Review: Miniot iWood 4 for iPhone 4
When considering cases for Apple products, there are a handful of materials that tend to be the most pervasive throughout the industry. Plastic, rubber, and leather make up the majority of protective coverings. Wood is far less common, and is generally sold at a premium due to the challenging manufacturing processes required. Miniot's iWood 4 (€75/$98) for iPhone 4 falls within this category. Carved from a single block of wood iWood 4 is neatly carved, and makes your device feel more like a wooden iPhone than an iPhone in a wooden case. Laser engraving enables the cases to be customized for an additional fee, and six types of wood are available to match your chosen grain and color preferences.
Overall, the build quality is very impressive. iWood 4 is light, does not add much bulk, and is available in a number of different woods. The fit is quite snug, and all ports and connectors line up precisely. Both the sleep/wake button and the volume controls are covered, and are extremely responsive. On the early 2011 version we received, the opening for the ringer switch is long enough to accommodate both the GSM and CDMA models of the iPhone 4. We did find this opening to be rather deep, which may make it more difficult to manipulate for people without finger nails or with big fingers. The hole surrounding the camera and flash is of the same depth, but features flash diffusion tapering. The case also features a rubber lining inside the edges and thin fabric on the back to protect your iPhone during insertion and removal, which we found to be especially beneficial considering just how tightly it does fit.
The precision carving does lead to some drawbacks. Miniot’s Dock Connector, headphone port, and mic openings are actually too small. The documentation packed in with iWood 4 explicitly states to only use the Apple Dock Connector cable to avoid damaging the case. In our experience this was the only kind of 30-pin connector that actually fit; even the closest third party versions were still too large, and we couldn’t use iWood 4 in a car or reliably in Apple’s Universal Dock without removing the bottom. The headphone hole worked with some very thin third-party connectors, but plugs much larger or of a different shape than those on Apple’s earbuds may have a difficult time fitting properly or making a complete connection. Also, the opening over the noise-canceling mic is almost invisible, and we wondered whether functionality would be impaired; thankfully, it wasn’t, which was shocking given how small it is. In addition to everything else, the case is completely flush with the front of the iPhone, offering no sort of lip to prevent the screen from touching the ground if dropped.
Our biggest concern came the first few times we tried to remove our iPhone from the case. With such a tight fit it was very difficult to separate the top and bottom portions, and we worried about damaging the phone or the case. We attempted to use cardboard and plastic cards to expand the very narrow gap between the two pieces, and our attempts to do so actually left a dent in the soft wood. Eventually, after pulling quite forcefully but carefully, we were able to get the case apart. Four or five subsequent attempts made separation significantly easier, and required much less force.
It’s worth a brief mention that Root Cases has released a cheaper competing product that uses a similar but not identical design that is thicker, with slightly more generous port holes, but cuts corners on inner lining and has less impressive buttons. Whereas iWood 4 has no screen protection and exposes your glass to possible drop damage, the Root Cases version strips off screen protectors, but has more of a front lip. That said, we caught Root Cases astroturfing the comments in our web site, pretending to be a customer interested in the product—while knocking Miniot—so we wouldn’t recommend their products to anyone. We mention this solely because Root proves that wooden iPhone 4 cases can be designed somewhat better in regards that iWood 4 falls short, though not without additional compromises.
Miniot clearly takes precision design seriously: iWood 4 feels great in the hand and is certainly beautiful—more beautiful than Root’s design. However, we couldn’t in good conscience recommend even this case as-is, especially for the price. Any person who pays $100 for an iPhone case should not have to make compatibility sacrifices, or go without screen protection, factors that precluded us from considering a higher rating or limited recommendation. The reality of not being able to use certain accessories, as well as the risks associated with having a flush glass screen and an overly tight fit, outweigh the aesthetic pleasure in our view. On the other hand, if the appeal of an attractive wood case is strong enough that you’re willing to pay a high price and use it with only certain accessories, you’ll be happy with the build and feel that iWood 4 does offer.