It all started when some water from the California Academy of Sciences’ stingray exhibit splashed onto my iPhone 15 Pro Max’s FineWoven case. I’d received the phone and case on loan from Apple less than a day before, and at the academy I noticed a few drops of water. I did what I’d do with any phone case and wiped it off. It’s just water, right?
But it’s a stingray exhibit, and that means it could’ve been salt water. So I went to the bathroom, wet a paper towel and dabbed the tiny area where the drops sat. Remember, it was just a few drops. But an hour later a slight stain remained on the FineWoven case. Now, a week later, that tiny stain is still visible. And so is an impression left from the FineWoven case’s magnetic circle, from charging the iPhone 15 Pro Max on a MagSafe charger.
Apple introduced FineWoven cases, alongside the iPhone 15 series and new Apple Watches, as an environmentally friendly replacement to its leather phone cases and accessories. It’s made of 68% postconsumer recycled content, giving it a significantly lower carbon footprint than leather. I applaud Apple for walking away from making leather products, I can’t applaud the company for the $60 FineWoven case it introduced as a replacement. Turns out, I’m not alone in my FineWoven woes, either.
A video posted on the YouTube channel MobileReviewsEh this month shows how easily the FineWoven cases pick up and retain scratches. In another YouTube video, on the channel Dave2D, Dave Lee shows his FineWoven cases accumulating scratches as he rubs his fingernail across the back. Lee theorizes that the fabric is thin in order to support MagSafe charging. And most recently, The Verge’s Allison Johnson showed the wear and tear on her cases after just a week of use.
And for me, after five days with the case, it wasn’t just the stingray incident. There was also the avocado toast accident.
I was at Craftsman and Wolves here in San Francisco’s Mission neighborhood, and I ordered the Mambo Italiano avocado toast, which comes with an impressive array of toppings: avocado, confit garlic kale hummus, balsamic onion jam, sun-dried tomato aioli, feta and toasted pistachios. An egg topped it all off. My friends and I were so taken by the avo toast’s majesty that I decided to document it in a photo, using with my iPhone 15 Pro Max.
After I snapped the photo, the new iPhone and its stingray-water-stained FineWoven case slipped out of my hand and landed atop the Mambo Italiano avocado toast. I’m not sure if it was the garlic kale hummus, onion jam or sun-dried tomato aioli, but the FineWoven case didn’t look fine. I used a napkin to delicately remove the tasty concoctions from the case’s left corner. Then I used another napkin, which I’d strategically dampened with water, to dab away any remaining avo chunks, feta crumbles or onion jam residue on the top right corner. Once I was done the case had a new dark stain.
This was the first time I’d ever dropped electronics on food, and I blamed myself. If I’d been more careful, perhaps this FineWoven case wouldn’t have suffered. Yes, dropping my phone was my error. But accidents happen, and that’s exactly what cases are designed to protect against. I don’t want a case on my phone that ends up looking worse than my phone would after a couple of splashes and a fall into food, especially a case that costs $60.
Maybe the FineWoven material needed to be babied a bit more than the material of other phone cases? I still use Apple’s leather case and leather wallet from last year. Both have a beautiful patina from everyday wear, which is one of the perks of having a case made with leather. Clearly, my FineWoven case had a rough week and bore scars as a result.
So, I decided to look at the documentation that came in the FineWoven case’s box.
“The FineWoven Case is made from a luxurious microtwill, with a soft yet durable suedelike texture to protect your iPhone. The material may show wear over time. Interaction with MagSafe accessories will leave slight imprints.”
And that’s when it dawned on me: “over time.” I think it’s fair to assume this means over months or even years, not days. Regardless, the FineWoven case’s appearance doesn’t look as attractive as the patina on my year-old Apple leather case.
The FineWoven section on Apple’s how to clean your Apple products support page suggests cleaning the case with a lint-free cloth damp with soapy water for a minute. Then wipe with a separate cloth damp with fresh water and, finally, using a dry lint-free cloth to try dry the case making sure to remove any excess moisture.
I did just that. Now any remaining avocado residue is gone and the water drop stain is barely visible. But the circular MagSafe magnet imprint is still there.
I inspected the separate FineWoven case protecting my iPhone 15 Pro review unit, which I’d been using a lot less than the Pro Max. And despite not being subjected to breakfast foods or tropical water splashes, it has a pair of small marks on it. Maybe from my keys?
Finally, I checked a FineWoven MagSafe wallet I opened for an unboxing video. During the video, I slid my nail across it to highlight the fabric’s musical texture. As a result, the FineWoven wallet has faint wear lines from its brief life outside the box.
It’s great to see Apple designing more sustainable products, but the company makes other nonleather cases. Would a lower price make up for the FineWoven case’s propensity for accumulating stains and scuffs? If the only criticism I had were the price, that would be one thing. But it’s more what you get for that price and the long term durability of the case that gives me pause. Apple does sell silicone and plastic MagSafe cases for the iPhone 15 family, which, if they’re like previous ones, should hold up well, though they might not be as environmentally friendly. There are also a number of good and reasonably priced iPhone 15 cases from third parties to consider.
Or you can be like me and let the iPhone 15 Pro Max’s natural titanium finish hang out in its birthday suit, case free. I should note that my CNET colleague Lisa Eadicicco, who reviewed the iPhone 15 and 15 Plus, hasn’t been using a case. And she absolutely loves it.
Updated at 5:45 a.m. PT: Added the outcome of cleaning the FineWoven case with soapy water.