We’ve tested a number of super-heavy duty cases in the past, especially for the fragile, glass-bodied iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Most of these cases share a number of characteristics: they use some combination of plastic and rubber, have an almost militaristic appearance, do a pretty good job of covering many of the buttons and ports, and add significant bulk. Case-Mate’s Tank ($60) fits right in to that niche, but differentiates itself in one real way: a sliding screen cover. It’s the first of its kind we’ve come across, and surprisingly well-executed. The company’s website shows the case being subjected to a number of extreme situations, and claims military grade protection.
Tank is a slider-style case and most of the body is hard textured plastic in either black, green, or white. It splits apart where the bottom of the screen meets the bezel. The bottom portion is almost totally lined in thick silicone, while the other half only has the material at the very top. The screen cover is removable, but it’s meant to stay in place. Putting the iPhone into the case isn’t a totally intuitive process, but Case-Mate does have a guide showing the right steps, as well as an instructional video on its website: first, you push the iPhone 4/4S into the case’s bottom, where the silicone tightly holds it in place; then you slide the top down, and push the pieces together. Two tabs on the bottom fit into holes on the top to hold the parts together.
Case-Mate recommends against using a screen protector film with Tank, although we didn’t experience any problems in doing so. When totally assembled, Tank is a bit taller and much wider than a standard iPhone 4 or 4S. One problem with the case is how tightly it fits around the screen. There’s very little clearance on any of the four sides, inhibiting activities such as typing, pulling up Notification Center, and sliding it away. Otherwise it feels good in the hand, if not a bit heavy. For those that like to wear their iPhones, a holster clip is included.
Putting aside the screen cover, Tank falls right about in the middle of the pack when comparing protectiveness across similarly-styled cases. We really like that there’s Home Button coverage without reduced sensitivity, and there’s also a flip-out Dock Connector cover, although the microphone and speaker are totally exposed. Along the top, silicone permanently covers the volume buttons and Sleep/Wake button, yet they’re still able to be used with distinct clicks. There’s a flip-open cover for the headphone port, and next to it a very, very small half-moon shaped scoop prevents the noise-canceling microphone from being completely blocked. On the back is a combined opening for the rear camera and flash, and another that’s contoured around the light sensor, headset, and camera on the front. The side switch is totally exposed, although very deeply recessed. People with large fingers will find it very difficult to flip back and forth.
The flagship feature of Tank is the polypropylene shade that covers the screen when it’s not in use. As we mentioned, it’s removable but meant to stay in place. Rather than using a flat piece of plastic, Case-Mate has segmented and curved it, letting it slide around the iPhone’s edge. A little nub on the right edge of the slider allows you to tug it back and forth, and it moves very smoothly; with a little practice, it’s easy to open or close the cover in one fluid movement. When it’s closed, you can still somewhat make out what’s on the screen but can’t touch through it at all. The seal isn’t waterproof, but it will certainly prevent splashes and scratches when used properly.
While the screen protector is a cool feature, it’s also the sort of thing that makes you question whether it’s actually smart or just a gimmick. After all, there are very comparable cases such as OtterBox’s Defender Series Case and Griffin’s Survivor that both have permanent, touch-through screen protectors. Yes, they’re thinner and simpler, but at the same time, they present one less barrier to accessing your phone.
Defender Series Case and Survivor both earned strong general recommendations when we reviewed them. Compared to Tank, they’re narrower, offer more significant protection overall, have full-time screen protectors, and cost $10 less. We’d trust either of them in protecting the iPhone 4 or 4S as much as we do this one. Although the sliding screen is a cool feature, it ultimately feels more like a hinderance than a help. Because of this, Tank is worthy of a B rating; it’s a pretty good case, and if you’re looking for something distinctive and protective, worth considering.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPhone 4/4S