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Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 Review

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There has been a lot of buzz about ElementCase’s Vapor Case for iPhone 4. So much so that the case is on back-order, and the website has been overwhelmed with extreme traffic. What’s all the fuss about? Well, we were lucky enough to get our hands on the aircraft-grade aluminum bumper case. Conclusion: We’re still not really sure what all the hype is about.

Vapor4 is built from aircraft-grade aluminum and anodized in a few different colors. The aluminum is very light (25 grams), but extremely strong. Think of it as a glorified, industrial strength, bumper. Except this bumper doesn’t stretch on and off, it’s screwed on with a hex key. There are two pieces to the case, the three sided section, and a one sided section (right side). Two hex screws on the top and two hex screws on the bottom of the right-side section secure Vapor4 on to your phone. There is a carbon fiber faceplate sticker that comes with the case; it sticks right on and offers protection for the back of your phone.

ElementCase describes the design as “ergonomic,” but it is not really. The case grooves in on the right side, which is more ergonomic than no groove. But all in all, it doesn’t feel very comfortable in your hand. The edges are not smooth. It’s kind of like holding a slightly wider and slightly thicker iPhone 4 without a case. The case protrudes 1-2 millimeters from the top and the bottom face plates of the iPhone. This will offer some protection when placing your iPhone on surfaces, although a minimal amount. The interior of the case has a high-tech shock absorbing material that makes for a safe contact. It won’t scratch or scuff up the aluminum siding on your iPhone 4.

There are four cutouts on the case; one for headphone jack, another for your volume and vibrate toggle, one for your sim card, and the last for your dock connector/mic/speaker. ElementCase provides access to the sim tray because you can’t just pop off your vapor case unless you’re carrying around the supplied hex key. That brings us to our next gripe: older iPhone/iPod chargers won’t fit through the case and neither will some headphone plugs and auxiliary cables! The older iPhone and iPod chargers were slightly thicker, so you won’t be able to charge your iPhone with them if Vapor4 is attached. The headphone cutout is quite small; some headphones will fit through the hole, but almost no auxiliary cables will be able to get far enough down to successfully play music from your iPhone. You’re not always going to be able to pop the case off (unless you keep the hex key in your wallet), so you’re going to just be out of luck if you wanted to stream some tunes or charge your iPhone with a friend’s charger. There’s a lock button built into the case, which we like, but there are no volume buttons. It’s not especially comfortable to smash your fingers a few millimeters into the cutout to adjust the volume on iPhone 4’s already small volume buttons.

Now here’s the kicker: iPhone reception was not even improved with Vapor4 attached. My service was consistent with iPhone 4 without a case. At times, it’d look like I had full service, but my 3G data wouldn’t work at all, not even enough to look at the app store. I also noticed that even the Bluetooth signal was impacted; when jogging with my Bluetooth headphones, the signal cut out every 10 seconds. I needed to readjust my grip on the phone very carefully until it got slightly better.

Aside from all these complaints, we think Vapor4 actually looks pretty cool (although we’ve discovered it’s arguable). We like the appearance of our all black model, and the colored versions look even cooler. The inability to charge our phone with older chargers or use auxiliary cables is enough to keep us from using it though (not to mention the crippled reception). Vapor4 is currently on backorder from www.ElementCASE.com. Cases start at $79.95 and laser engraving will soon be available.

Good: Lightweight, looks cool, neat color schemes

Bad: Will deem many chargers, headphones, and aux cables incompatible, no easy way to remove on the fly, pricey, not very comfortable to hold, degraded reception

Update 06/15/11: Element Case seems to have shut down altogether and it looks like they are out of business :(