iPhone 4 + Aluminum = ?


The ElementCase Vapor 4 is a beautiful case for the iPhone 4. It looks great. It feels great. And it is, as Judie explained last month, totally unusable.

As she explained in that post

Larry, Dan & I recently reviewed the Element Case Vapor 4. All of us agreed that it was easily one of the most beautiful cases we had ever used, but we all experienced a significant signal drop when our iPhones were in them.

One of the things that ETS Lindgren is able to do is scientifically measure the antenna strength of a mobile phone inside one of their isolation and testing chambers, in this case the ETS-Lindgren Model AMS-8923 Over-The-Air Test Lab.

I asked them to test my iPhone without any case on, and we were able to establish a control of 26.8015 dBm as its antenna strength. With the Element Vapor 4 case on the iPhone, that number dropped to 7.706 dBm (!!!). When you consider that every three dBm is a 50% drop in signal strength, and that for every next three dBm you have to remove 50% of the previous remainder, we were told that figure roughly translates to a loss of 99% signal strength. No wonder I couldn’t make or receive calls consistently when my iPhone was in the case!

It was a huge disappointment since we all truly love the look and feel of the Vapor 4. Unfortunately, wrapping the entire iPhone’s edge in aluminum did a number on the signal. The iPhone’s radio is problematic enough without adding insult to injury so… the Vapor 4s went bye-bye.

It got me thinking, however… what if the edge weren’t wrapped entirely in aluminum? What if a case like the Vapor 4 left open a channel all the way around that would let the signal out? What if there were a case like… this…


Well as luck would have it there is such a case. It is made by KarasKustoms, it comes in 6 different colors and it is just $39 shipped in the US or $49 shipped internationally.

I ordered one in Black, put it on my iPhone and crossed my fingers. I quickly realized that, while I liked the way it looked, I really didn’t like the way it felt in my hand. So I did what I normally do with interesting gadget accessories that I’m not sure what to make of… I sent it to someone else. In this case I sent it to Judie. A week later… I got it back. Judie explained to me that while it looked interesting to her it did a number on her iPhone 4’s signal. “What???” I wondered, “How can that be? The sides are open. It must be a Texas thing.”


So I took my iPhone…


Showing three bars…


Put it in the new case…


And the signal promptly dropped to one bar and then… none.


I removed it and the signal jumped right back up to three bars.

Conclusion: It doesn’t matter what design you use, aluminum cases and iPhones are only good together if you want… an iPod touch.

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.

3 Comments on "iPhone 4 + Aluminum = ?"

  1. Dan, it gets even weirder.

    I was using the KarasKustoms case while I was in Austin, an excellent 3G area. I had 5 bars showing on my iPhone, I could call and I could text … but data was DEAD. I thought my iPhone had broken and I was going to take it to the Apple store! I removed the case, and suddenly my phone was working perfectly again.

    I tried reinstalling the phone in the case later, and Francis witnessed the same phenomenon — full signal, no data.

    Too bad, as it was an interesting case. 🙂

  2. Bernie Rico Jr. | October 8, 2010 at 12:33 pm |

    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.

  3. Don’t these guys test iPhone usage in their cases before they begin production?

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