It would be no exaggeration to say that after I placed the ElementCase Vapor 4 on my iPhone 4, no other case felt quite right. I loved the heft that my iPhone got with that ring of aluminum around it (because yes, I am weird like that), and the colors available made the iPhone unmistakably mine. Unfortunately, that ring of aluminum also managed to nearly kill my iPhone’s reception, and at the end of the review process the Vapor 4 had to come off.
Since then I have tried quite a few cases — wooden, plastic as well as some composed of other materials, and although I’ve found some I liked, none came close to the Vapor 4′s good looks or solid feel. I had just about given up on ever using an aluminum case on the iPhone 4, until Larry told me about the XCEL Case. When he first shared the link, I was tempted to dismiss the XcelCase as yet another aluminum shell that would negatively impact my iPhone’s signal or data capabilities. Larry explained that the difference was the ABS plastic XCEL Case uses on the bottom of their case, and how it seemed to be the factor that kept the iPhone’s reception intact.
I was skeptical, to say the least.
Available in slate (gray), lemonpeel (yellow), melon (orange), grapefruit (pink), merlot (red), concord (purple), azure (blue), grellow (green) and midnight (black), for this review I had access to Larry’s azure XcelCase and the grapefruit sample they were kind enough to send me. The presentation here is quite nice; inside a reusable hard plastic snap-case is a protective foam insert, the XcelCase, two extra screws and a special screwdriver.
The XCEL Case is composed of two pieces, the anodized aluminum top and the black ABS plastic bottom. There are two cork inserts inside the aluminum portion to protect the iPhone’s glass back; there is no liner on the interior of the aluminum sides. There are special slotted openings, both in the ABS plastic and in the aluminum where the breaks in the iPhone’s outer metal ring occur. Whether or not this is part of the reason that the case doesn’t negatively affect the iPhone’s signal, I couldn’t say.
When the two pieces are screwed together, it is nearly impossible to tell that the bottom portion isn’t aluminum as well. Perfectly placed cutouts allow access to the external speaker and microphone, and there is a bonus — the cutout for the sync & charge port is wider than the one on the Vapor 4, so you can use after-market cables with no problem. Of course there will be issues if you are one to use after-market docks in the car or home; you’ll have to unscrew the bottom of the case (not always practical) or run an auxiliary sync/charge/audio cable.
The case sits nearly flush with the iPhone’s screen, but there is just enough of a ridge so that if the phone is laid on its face, the screen will have a bit of clearance between it and the surface underneath. Keep in mind though that every surface on this case is smooth and thus slick; there is no grippy material to keep the iPhone from flying if it’s lying on a dashboard and you take a hard left, for instance.
The lovely thing about the way the case’s edge is placed is that since it doesn’t rub against the screen in any way, so it will not cause bubbling if your iPhone is wearing a screen protector.
The opening around the earphone jack is wide enough to allow most after-market earphone plugs; this is a great feature for those who like to use an auxiliary cable in their car. The power/screen-dimming button is easily pressed with a thumbnail or finger’s edge, but it isn’t quite as easy to press as the naked iPhone’s button would be.
The cutout on the left side is large enough that it is easy to adjust the volume or flip the mute switch. I love this, as some of the cases I have tried made flipping the mute switch nearly impossible.
The bottom of the case flares out to be slightly wider than the top, which I think helps grip-ability and looks aesthetically pleasing.
The cutout around the camera and LED flash is the only break in the back’s coverage; simply put, the XCEL Case is one of the most protective aluminum cases I have seen.
Side note: I haven’t tested the case’s protective qualities by dropping my iPhone, but when you are a klutz like I am these things just seem to happen. Once my phone has been dropped — and believe me, it will eventually occur — I’ll post the results.
I love the case’s design, the bright colors, its protective features, and the extra bit of weight that it adds to my iPhone, but this is the most important feature of the case … one that has ensured that I won’t be removing mine anytime soon: When my iPhone is in the XCEL Case, there is no reception tradeoff … none. My iPhone gets four bars where it previously got four bars, and five where it previously got five. Calls over the iPhone when it is inside the XCEL Case are clear, data works flawlessly, and other than the fact that my phone is now locked into a form-fitting aluminum case, you would never know that it is sitting in an aluminum case.
I couldn’t be happier.
What I Like: Perfectly fitted anodized aluminum case with an ABS plastic bottom; no signal degradation and no data service loss; iPhone is protected on five sides; adds a nice heft to the iPhone; available in many colors; looks great
What Needs Improvement: iPhone will have to be unscrewed from case to allow use with most docks or mounts, which requires bringing along the special screwdriver and not losing any screws