Review: Apple iPhone 4 Bumpers
Apple's iPhone 4 Bumpers ($29) were the first "cases" available for iPhone 4 customers in Apple's retail stores during the summer of 2010 -- in fact, they were the only option on Apple's shelves for weeks. Generally, the key purposes of any iPhone case have been protection and personalization, but with the "Antennagate" debacle that followed the iPhone 4's release, a third objective was born: limiting antenna attenuation. As has been well established in testing and acknowledged by Apple, holding the iPhone 4 in certain ways can block the cellular signal and lead to diminished reception. While Apple's Bumpers meet expectations in two of these three categories, they fall short in protection, as well as in value for the dollar, and accessory compatibility.
In terms of materials and construction, Apple has done a fine job. A glossy hard plastic band runs the length of the stainless steel frame, with matte rubber along both the front and back edges where the Bumpers meet the glass faces of the iPhone 4. The Bumpers also feature metal covers for the Sleep/Wake Button and and volume controls. These materials are certainly high quality; Bumpers feel well made and pleasing in the hand. All of the openings are precise, including the hole for the minuscule noise-canceling mic, and the shell is slim, adding almost no bulk. It almost appears to be a natural extension of the iPhone 4, designed by Apple to be packed in with the device, then left out of the package. Six colors are available: black, white, green, blue, orange, and pink.
While the Bumpers do feature quality construction, and they do cover almost all of the iPhone 4’s central antenna with your choice of colors, they lack in pretty much anything else. The steel antenna band is arguably the part of the iPhone in need of the least protection from scratch and drop damage, and yet it’s the only component truly shielded. With the exception of the lips around the edges of the glass faces—which can only be measured in millimeters—there is absolutely no protection for either the front or back panels of the iPhone 4.
Yes, that small lip may help to mitigate possible damage by preventing the glass from touching the surface it hits, but having shattered iPhones inside of even more protective cases, the value of something this minimalist is questionable. Apple could have at least protected the easily scratched glass back by extending the plastic or rubber material, or using a different integrated layer of coverage. It really is difficult to call this a case in the traditional sense of the word; Apple was spot on with the name Bumpers.
Like many cases, the early Bumpers were compatible only with the GSM iPhone 4. In the weeks leading up to the launch of Verizon’s CDMA model, Apple quietly replaced those with a universally compatible “B” model, featuring a larger hole to accommodate the Ringer Switch, as well as slightly moving the coverings for the volume buttons. We tested both models for this review; the original ones featured silver foil on their packaging, while the follow up used revised packaging without any silver foil.
The hole for the headphone port and the opening surrounding the Dock Connector were also both widened modestly, however, most Dock Connector accessories—save for Apple’s USB to Dock Connector cables—will not connect when Bumpers are installed. Most of the cases we’ve tested from other companies do a better job with accessories, including Universal Docks, speakers, and oversized headphone plugs; Apple seems to have designed this to work solely with (some of) its own add-ons.
It’s important to consider Apple’s iPhone 4 Bumpers relative to other protective options, especially when it comes to pricing. For $29, there is simply not a lot inside of a Bumpers package; we have seen numerous other options in the same price range with so much more protection. Even if the iPhone 4 wasn’t substantially made from glass, we’d frankly expect a lot more protection for the dollar; Bumpers feel like half a case sold at full price. Our C- rating is based on the fact that the build quality and materials are great, executed with typical Apple beauty, but just don’t do enough to merit a purchase unless all you’re looking for is a cosmetic color change and/or antenna coverage. If Apple had taken its plastic and metal materials further here, Bumpers might be a great option for iPhone 4 users. In their current state, we simply cannot recommend them to our readers.