Review: ZeroChroma VarioProtect for iPhone 4/4S
Since we've tested literally thousands of cases over the years, a new case really needs to be special to stand out around here, but ZeroChroma's VarioProtect ($40) integrated stand case seriously impressed us. Iterating upon two of the company's earlier cases -- Teatro-S for the iPhone 4/4S and Vario-SD for the iPad 2/3rd-Gen -- VarioProtect is a textbook example of how a developer can evolve good ideas into a truly great product; it improves upon Teatro-S in every important way, delivering superior value for the same price without compromising on important features. It includes the single best stand ever built into an Apple device case, and does a nearly ideal job of protecting the iPhone 4/4S placed inside. Only minor issues detract from an otherwise perfect product, one that we sincerely hope will make its way to the iPad as well.
While VarioProtect’s case design isn’t revolutionary, the little touches make a big difference. Unlike Teatro-S, which was a simple shell with almost complete exposure for the iPhone’s top, bottom, and side controls, VarioProtect is a full-fledged plastic and rubber case on par with leading options we’ve tested from SwitchEasy and Speck, offering comprehensive protection for nearly everything save the iPhone’s glass face. This time, the side and top buttons are covered with nicely molded protectors, leaving only the headphone port, microphones, Dock Connector port, bottom speaker, rear camera, and side switch open—then only with nicely-shaped holes that are generally very accessory-friendly where necessary. ZeroChroma has also lined the case with black velvet to keep the iPhone’s glass back scratch-free, a nice solution given the movements of the integrated hard plastic stand, and includes reinforced holes for attachment of an optional hand strap, which wasn’t included with our review units.
The critical differentiator for VarioProtect is its rear stand, which deserves even more credit here than we gave it in our earlier review of Teatro-S and Vario-SD. Both prior iterations of the stand bulged conspicuously from the backs of ZeroChroma’s cases, but in VarioProtect, the bulge has been reduced to a taper with a much gentler curve than the iPhone 3G or 3GS. While your iPhone 4/4S will feel a little thicker with this case on, the difference is so negligible that only people with calipers would care. And the stand fully justifies the added thickness.
There may be room for debate over whether the iPhone 4/4S really need an integrated stand in a world where iPads continue to grow in popularity, but if you’re an iPhone user who has ever had a need for a way to keep your device upright—say, as an impromptu way to entertain a child at a restaurant—ZeroChroma’s implementation will strike you as world class. It folds down completely flat into the back of the case, ratcheting out with a simple finger-in-divot mechanism to hold 12 different positions, and spinning in 360 degrees to lock into four different orientations.
Having spent quite a bit of time with the iPad Vario-SD case, and now additional time with VarioProtect, we can say with confidence that the stand is impeccably designed and useful in a wide variety of situations: certain positions are ideal for video, widescreen web browsing, or reinforced typing. Moreover, we’ve seen no degradation of stand performance over extensive testing of Vario-SD, and would expect the same to be the case with VarioProtect. Flawless isn’t a word we toss around lightly here, but if any stand deserves such praise, it’s ZeroChroma’s.
VarioProtect has only a handful of flaws. First, its front bezel coverage may tug at screen protection film, though the word “may” is key; it pulled at the top corners of one piece of film we tested, but not another. Less critically, it’s only available in black, at least for now. An all-white version to match the white iPhone 4/4S would be great, assuming that these iPhone models will stick around after the introduction of a sequel later this year. And though our testing results have been non-conclusive on this, we’ve seen slight on-the-edge signs of reduced wireless signal strength in both VarioProtect and Vario-SD—not a guaranteed drop of a bar of cellular or Wi-Fi, but sometimes what appears to be a step down under already shaky conditions. This would hardly be the only case with such an issue, but it’s worth noting.
Modest issues aside, VarioProtect is a shining example of excellent iPhone case design, incorporating some of the very best assets of top cases we’ve reviewed with a world-beating stand design—all at a very reasonable price. If you’re looking for an iPhone 4/4S case with an integrated stand, we’d certainly recommend that you start here, because you’ll be hard-pressed to find anything with the same combination of device protection and stand versatility elsewhere. Ideally, ZeroChroma would offer screen coverage and the ability to choose from more colors, but it has made so many improvements from its prior-generation design that the remaining issues are generally trivial. We sincerely hope that ZeroChroma will bring the same degree of protection and streamlining to a new iPad case, as Apple’s tablets could certainly benefit from a solution as thoughtfully implemented as this one.