Blue Line

Handle with care

April 1, 2013  By Corrie Sloot

Handle with care

by Tom Rataj

It is easy to be deceived about the real cost of portable electronics, particularly the smartphone many of us carry.

There are a lot of behind-the-scenes agreements between manufacturers and cell-phone vendors that heavily mask the true cost of the devices.


Purchased on a typical three-year contract, a leading smartphone such as the new BlackBerry Z10, Samsung Galaxy S III and the top-of-the-line 64GB Apple iPhone 5 run at a fairly reasonable $100, $0.00 and $200 respectively. Purchased off contract, the first two phones cost $650 while the iPhone runs a jaw-dropping $900!

Users can encounter these prices when their phone is lost, stolen, unexpectedly goes for a swim or has a great fall. Although a fall often only damages the screen, replacing it can range from $59 to $199.

Many of us carry our personal smartphone with us both in and out of uniform. In uniform in particular, the chance of it being lost or damaged by some kind of on-duty incident is fairly high.

Since most agencies don’t officially sanction the on-duty use of “personnel communications devices” such as cell phones and pagers, you’ll likely encounter those scary off-contract prices if your phone comes to an untimely end while you’re on the job. A few dollars invested in protection can prevent that from happening.

{Screen protection}

Stick-on screen-protectors are probably the cheapest and simplest line of defence against phone damage since the screen is the most vulnerable, exposed and easily damaged part of the phone.

Even though many phones use Corning Gorilla Glass or other competing products, scratches from careless handling can quickly ruin the user experience and cost a bundle to repair.

The benchmark screen protector is the expensive Zagg brand. Custom kits are available for most major phone models and other electronic devices such as tablets and personal gaming consoles.

For some phones, kits are also available with protective film for the back and sides of the phone or device. Basic screen-only kits retail for $29.95.

Successfully applying screen protectors is challenging enough that some vendors offer installation services.

{Skins and cases}

The most basic whole-phone protection is a simple silicone-rubber skin that wraps around the back and sides. These are ideal when used in a low risk environment and are widely available from less than $10.

One step up are basic rigid plastic bodied cases that wrap around the back and sides. These also offer decent protection in low-risk environments although they don’t help absorb shock like the skins do. Prices start at around $10.

For serious protection users need to dig a bit deeper for a case such as one of the higher-end OtterBox models. The Defender Series case, for example, costs $60 and features a multi layer design with both a rigid body case and silicone-rubber outer skin, integrated screen protection and a polycarbonate holster.


For people using devices in locations where that device-killing substance “water” is ever present, there is a decent selection of waterproof cases and pouches; some even allow the device to be used while inside the case.

Most major cell phone stores stock these items, as will sporting equipment and hunting/fishing supply stores. While they generally don’t provide protection against physical damage, they offer complete water proofing from a reasonable $25. The top-of-the-line Otterbox Armor Series case is an exception. Waterproof to 2m for up to 30 minutes, it also secures the phone against drops of 3m and lists at $100.

Liquipel, a California based company, offers a unique hydrophobic nanotechnology treatment for most electronics that prevents water damage to both the internal electronics and exterior. Users need to ship their phone to Liquipel and wait about one week to get their treated device back. Prices start at $60.


Most smartphones offer basic one-year warranties against defects in material and workmanship. Extended warranties are available for varying prices and some cell vendors offer replacement warranties for repairs and even loss of the device.


The US has implemented a national registry of lost and stolen phones and a similar system, set to launch at the end of September, is planned for Canada.

These registries create and maintain a list of all devices reported lost or stolen by their owners. Service providers will decline to activate phones that are on the list. These registries should have a significant effect on the numbers of phone thefts because they will become virtually worthless.


Crime prevention 101 teaches us to mark all our property, making it more readily identifiable if lost or stolen and acting as a deterrent against theft.

All portable electronics should be marked by some means, whether just a label on the outside or engraving (offered by some phone companies and vendors). If the phone has a removal back, additional labels can be applied inside the case, under the battery or elsewhere.

In addition to a device serial number, all phones are identifiable through their International Mobile Station Equipment Identity (IMEI) number, which identifies it to the cell network. The IMEI number can typically be found through the set-up or utilities menu or inside the phone under the battery.

Many phones also allow for the inclusion of a message, such as “Reward for return, please contact…” on their lock-screen.


Considering the large amount of personal and confidential information stored on smartphones and tablets, all users should implement and use some kind of password that locks the device against unauthorised access.

Even the rudimentary four-number password most phones offer will generally provide privacy, although stronger nine to 12 character alphanumeric passwords with special characters (such as #, @, &, % etc.) are recommended for devices containing confidential, restricted or top-secret corporate information (as may be the case with police issued smartphones).

Aftermarket password apps are available for most smartphone platforms if the basic four-number password isn’t good enough.

{Tracking services}

Most phone manufacturers also offer phone tracking, recovery and remote-wiping software and services that are either free or available for a nominal cost. They typically can also provide back-up services that store all of a phone’s data in another location, such a desktop computer or cloud server. These are simple to implement and use and highly recommended as protection against total loss or even user-error that results in data loss.

Paying very little or even nothing for a $600 to $900 pocket-sized portable computing and communications device (up front anyway) lulls most of us into a false sense of security because we never really appreciate the true cost of the device. If we had to pay the full price initially we would be inclined to look after it better and protect it against loss or damage.

In addition to the obvious basics of theft prevention, an investment of $10 to $50 will provide a decent amount of physical protection for these expensive little electronic devices that we can’t seem to do without.

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