Review: Uncommon Capsule Case for iPhone 4
Since there are only so many possible iPhone and iPod touch case shape variations, many companies use unique graphic designs to stand out from the crowd. Solid colors, interesting patterns, and even licensed art have resulted in thousands of options over the years; more recently, Uncommon has taken case imagery to the next logical step with completely personalized cases. In addition to being able to use any of the company's existing designs, customers can upload their own art or photos to get inked into the plastic case, resulting in truly one-of-a-kind accessories. Capsule Case ($40) is Uncommon's variant on the "slider," a two-piece shell that comes together to protect most of the iPhone 4's or iPod touch 4G's body, but not their screens.
Composed of hard, glossy-finished plastic, Capsule separates at a seam that parallels the bottom edge of the iPhone’s or iPod’s screen. On the iPhone 4, an opening roughly double the diameter of the headphone port allows access for almost any plug size or shape; the iPod touch 4G version has a unified opening spread across its bottom. With each case in place, we were able to connect the Apple Dock Connector to USB cable, as well as Universal Dock-equipped accessories. Sliding off the bottom portion provides further compatibility for oversized third-party accessories, while leaving the majority of the iPhone 4 or iPod touch 4G protected. A small lip keeps each device’s glass face from touching the ground.
On the iPhone 4 version, there is no protection for the Sleep/Wake Button or the volume controls; the large opening for the ringer switch and volume buttons does ensure compatibility for both GSM and CDMA based iPhone 4s, but also leaves more of the steel antenna open to possible damage. Other companies include button protectors, as Uncommon has in past models, and on the iPod touch 4G version of Capsule, which has flexible hard plastic covers here. They worked perfectly on our iPod touch case sample, though several readers have reported what appear to be isolated issues with them.
There are two different ways to design a Capsule Case. At Getuncommon.com, customers can utilize the site’s wizard to upload their own JPGs or choose from close to 450 pre-made options. After confirming with a checkmark that the image meets the terms and conditions, it can be resized and rotated, and all changes are shown in real time. Once everything is exactly how the customer wants it, the case can be purchased and is shipped within a few days. Uncommon has replicated this entire process in a free iOS app which works just as well. The whole process is simple and frankly pretty fun.
Uncommon’s case printing process is called 3D TATT (Thermo-Active Transdermal Technology), a method that allows the design to curve with the shape of the case, and be injected deep into the plastic, rather than simply on the surface. Ultimately, we were impressed with the final review units we received, including several designs from the company and one that was based upon or own photo. Again, in the final units, the images on both were sharp, colorful, and largely accurate, showing no signs of chipping or peeling. The image comes to about halfway up the sides of the cases, with a black border running from there towards the screen. On the other hand, Uncommon had some printing issues with the earliest versions of the iPhone 4 and iPod touch 4G Capsule Cases, resulting in inaccurate colors and dithering. The company replaced affected cases and has since fixed the problems, which were not evident in its prior-generation cases.
Also of note is the minimalist packaging. Rather than utilizing the standard cardboard box or blister package, Uncommon cases come in plastic zip-top bags with a simple logo, website, and “Made in China. Customized in the USA” statement. We really appreciate the modest waste created by this packaging, and it is much easier to access the case immediately upon delivery than it is with many alternatives. On the other hand, Uncommon does not include any form of screen protection with either version of Capsule Case, a clear “miss” for the $40 price.
Overall, we were quite impressed with Uncommon’s Capsule Cases—at least, the final versions delivered after initial production problems were resolved. The hard plastic of the iPhone 4 version feels substantial and sturdy, although it does lack some button coverage and screen protection; the iPod touch 4G version adds button protection for a better overall experience. Accessory compatibility really isn’t an issue because of proper tailoring, and the optionally removable bottom shell. What really makes Capsule Case stand out, and worthy of $40, is the beautiful personalization. Images look great on the backs of these cases, and create an emotional connection to what could otherwise be a mundane accessory. Couple this with Uncommon’s commitment to the customer experience that we saw demonstrated on their website, app, and packaging, and we gladly recommend both versions of this case to our readers. Previously awarded our 2010 iPod touch Case of the Year, the iPod touch 4G version rates higher than the iPhone 4 edition due to its superior protection of the device.