Urban Armor Gear has made a name for itself as being a really protective case without all the bulk. They’re thin and light while still meeting military drop specifications. These are two of their newest offerings for the iPhone 7. UAG was kind enough to send me these cases for review, and in this review we'll see if they live up to the high expectations set by the previous generation.
What makes UAG cases unique are their corner skid pads. If you drop your phone chances are it's going to hit a corner first. The corners have been bulked up to absorb that impact and also lift the phone up off any surface. This keeps your screen protected and the back free from scratches.
Now let's see if these rugged cases live up to their mil spec claims. The Pathfinder series meets a mil spec rating that means it can be repeatedly dropped from four feet. I dropped this phone from chest height a few different times and it didn't even receive a scratch. Now for the tougher Monarch series. The Monarch line claims two times mil spec drop protection which would equate to eight feet. A drop from head height is a walk in the park.
Taking a look around the case we have a very generous cutout for the camera and flash. On the bottom you have the typical cutouts you'd expect. A nice large cutout for the headphone jack...wait a minute. There's a cutout for the headphone jack?!?
Ok, let me explain. The previous generation case for the iPhone 6 and 6S was an outstanding case but it had some flaws. UAG decided to make these new iPhone 7 cases compatible with the 6 and 6S so that everyone could benefit from their improvements. That certainly didn't come without some compromises though. As a result the bottom of your case will have a sloppy looking headphone jack opening that's slightly more flimsy than it would have been otherwise. The camera cutout also had to be sized to fit the cameras from both phones. On the iPhone 7 it's not that noticeable but on the 6 and 6S it's clear that this case was designed with another phone in mind. I get it, UAG can cut some cost by only making one version, but I wish they wouldn't have compromised on what otherwise is an outstanding case.
The other cutouts are really precise and fill all gaps between the case and the phone. The buttons are exactly what you'd expect from a UAG case. They feature slits along each button to make them easier to press and are a joy to use. The power button is textured to make it easy to locate but the volume buttons on the other hand are fairly flush and can take a second to find when you're on a call. The mute switch cutout is just the right size requiring very little effort to mute your phone.
On the back of this series is a soft touch hard shell that's fused together with the inner TPU lining with fake torx screws. This shell resists scratches very well and feels great in your hand. I prefer this over their plasma line since the previous generation of that case scratches super easily and doesn't have nearly the same amount of inner honeycomb TPU protection.
The Monarch series is a completely different animal. Instead of two layer it consists of four layers of protection. UAG claims five, but I'm sorry, metal screws don't count as a layer. It starts with a polycarbonate plate against your phone, then genuine top grain leather. Next is another polycarbonate armor frame which is finished off with impact resistant TPU rubber. It's odd that the inside of the case that comes in contact with your phone would be a harder polycarbonate, but what this case lacks in inner shock absorption it makes up for in outer. This outer rubber extends all the way down the sides with a honeycomb traction grip that makes the case really easy to hold on to. The buttons and cutouts are all the same for this case, yes, even the headphone jack cutout.
The most noticeable difference between these cases is the size and weight. The extra material of the Monarch series makes it a little heavier than the Pathfinder. It's a little thicker as well. In fact the Pathfinder is slightly thicker than the previous generation UAG case too. The previous case was barely over 10mm. The Pathfinder comes in just under 11 while the Monarch is over 11. It's not a huge difference, but it is noticeable, especially if you're coming from a previous generation UAG case.
The other small differences you'll notice are welcome changes. The skid pads now extend farther down the sides eliminating small areas of polycarbonate shell that could separate and break off. Also the skid pads no longer contain the sharp points on the back. It's never been an issue for me, but others have mentioned it can be uncomfortable to hold. UAG heard you loud and clear and flattened these out to eliminate that. On the back the pattern has been inverted. Instead of the middle section with the UAG logo being raised it's recessed. Lastly, they got rid of the confusing iPhone exclusive holes. If you're familiar with UAG it's the same case that you know and love with some small refinements to make it more comfortable and more durable.
Between the two cases I personally prefer the Pathfinder. It provides more than enough protection, is thinner and lighter, and cost about half the price. However, the Monarch case certainly has a unique look with its genuine leather and real metal hardware. I would be a little concerned about the metal touching the back of the iPhone though. They're slightly recessed, but it still concerns me.
If you're looking for a iPhone case that will provide serious protection without all the bulk then look no further. That is of course if you can get past the headphone jack opening. The Pathfinder retails for $35 and the Monarch for $60. The Monarch also comes with a ten year limited warranty instead of the typical one year. If you have any questions that I didn't answer feel free to leave those in the comments.