While I upgrade my iPhone every year, I’ve found that I stick to the same basic set of accessories thanks to their reliability, style or functionality. What to buy in terms of cables and docks is a common question for iPhone users, new and old. These are my recommendations based on what I have bought, used and kept over the years. Are these the only good choices? Of course not. They do have the potential for universal appeal, however. In general, the things I use are relatively inexpensive and focus on practicality, not style, so keep that in mind…
First off, I wouldn’t buy a Lighting cable until the bundled Apple cable wears out, or if you need another cable for another location. Both of these situations are very common of course, so what should you buy then?
I don’t think you should get a first-party Apple Lighting cable. The quality is okay but they are prone to fraying in a few months of use and are not worth the premium price: Apple sells its cable for >$25 retail. Amazon and eBay will sell you plenty of $2 fake cables of course, but the quality of these is (obviously) very bad although they are way cheaper.
My recommendation is a third-party cable with a price point between these two extremes. In particular, I suggest the Anker Nylon Braided 6ft Lighting USB Cable ($13.99). The main feature of these that distinguishes them from standard Lighting cables is the wire material: it’s encased in braided nylon thread. This protects the inner wire making the whole cable way stronger.
For comparison, Apple’s cables are encased in thin plastic wrappers which slowly disintegrates in use. The Anker cable ends are also reinforced in thick plastic which prevents fraying at the weakest point. I’ve used the same Anker braided cable for a year and it’s as good as new.
That cable is also 6ft in length, longer than standard Lightning cables, which is a neat additional benefit. The convenience of being able to snake cables around desks or across rooms cannot be understated. Strength and versatility for half the price of Apple’s official Lightning cables. You can also get a 3ft variant for even less.
I have less experience with testing docks than other items in this roundup, admittedly, but I have stuck to one for several years: the TwelveSouth HiRise Deluxe ($54). It isn’t perfect but it’s good enough that I haven’t been inspired to go searching for a replacement unit. It’s simple to set up and sturdy; the two most important factors in my view.
I like the angle it stands the iPhone at and the metal aluminium base gives me plentiful peace of mind that the whole structure isn’t going to fall over. The aluminium style also matches the rest of my desk, namely other Apple products. Another benefit of the dock is its flexibility. Due to a generously ‘open’ design (and interchangeable Lighting ends), the TwelveSouth HiRise does not require a particular form factor.
It can fit many types of iPhone (4.7-inch, 5.5-inch or even 4-inch) with or without cases. This also means it is pretty future-proofed — it’s hard to imagine a new iPhone design that the dock would not support, unless the iPhone got drastically thicker in forthcoming generations (something Apple has not shown a tendency for). I don’t like how big it is and I wish it would fold flat for travel reasons. As I keep it on my desk 99% of the year, this has not really been a problem in reality. I have since picked up a matching Apple Watch charger for consistency.
The case choice is the one with the most variance, obviously linked with the design changes of iPhones. I try to keep cases for two years thanks to Apple’s tick-tock upgrade cycle where the exterior design meaningfully changes only every two generations (although this is set to change). What doesn’t change is the style of case; I now religiously buy slim, light, plastic cases that tightly fit the back and sides of the device.
I have tried other materials and types — leather is a common choice and it looks better for sure, but it’s more expensive and more prone to disintegration over time. Larger cases (including protectors that wrap around the front of the glass) end up being too bulky. I have rested on slim snapping plastic covers that fit whatever size and shape the current iPhone is. For the last two years, I’ve been using the Spigen Exact-Fit Non Slip Case ($9.52).
It’s great form factor for the reasons already described but it’s also aesthetically pleasing. By which I mean, a boring unadorned black finish. I hate cases that have flashy logos or cutout portholes for the Apple logo to show through the rear; the Spigen case is great for not having any of that. It has a very faint imprint of the Spigen logo on the back but you never see it in use: it’s covered by your hand. The texture of the case is very grippy too, which is great for iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s era phones that have a slippery feel.
Another nice feature of the case is the bottom of the device is left exposed — enclosed bottom ports offer minor additional protection for a lot of inconvenience: you find most cables don’t fit. The Spigen case leaves the bottom clear of any plastic casing, allowing any type of cable to be plugged in. The slimness also means it can be used in most docks without issue.
Talking about 3.5mm headphones is kind of awkward given the rumors that the iPhone 7 will drop the analogue jack completely in a couple of month’s time. However, I have settled on a brand of choice for the last couple of years that I have become attached to and would be very interested in Lighting versions of these headphones if they made them.
What I’m taking about are my Rock Jaw Alfa Genus V2 ($55.49). These offer incredibly good sound for relatively very little money and come in compact lightweight earbuds, not bulky over-the-ear cans. I wrote these up in a dedicated review nine months ago, so check that out if you want more details. In summary, portability is a huge factor for me and the Alfa Genus are small enough and cheap enough that I don’t have to worry about them getting shoved into a pocket or a bag. They also come with a variety of adapters and inserts, fitting many types of ears and different sound profiles. (Rock Jaw have recently released a cheaper Clarito range, which are also competitive).
Unlike many people, I do actually like EarPods. They are decent for bundled headphones although I recognize many people struggle with comfort. It’s worth noting I have different ‘full-size’ headphones for home use (currently the ATH-SR5’s); my Rock Jaws are for travel and casual use — i.e. the ones that are always connected to the iPhone.
None. Screen protectors are so bad in my view. They always leave air gaps in the form of bubbles on the screen where the protector hasn’t been applied properly. Moreover, they feel terrible. The texture of the materials of most screen protectors are so much worse than the feel of the glass that ships on the iPhone itself. Screen protectors add too much friction to touch input.
With modern iPhone components, I also think the supposed protection provided by screen protectors is a fallacy, most of the time. iPhone glass is very resistant to scratches but still prone to shattering and will break if dropped from height. My view is screen protectors do nothing in the latter case and very little in the former. Even if scratches appear on your screen protector, those nicks are unlikely to have actually appeared on your iPhone screen if the glass wasn’t there. The iPhone glass is way more resistant.
So, that’s my personal stance on why I don’t use a screen protector at all. If you are insistent, my recommendation would be to use a tempered glass one, not plastic. They are about the same thickness but substantially stronger and nicer to the touch. Glass covers are slightly more pricey than plastic (a matter of dollars) but the difference in quality is worth it.
These are my choices for how to equip your iPhone experience with the most essential accessories that will be genuinely useful and last a long time. You may disagree with what I’ve picked and there’s nothing wrong with that.
Thankfully, the iPhone accessories market is big enough to support a massive ecosystem of cases, cables and everything else. My suggestions are useful as a baseline of what to look for but feel free to explore further into the ecosystem to find products that match with you — the iPhone is a very personal product after all.