There are iPhone cases, and then there are iPhone cases. The “bumpers” that Apple ended up providing for free in response to the signal loss hullabaloo are fine as far as they go, as are most other cases you’ll find at the Apple store or Best Buy. But the vast majority have a basic built-in problem: they cover up the attractive silver wrap-around antenna — which is necessary to work around the issue, I realize — and provide nothing with the same sort of flair to replace it.
Enter the Vapor case from Element Case, a company whose wares we’ve reviewed here on GeekDad before. The Vapor cases, like their iPhone 3G and 3GS gases, aren’t cheap but definitely don’t look cheap, either. They’re made out of aircraft-grade aluminum, which makes them very strong and very light. The cases come as two pieces: a black, silver or graphite (gray) piece that fits around the top, bottom, and left side of the iPhone and a colored piece that fits the right side and attaches to the first piece by way of four small hex-socket screws (the case comes with an appropriate-size hex key and, helpfully, two extra screws just in case). The inside of the case is lined with a material that is intended to absorb the shock of an impact and provide a non-conductive barrier intended to prevent signal loss (read on, however). The second piece is available in a variety of colors, enabling you to customize it to a degree (custom engravings will be available in the future). The case comes with a plastic plate that uses adhesive to stick to the iPhone’s back (with a hole for the camera and flash, of course).
The folks from Element Case were kind enough to send me a case to try out, and, after enjoying their case for my 3G, I was anxious to see how their iPhone 4 case fared. It is, I must say, as attractive as it looks in the photos on the website, a fact not true of many products. Like the cases I mentioned before, it covers up the silver antenna, but it more than makes up for that by providing a futuristic-looking and sleek-feeling shell around it. The back plate seems less than useful to me — it might be useful to prevent damage to the back glass if the device were dropped, but it seems too thin to really serve that purpose well (though, having only the one iPhone 4 and a limited budget, I was not willing to actually drop the device to test out the case’s durability). The metal part of the case, however, is very strong — which I verified by (when my iPhone wasn’t actually in the case, of course) throwing it at a concrete sidewalk and hitting it with a hammer.
There is one drawback to the case, though: despite the non-conductive barrier, the Vapor case does contribute to signal loss. I tested it at both my office, where I always get a strong signal, and at my home, where I usually get a somewhat weak but stable signal. At my office, I got the maximum five bars with a naked iPhone, with the bumpers on and with the Vapor case on, all with the device sitting in the exact same position on my desk. However, at home, with the device sitting in the exact same position on a table (and tested in the span of only a few minutes), I got three bars with a naked iPhone and with the bumpers on, but no signal at all with the Vapor case on — it just stayed on “Searching…” until I removed the case, at which point it reverted to three bars immediately. I’ve reported the problem to the company, and have been told they are working to resolve the issue, which they say only happens to some testers, not all.
That being said, though, it is still a gorgeous, sleek, durable case. And, in conjunction with the nice folks at Element Case, we’re giving away three of them! Leave a comment on this post saying, if you win, what color combination you’d like for your case (black, silver or graphite for the main part of the case, and one of black, pink, red, silver, yellow, graphite, blue or green) if you should win. Please note that, as production is still ramping up on the cases, it’s possible that the combination you choose may require a substitution, but they will certain try to get you what you ask for if you should win. In order to be eligible, all comments must be submitted by noon Eastern Time this Sunday, October 17, 2010. The cases will retail starting at $79.95, so this is a pretty sweet deal. Good luck!