iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4

Judie: Of all the iPhone 4 cases announced in the past few months, there were two which most interested me: the Miniot iWood 4 and the Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4. When the Element Vapor first arrived, I seriously felt that I had wasted my money ordering iWood, because the Vapor was that gorgeous, that nicely made. Everything about it screamed quality, from the machined aluminum its two pieces were composed of to the four little screws which had to be tightened as my iPhone was locked into the bumper-style case.

I loved the way the Vapor added a little bit of weight, but not too much weight to my iPhone; the slight bulk added to the sides only made the iPhone 4 that much more pleasing to hold. It came with a little hex wrench and two extra screws, and I absolutely loved the industrial feel … like an erector set for my iPhone.

Dan: I think the one word you left out here is the one that really captures this case… IT… IS… COOL!

Larry:  Like Judie, I ordered the case the day it became available for pre-order.  I’d owned the Element Case for the iPhone 3/3G and while I was a fan of the style it really wasn’t all that practical for me.  The box design didn’t allow for any third-party accessories to be plugged in.  I held hope that the design for the iPhone 4 would be better, and I loved the idea of the carbon fiber back piece.

Judie: I loved the way the case didn’t come up past the sides of my iPhone; when using it I never felt confined or constricted. I could put any screen protector, Clear Coat protector or skin that I wanted on the iPhone 4 without removing the Vapor.

Larry: This is sort of love/hate thing for me.  While it’s true the case does allow you to use virtually any screen shield that fact that it doesn’t cover the edge of the screen means there is virtually zero “lay-on-the-table” design.  That means if you were to place the phone screen down while it’s in this case and there happened to be something on the screen you run the risk of scratching (if you’re one that doesn’t use a screen shield.)  Since I do always use a screen shield this isn’t an issue for me, but something that non screen shield users need to be aware of.

Judie: I loved the power button cover, which was as responsive as the original. It’s true that the hole cut for the headphone jack was deeper than any I had ever seen, but guess what? I just about never seem to need headphones with my iPhone! When I jog, my music is playing out loud from a Schosche armband holding my iPhone.

Larry: I almost never use headphones with my iPhone.  I own an iPod Touch and that’s my real music player.  In the car I have Bluetooth and that handles my phone calls.  The enlarged headphone jack seems to serve two purposes.  One, it allows for a wider range of headphones to fit into the jack and two, it opens up access to the iPhone’s antenna band which the company hoped would help with reception, but more on that later.

I did find the built in sleep/awake button to be very responsive.  It feels and acts just like the iPhone’s button does.

Judie: The cutout on the left side was perfect, because not only did it leave plenty of room for me to flip the vibrate button when necessary, I also had plenty of room to adjust the volume.

Judie: My minor complaint was that the bottom cutout was only sized to accept Apple cables, but since I have those by the dozen it was never a problem.

Dan: I ran into a problem quite often. The various speaker docks I use wouldn’t work and the car charger, which I unfortunately have to rely on quite often due to my burning through my battery most days, didn’t fit. Still that case is so nice that I was willing to put up with the inconvenience. Or, put more accurately I would have been willing to put up with the inconvenience, were it not for.. oh, I’m getting ahead of myself…

Larry: This is by far my biggest issue with the case.  The cutout on the bottom is too narrow to accept 99% of the plugs I own.  It only seems to accept one version of the iPhone cable directly from Apple.  Apparently some of the older iPhone plugs are larger and these wouldn’t fit.  I also couldn’t get the charging portion of my Griffin car charger/audio adapter to fit in the bottom either making my iPhone virtually unusable in the car.

Judie: I originally received the first version of this case which didn’t have a SIM cutout on the right side. I will likely never remove this articular phone’s SIM, but the new cutout would be great for those who need to swap on the fly.

Dan: Didn’t need it. Didn’t need it. Didn’t need it. Didn’t need it.

Larry: I totally understand the need for the SIM card cut out.  In Europe, where SIM swapping is more common, this is probably appreciated.  I however, don’t need it and think the case looked far better without it.   SIM swapping wasn’t the only reason for the cutout though.  Again, here Element is trying to increase access to the iPhone’s antenna band in a spot the just makes sense.

Judie: The carbon fiber back was the absolute crowning touch. It’s essentially a stiff cover which can be installed, and when necessary peeled off, put on wax paper, and then saved until the next time you want to reinstall it.

Dan: Larry had a few things to say about the $20 decal when he fist saw it. I’m not sure it is worth the price but it IS nice and I would use it whether or not I had my iPhone in the Vapor if it were not for the company logo splashed on it. I really hate that.

Larry: I was very disappointed when I opened the case and found the carbon fiber back was a decal.  After seeing the initial renderings of the case I thought for sure it was some sort of insert.  While it’s true the adhesive won’t damage your phone and while it’s also true that you can remove it and reapply it, the whole adhesive thing just cheapened it for me.

Judie: Try and tell me that this isn’t the coolest most beautiful, most amazingly made case ever created. I don’t think I have ever seen a finer looking one, and I can’t imagine that I will ever see a better looking one. The Element Vapor is that stunning. I got compliments on it every time I took my iPhone out in public. Every time. I don’t think that has ever happened with any other case. Ever.

Dan: I love the look. I love the feel. I love the fact that it is different. Really Judie your word fits perfectly… stunning. But…

Larry: I’m a fan of the Apple Bumper case and the Element makes it look like a Yugo.  I LOVE the look of the Vapor.  But sometimes a pretty face just is simply not enough…

Judie: But alas. The Element Vapor 4 has been removed from my iPhone, and as much as I love it I will likely never again reinstall it. Why? Because the immediate result of installation was that it zapped a minimum of 2 bars from my usual 4 or 5 (depending upon where I was at the time). This wasn’t too big of a deal in really strong coverage areas, but at home, where I usually see between 3 and 4 bars with the help of my Wi-Ex Cellular Extender? I was lucky if I saw 1 or 2 bars. The less obvious difference was how awful and garbled my phone calls sounded to those I tried to speak to … and that was when the phone wasn’t simply dropping calls like hot potatoes.

Dan: I saw it too. In strong signal areas it dropped a few bars. In weak signal areas it dropped the connection entirely. I love the case and REALLY, REALLY tried to put up with its impact on signal strength. At the end of the day, however, I need my iPhone to make and receive calls. With the Element Vapor 4 I was spending too much time with my iPhone effectively serving as an iPod touch- a big, expensive touch with two cameras. And the fact is, if that were how I used my iPhone I would still be using this case. It isn’t, so I’m not. If they make this case for the touch though, I’m in.

Larry: After using the case for a little while, I also started consistently seeing a drop in signal.  In place where I’d normally have 4-5 bars I was getting 2-3.  I can only guess that the issue somehow involves the metal of the Element case coming into contact with the metal of the iPhone’s outer antenna, resulting in signal interference.  Element tried to remedy the reception issues by enlarging some of the cutouts and using a foam material to lift the Element’s band away from the antenna, but alas to no avail.  In addition to a loss of cellular signal, I saw some GPS funkiness as well.  On several occasions while testing the GPS feature with the Vapor on, my phone located me several miles away from my actual location.  Removing the case immediately rectified the issue.  This didn’t happen often, but it was certainly enough to make me wonder.

I have heard from a few people that wrapping the iPhone 4’s antenna in a Clear Coat like skin, or even using electrical tape will help with this issue.

Judie: The Element Vapor 4 is easily one of the most gorgeous iPhone 4 cases available now, and it kills me that I had to remove it. Kills me! This was one time when I seriously considered keeping an accessory on my device that impaired its performance because I liked the accessory that much! But what good is a phone without a signal? In the end, the Element Vapor had to go.

Dan: Ditto. 🙁

Larry: In the end I removed it as well.  Surprisingly though, it was not as much due to the signal issues as it was due to the small bottom cutout.  I used a lot of accessories,  I live in a fairly good signal area, and I think I might have been able to deal with the loss of one or two bars now and then.  However, I own a Griffin Simplifi Dock, an iHome Clock Radio, a Griffin Car Kit and more.  None of these work with the Vapor’s tiny bottom cutout.  Due to the complexity of removing the iPhone from the Vapor each time I wanted to use one of these devices, keeping the case on wasn’t an option.  I simply have too much invested and I rely on the functionality of these other accessories too much to stop using them for one case, no matter how slick it looks.

The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 is available directly from the manufacturer.

MSRP: $79; $99 with carbon fiber back

What We Like: Looks AWESOME; draws attention; feels wonderful in hand

What Needs Improvement: Tiny screws make getting the case on and off a project; Many chargers and other dock connector accessories won’t fit through the relatively narrow opening; Kills the iPhone’s signal

About the Author

Judie Lipsett Stanford
I've had a fascination with all types of gadgets and gizmos since I was a child, beginning with the toy robot that my grandmother gave my brother - which I promptly "relieved him of" in 1973. I'm a self-confessed gadget magpie. I can't tell you how everything works, but I'm known world-wide for using a product until I have a full understanding of what it does, what its limitations are, and if it excels in any given area ... or not.

18 Comments on "iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4"

  1. Did any of you put a piece of clear tape over the antenna to see if that improved the signal strength?


  2. @Bill – I sure did! If you look closely at this picture:


    You can see evidence that my iPhone has the Clear Coat side strips installed, which take care of the antenna issue … until you put the iPhone in this case. 🙁

    I thought at first that the CC might act as a buffer between the iPhone and the case, that maybe it would keep the reception issue from happening. I was wrong. 🙁

  3. http://wp.me/peBTd-rLV Review: The Element Case Vapor. Best line from Larry- Element Case makes Apple's case look like a Yugo. @lgreenberg

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  5. iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 http://goo.gl/fb/ZjDz4 #iphone

  6. RT @geardiary: iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 #Apple iPhone and Touch Gear #Reviews http://bit.ly/aQS6Tp

  7. iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 …: I'd owned the Element Case for the iPhone 3/3G a… http://bit.ly/cfYtnL

  8. RT @geardiary: iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 #Apple iPhone and Touch Gear #Reviews http://bit.ly/aQS6Tp

  9. RT @ElementCASE: RT @geardiary: iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 #Apple iPhone and Touch Gear #Reviews http://bit.ly/aQS6Tp

  10. Thanks Judie. Very disappointing. I really liked this case!


  11. ???????????????Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4??????? http://bit.ly/aQS6Tp #iphone4jp

  12. So much for wanting @ElementCase's Vapor for my iPhone http://bit.ly/abwoeD

  13. RT @geardiary: iPhone Accessory Review: The Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4 #Apple iPhone and Touch Gear #Reviews http://bit.ly/aQS6Tp

  14. I tried the Vapor 4 also, ordered the blue/stainless version and loved how it looked, functioned and how it felt but experienced the same issues with loss of signal strength. I was at a conference out of town recently and the majority of the training was in the basement level/first floor. I rarely could text or call. No big deal I thought until I say everyone else being able to place calls and text without issue. What added insult to injury was the fact that my training partner had his 3GS with him and he simply said something along the lines that he was glad that he didn’t have the supposed latest and greatest because of my problems trying to communicate on my iphone4. I couldn’t do anything about it because I didn’t have that little tool to remove the case and didn’t want it unprotected so I left it on thinking when I went on to the next training a few days later in a much more open facility everything would be fine but same issues. I’ve since changed the case out for a Scosche bandEDGE (g4) and immediately noticed a difference in my call ability and quality and data transmissions. The bars are at 4-5 instead of 1-2. I returned the Vapor4 for a refund.

    I have a problem with the bumper case too though as well as the Scosche which is connecting it to my Alpine head unit connector. It utilizes a larger connector and the connector won’t remain seated. The Vapor was open enough but too deep to make any connection whatsoever. I just don’t get why case manufacturers feel they need to create these minimal openings especially at the connection end of the case?!

    Sure you can modify the opening but then it looks like crap, no matter how careful you are.

    One final caveat, I already had a ZAGG side skin on the iphone4 and left it there when I installed the Vapor 4. It didn’t help.

  15. @OmarCorrea You should read our Gear Diary review & test – http://bit.ly/cM1CyY http://bit.ly/cHzmyq

  16. Just installed my Element Case Vapor for my #iPhone 4. Man… this is seriously good quality. http://tinyurl.com/68sesko

  17. So I purchased the AR-15 version of the element series. It’s essentially identical to the Vapor 4, but $20 more ($100) and cooler looking. I went through a lot to finally get my hands on one. I made these sacrifices and spent a lot of money in order have what I saw as the best functional solution to protect my precious phone. And all I can say is that I am truly saddened by the level of disappointment I feel owning this thing.
    The site boasts two important points I’m going to call BS on, so pay attention!!!! One, the company claims the case only supports apple approved charging cables. This is false. The case only supports the iPhone 4 cable. THAT’S IT!!!! Two, the company also claims the case promotes better signal strength. FALSE!!!!! The case actually chops your signal to roughly HALF of what it should be, if not drop the signal entirely.
    So to those of you considering the purchase of one of these cases from Element, let me be clear. DO NOT BUY AN ELEMENT VAPOR 4 CASE FOR THE IPHONE 4!!!! THEY SUCK, AND YOU WILL HATE YOURSELF FOR EVER BUYING ONE!!!!

  18. Thank you for the very thorough and detailed discussion! I have the Vapor case and have been very disappointed with the reception issues – I just moved from Miami to Raleigh, and I am now seriously noticing the signal strength issues and call dropping. In fact, often I just get a *ding* for a new voicemail for a call that never came through – very frustrating. BEAUTIFUL case depleets the features of the phone – I’m going to try the Scosche bandEDGE case I suppose! Thanks!

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