First Look: Element Case Vapor for iPhone 4
Conceptually, Element Case's Vapor for iPhone 4 ($80-$100) might strike some people as a good idea, and this machined aluminum version of Apple's Bumper case is indeed attractive: it adds an additional metal frame to the outer edge of the iPhone 4, initially in either an all-black color scheme or in black and pink -- red, yellow, and silver variations are planned for future release. (The samples shown here are all gunmetal and black/orange versions that are apparently not actually being offered for sale.) But despite some cool touches, such as a right side grip groove, the option of custom laser engraving, and a built-in metal Sleep/Wake button, the design is seriously impractical. Small, recessed headphone port and Dock Connector holes make non-Apple accessory incompatibility a given, four teensy-tiny screws and a mini wrench need to be used to open and shut the case, and the carbon fiber back panel -- a $20 add-on above the $80 base price -- is supposed to be attached to your iPhone 4 with adhesive rather than fitting inside Vapor's frame. Antenna signal strength is a bit of a question mark, too: the frame has several small foam pads inside, but we noticed our iPhone 4 initially exhibiting death grip-like bar loss when it was inside Vapor, then seemingly bouncing back. You can decide whether the fashion benefits outweigh the accessory and other design issues, but for us, the answer's a strong no.
Updated: Almost immediately following our original First Look, Element Case sent over a revised version of Vapor that it claimed “will serve to improve overall signal levels rather than impact them.” It’s the version in black and red shown here, oddly with a cut-out for the iPhone 4’s SIM card tray now in one side. Unfortunately, just like the original version, signal strength dropped when we put Vapor on, falling from the standard 2-3 bars we normally see down to 1-2.