to say a lot, and she was married to my dad, so she would’ve known.

This is a short account of how my cheapness—which I prefer to call “my frugality”— combined with “my persnicketiness,” came back to bite me in “the ass.” 

As you can see, I have an iPhone 4, which now has a cracked screen. If it had had a case on it, it would’ve been a different story. Wait, I mean it wouldn’t have been a story at all. But it didn’t have a case on it. Here’s why.  

The first case I had I got for free during the iPhone 4 antenna flapdoodle

Once my free case—which I never liked much anyway—started getting cracked and looking assy, I started shopping for a new case. I was put off by two things: 1) the sheer number of case options for the stupid phone, and; B) the ridiculous prices for most of them. $40 for that ugly-ass hunk of plastic?!

So I put off replacing the original case until it’s broken assiness became unbearable. Finding myself at Target one day, I decided to see what they had. They had the usual assortment of $30-$40 cases that I wasn’t interested in. But then I saw this unloved and lonely Griffin model with tape on the box, like it was a lazily restocked return. It was $9, I think. 

It was perfect, exactly what I wanted. It was just a rubberized plastic wrapper that covered the sides and back. It was like the same material they make jelly sandals out of, in a smoked translucent grey. Simple. Functional. Subtly attractive. Not loaded with gimmicks I didn’t want. Great. Perfect.

Flash forward to a couple months ago, maybe two years later. (Did I say this was going to be a short account? I lied.) My perfect rubberized plastic case started getting brittle with age and the sides were cracking. At first I ignored it, but then it cracked to the point where it wouldn’t stay on the phone anymore. 

Still, it was largely intact, just cracked a bit. I was near an Apple Store one day, so I thought maybe I’d go in and see what they had in the way of reasonably priced cases. Again, the number of superficially equivalent, largely uninspiring and ridiculously priced options—nothing under $30, that I could see—was daunting. And I didn’t like any of them as much as my simple little jelly-style case, which no one seemed to make anymore. 

So I said, you know what, if I wrap black electrical tape around the edge band of my old case, it’ll be good as new. And that’s what I did. Two or three wraps around the entire edge, and then with an X-acto knife I precisely cut out the inserts for the dock, the buttons and the headphone jack. Frugal Persnickety Man strikes another blow for frugal persnicketiness! 

And it worked great and looked great! OK, at least it didn’t look bad. Basically, you really couldn’t tell that it was an iPhone 4 case wrapped in electrical tape unless you looked closely.

And, to my credit, this little fix was my little secret. Thankfully, I didn’t go around saying, “Hey, guys! Check out the great electrical tape job I did to preserve the cheap iPhone case I love.” That would’ve been over the nerd line, even for me. Although I suppose I am outing myself with this post anyway. Oh, well. 

So, happy ending, right? Well, as it turns out, electrical tape kinda has a finite lifespan for this kind of repair. After a few weeks or so, it decides to stop being electrical tape and start being a saggy, sticky strip of flaccid plastic. 

I rewrapped it in new tape once more, but when it got saggy again a few weeks later, even I had had enough. OK, time to bite the bullet and get a new case. 

I already knew the Apple Store was not for me. I shopped Dr. Bott for a few minutes until I got crossed-eyed. They have lots of iPhone 4 cases: cheap cases, expensive cases, in-between cases. But there was no way of knowing which case I’d like best. 

Then I remembered The Wirecutter, which I posted about a while back. Their whole deal is, “Here, we checked out all of the options and sifted through the crap for you: just buy this one and shut up already.” So that’s exactly what I did. I ordered the SwitchEasy SW-ECL4S-BK Eclipse Hybrid Case for iPhone 4 & 4S they recommended and it should get here any day now. It was around 20 bucks, which is not 30 bucks, at least. 

I was so pleased that I finally pulled the trigger on this momentous buying process that I celebrated by stripping off my old decrepit, decaying case, deciding my phone would go au naturel until the new case arrived.
That worked out pretty well. Until yesterday. When I bent down to pick up a bag of groceries. And my naked phone slid so smoothly from my shirt pocket. Onto the concrete driveway.

I’m getting the screen replaced today. I understand it’s gonna cost me about $50. 

If my mom was still around, I’d explain that it’s not just my cheapness—ahem, I mean my frugality—that cost me. It was my frugality and my persnicketiness. 

Deadly combo, dudes.