Review: Itskins Nitro Forged for iPhone 5/5s
Famed industrial designer Dieter Rams' philosophy of good design was expressed in 10 principles, notably ending with the statement that "good design is as little design as possible," that products should not be burdened with non-essential elements. Apple has substantially embraced Rams' principles in creating devices such as the iPhone, leaving only one chronic issue across its products — durability. That Apple's beautiful metal and glass devices can shatter after accidental drops distinguishes them from rivals, creating a market for protective cases that will keep them safe. The best cases tend to follow Rams' principles, as well, falling short when they're overcomplicated. Itskins' Nitro Forged for iPhone 5/5s ($60) is a prime example of how an otherwise appealing-enough design can become unappealing due to the addition of a "feature" that requires screws and a screwdriver every time you want to insert or remove your device.
While rubber and hard plastic have become the go-to materials for making co-molded iPhone cases, Nitro Forged instead combines a pliable TPU plastic frame with aluminum “crowns” at the top and bottom. The plastic base is always back, while the aluminum comes in black, silver, and gold colors that are close to Apple’s iPhone 5 and 5s tones, though the black and gold versions are not exactly the same. One sheet of screen film, a cleaning cloth, and a squeegee to remove air bubbles are all included in the package.
Unlike co-molded cases that remove the need for users to manually attach or detach case pieces, Nitro Forged’s materials weren’t physically bonded together during the manufacturing process. Instead, because the metal parts make the plastic too rigid to insert or remove your iPhone, you need to use an included screwdriver to remove either the top or bottom cap, undoing two screws in the process. Then you insert your iPhone, and then you need to screw the two screws back in place. Because they’re tiny, it’s very easy for a screw to pop out and get lost during this process — it happened to us during installation. Itskins includes four extra screws as a backup, which is thoughtful.
The problems with Nitro Forged largely come from the need for those screws. Not only is the case a pain to put on and take off, but the screws require both attachment point holes in the soft TPU plastic and enough surrounding material to support them. The material consequently winds up bulging like a bone at the iPhone 5/5s’s corners. Moreover, because the top and bottom of the case are additional hard layers beyond the soft plastic, they wind up noticeably reducing the sleep/wake button sensitivity and making the bottom ports a little less accommodating to oversized connectors. The former problem is more obvious and an annoyance relative to the latter.
All of the overcomplication has only one benefit, and that’s restoring some of the metallic lustre of the iPhone 5/5s to the exterior of a protective case. It does succeed at this goal, and without causing additional functionality problems. Sometimes, adding metal to the outside of an iPhone can result in diminished wireless performance, but during our testing, we didn’t see any reduction in wireless signal strength.
Nitro Forged is a hard case to recommend. To the extent that you like Itskins’ design, and really want to add metal caps to the top and bottom of your iPhone 5/5s, it’s definitely an option. Regrettably, the option comes at the cost of unnecessary overcomplexity during installation and removal, and reduces button sensitivity to an extent that we wouldn’t want to deal with. Nitro Forged merits a C+ rating — it’s an okay, overpriced case made just a hint better by a metallic glint. You’ll likely be better off with other options, including Itskins’ earlier iPhone 5/5s cases, which look very similar and are more convenient to use at more reasonable price points.