In the early days of iPod cases, hard plastic was far from the most common available material: developers found it hard to precisely match Apple’s curves, and used softer fabric and rubber designs instead. Today, thanks to sophisticated 3-D modeling and molding techniques, iPods and iPhones alike are routinely encased in shells made mostly from hard plastics. We’re briefly reviewing seven very different options today for the iPod nano, classic, touch, and iPhone 3G, and if you read all of their reviews, you’ll see that there are huge differences in their approaches to protection and value for the dollar. This review covers Ivyskin’s Quattro-T4 ($45) for iPhone 3G.
Before we say anything else about Quattro-T4, we have to note that we’re actually impressed by what Ivyskin has tried to accomplish with this case—if nothing else, it is ambitious. Many of the cases we review appear to have been designed with a “do as much as you can, easily” motto, while others do a bit less or a bit more than that, earning a little extra or a little less praise in the process. Quattro-T4 has certainly not taken the path of least resistance; rather, it has come up with a case that is earnest in its attempt to intelligently cover virtually every possible part of the iPhone 3G.
In fact, the two-piece hard plastic shell protects everything except for the 3G’s headphone port, ringer switch, camera, speakers, microphone, and Dock Connector port, which puts Quattro-T4 into the upper echelons of coverage for this device. Impressively, Ivyskin also includes a rubber Dock Connector port cover that can be inserted if you want to protect that part of the iPhone 3G, leaving the bottom speaker and microphone exposed. Unfortunately, some of the case’s holes are a little iffy; the headphone port hole isn’t large enough for oversized plugs, and the Dock Connector port hole proved incompatible with some large cable and car accessories we tried. If you’re not a big accessorizer, this mightn’t matter to you; apart from that, Quattro-T4’s most notable issues are ones of build quality, and then, they’re not going to bother every user.
Start with the screen. Some companies do nothing to protect it. Others use thin film or plastic. Ivyskin instead uses a special German touch-through glass, which is integrated directly into the front of the plastic shell. On a positive note, using the iPhone’s touchscreen controls through this glass is as easy as using them with nothing on at all, but unfortunately, the glass exhibited mild but noticeable rainbow-like distortions, particularly when it was flexed. This isn’t a show stopper, but it detracts from the case’s looks.
Most of the rest of the iPhone is covered in a hard plastic that is finished with a soft-touch rubber; ours arrived in metallic blue, but there are also white, black, and red versions available. While this rubber feels nice, it’s a challenge to perfectly manufacture, and has a tendency to show seams or peel off if the application and baking processes aren’t just right. In Quattro-T4’s case, we thankfully didn’t experience any peeling, and the vast majority of the application looked great, but there were a few extra seams. Ideally, they would have been masked, making the case look more like a solid block of molded plastic than a collection of parts that had been connected to one another.
We were a little surprised to find that Quattro-T4’s coloration is different from what’s shown on the Ivyskin web site. The blue isn’t a flat, neutral blue, but rather has a slightly aquamarine tint, and is unexpectedly accented with a big red Home button protector. Instead, the web site shows the case with a black protector, which would match the volume and Sleep/Wake button protectors found on this case’s sides, and frankly improve the look of the case; red and blue aren’t great colors to juxtapose, save for flags and Superman’s costumes. Like the seams, these little differences between what people might expect and what they’ll actually receive take away from what would otherwise be a pretty nice product.
As a final point on build issues, though Ivyskin has done a generally nice job of designing a two-piece shell that is easy to snap together into a single case, the slide-off rear back shell piece had a tendency to come open when we wanted it closed—like, when we were pulling the iPhone 3G out of a pocket. One time, we had the rear shell come entirely off as we were pulling out the 3G, and had we not been gripping the device just right, it might have fallen to the ground, leaving only the rear shell in our hands. The latching mechanism really needs to be improved a bit; this is the primary reason Quattro-T4 fell short of our general recommendation.
The last point that needs to be made on Quattro-T4 is its $45 pricing, which the company believes is justified by the parts that it has selected: amongst other things, your extra dollars pay for that glass screen shield, and Ivyskin’s choice to ship Quattro-T4 in a thick, clear hard plastic box that’s even bigger than Apple’s iPhone boxes. Though we hate to rain on this parade, these sorts of things don’t add enough to Quattro-T4 to escape the fact that $45 is an extremely high price by competitive standards—there are great $20-$25 plastic cases for the iPhone 3G that offer similar protection. Certain elements of this product’s packaging and design could really benefit from cost and size reduction. Consequently, while Quattro-T4 is a strong start for a relatively young company, refinements in build quality, coloration, port openings, and materials will ultimately make for a far better sequel; better choices will achieve roughly as much protection with better looks, and a lower cost.
Updated: In September, 2009, Ivyskin sent a modestly revised version of the Quattro-T4, shown above.