ElementCase Vapor for iPhone 4 review

After an excruciatingly long wait period for ElementCase to start shipping their iPhone 4 Vapor case ($100 after tax/shipping charges), mine finally arrived in the mail!  The Vapor comes in two parts (essentially right and left sides, that are screwed together using a tiny allen wrench and 4 bolts).  The case comes with two extra bolts (in case you lose a couple of them) and an allen wrench for assembling the case around your iPhone 4.

The case has thin little pads taped around the inside edges to keep the aluminum case from directly resting on your iPhone edges, and also yields a very precise and snug fit.  In tightening the screws, you instantly get a feeling of a solid bonding between case and iPhone… it all feels like one solid mass, which is a good feeling.

The case adds a little heft and bulk to the iPhone 4, but nothing too crazy (this case is about .5 oz heavier than Apple’s own bumper, for example).  On the right side, there are two protrusions near the corners of the case (around where the bolts are screwed in) that add a unique look while serving to protect the bolts from snagging on anything that otherwise might have snagged on more exposed bolts.  The protrusions also have the added benefit of giving you a very satisfying grip on the iPhone 4 when holding it in the landscape orientation.

The entire package screams quality, and it is, and I think it looks and feels magnificent.  Even better, because of the solid aluminum and snug fit, when your phone is on vibrate mode, the case becomes an extension of the phone itself and you really feel the vibration through the case (as if no case were there at all).  There is no “softening” effect that sometimes happens with other cases, so you won’t miss any more messages and phone calls with the Vapor installed – a great thing!  Finally, there is a case that is as solidly built as your iPhone 4!

Alas, it is not all rainbows and roses…  There is one significant problem with the ElementCase Vapor 4:  You iPhone loses 1 – 2 bars of signal strength with it installed.

YIKES!  This thing was supposed to save us from the iPhone 4 attenuation problem, not solidify it!  In fairness, it obviously does stop you from bridging the gap between iPhone 4’s two antennas, however you are essentially trading one problem for another.  Wrapping your entire outer antenna in solid aluminum has the net effect of reducing your signal by 1 – 2 bars, and for many people this is simply going to be a deal breaker.

It sucks because it is such a gorgeous case and natural fit for the iPhone 4.  The jury is still out on whether I can live with the reduced signal.  So far it hasn’t posed too much of a problem, but we’ll see as the week goes on.  If it becomes a frustrating issue, I’ll have no choice but to eBay this bad boy and go back to my trusty Apple Bumper… all the while missing the good looks and feel of the gorgeous Vapor case.

What a shame…

edit – Yeah… the signal issue was too much for me to handle.  It was just too frustrating.  I’m back to the Apple bumper case and my phone is much more usable.  Sorry guys and gals, I simply cannot recommend this case to anybody who appreciates their signal strength.

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