capsule review

Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4

At a Glance
  • Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4

    Macworld Rating

At first sight, Element Case's Vapor for iPhone 4, an aluminum, bumper-style case, looks like the pinnacle of exceptional case engineering. The case's metal construction and rigid lines evoke a Ferrari aesthetic that's sure to turn some heads (as much as an $80 iPhone case can turn heads, that is). But in practice, the Vapor is a lot less usable than its good looks might imply.

Like Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumper, the Vapor covers only the edges of your iPhone, leaving the front and back exposed, and Element Case includes no screen protector. But the company machined its bumper from a solid block of "aircraft-grade" aluminum, so it can't slip on and off like Apple's Bumper. In fact, the Vapor's two pieces are secured by four small screws—you won’t exactly be removing the Vapor 4 on a daily basis to use dock-cradle accessories. Access is carved out for all ports and switches, including the SIM slot (Element seems to be conceding that you won’t be taking this case off very often), and the case provides a push-through button for operating the phone's Sleep/Wake button.

The idea of a premium block of carved aluminum, designed to hug the iPhone 4 like a glove, sounds impressive. But the Vapor's body is thick, making it difficult to access the iPhone's Ring/Silent switch, volume buttons, and headphone jack, and you won't be able to use a dock-connector cable other than the one that ships with the iPhone 4. And yet the case doesn’t really provide much protection—besides leaving the iPhone's screen and back exposed, the Vapor doesn't wrap very far around the edges of the case—the top and bottom bezels barely extend beyond the surface of the iPhone, so you don't get the kind of "bumper" protection provided by many other open-face cases. The case also has a jarringly asymmetric design that adds thicker "ears" to the top and lower right side, presumably to add support at the screw mounts, but is thinner at the other two corners. And the choice to secure the Vapor with four tiny screws makes the Vapor a pain to remove.

Maybe this case appeals to tinkerers or lovers of boisterous industrial design, like Dyson vacuums. But while the Vapor is indeed beautiful, it just isn't very practical for real-world use. If you plan to never remove it until the day you get rid of your iPhone 4, maybe this solid-aluminum donut can be the equivalent of a sexy but impractical sports car for your iPhone.

At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    A beautiful case on paper and in photos, the Vapor 4 isn't very practical in the real world.

    Pros

    • Beautiful design
    • Indeed, a solid block of aluminum

    Cons

    • Requires a screwdriver to put on and remove
    • Doesn't provide much protection
Shop Tech Products at Amazon