Review: IvySkin Wrangler for iPhone 5
Prepare for at least a little confusion. Last year, IvySkin announced Wrangler for the iPhone 4/4S, a waterproof case with distinctive styling. This year, the company has debuted Wrangler for iPhone 5 ($50-$60) -- a significantly different product, and sold with different finishes at separate prices. At the same time, an elongated version of the prior iPhone 4/4S Wrangler case is currently listed alternately as "Denali" and "Wrangler" on the IvySkin website. The case we received for review is markedly slimmer than the prior iPhone 4/4S Wrangler, and actually closer in spirit to the company's Quattro-series designs, yet promises quite a bit in terms of protection and expandability.
The new Wrangler is a unique slider made from a handful of separate pieces. Its main components are a hard polycarbonate sled into which the iPhone 5 slides, covering its front, edges, and upper back, plus a replaceable backplate. Inserting the device is somewhat difficult due to Ivyskin’s use of detachable rubber Sleep/Wake and volume button covers. They tend to fall out of place whenever the iPhone is removed, and can be lost if you’re not careful. We’d much prefer either integrated button protectors, or at least ones that stay in place better, like the resin-coated Home Button cover does. That being said, Wrangler’s covers allow the buttons to maintain their tactility, which is a good thing. Assuming the protectors don’t wiggle out of place, the iPhone otherwise slides in smoothly.
Wrangler comes with a matching plastic backplate, an element IvySkin previously used in Quattro for a similar purpose: according to the company, a 2200mAh battery pack will be made available as a replacement part for this panel. (It’s not clear what the price of the separate battery will be, but IvySkin is selling an upgraded version of Wrangler called “SmartCase” for $90, suggesting that the battery will ship separately in February 2013.) The stock backplate easily slides into matching rails on the front half, snapping in to protect the rest of your iPhone 5 while adding a bit of height at the bottom. Here, flip-open protectors cover the headphone and Lightning ports. Because of how deeply recessed the ports are, and how tight the hole is, the only headphones you’ll be able to use are those that have narrow, straight plugs like Apple’s. Some third-party Lightning plugs may fit, but only if they’re very narrow. IvySkin claims that Wrangler features MIL-STD 810G weatherproofing, although we’re skeptical about how well the case will keep water and dust out. The speaker and microphone, while recessed within the case, aren’t actually covered by anything at all.
Part of the company’s solution for screen protection is a sheet of glass that fits into a recession in the front half of the protector, directly in front of the iPhone’s display. It’s augmented by a sheet of screen film included with Wrangler. It’s worth mentioning that IvySkin was one of the first companies to use an extra piece of glass in this way, a concept that has more recently been applied to adhesive screen protectors. Although the company claims that the screen protector here is anti-glare, the film is actually crystal clear. On a positive note, the display isn’t obscured, although you might be disappointed if you’re looking for anti-glare as a feature. The tactility and accuracy of touch controls aren’t sacrificed at all, but Wrangler’s screen cover picks up fingerprints more readily than the iPhone’s screen does by itself, and you can feel the glass slide around a bit from side to side. Two holes at the top prevent the earpiece, light sensor, and FaceTime camera from being obscured.
Wrangler is an interesting concept, and ultimately, a fairly good case. It provides considerable body coverage, clicky button protection, and a nice glass screen protector. The possibility for expansion is pretty cool, and we’ll share our thoughts on the battery pack when it becomes available. There are some real reservations, however, that aren’t deal breakers but are worth keeping in mind. The tendency for the button protectors to fall out and make installation difficult is a downside, as is accessory compatibility. We’d like to see the tolerances tightened on the glass, so that it stays firmly in place. Finally, there are the the claims of military grade protection, which don’t seem to be borne out by the exposed earpiece, camera, side switch, speaker, and microphone. Taking all of these factors into account, Wrangler earns our limited recommendation. If you approach it with the right expectations, and know what you’re actually getting into, the case has many redeeming qualities, and potential for growth thanks to its modular design.