[In the interest of full disclosure, I have worked on the development of several mobile device cases for competing manufacturers, providing mechanical design and development support. I hope that these will lend expertise to my review rather than color it with bias.)
The landscape of accessories for the iPhone has been growing at a seemingly exponential rate, and nowhere is it more evident than in the sheer volume of cases available. With products ranging from high end ruggedized or waterproof cases to the cheap plastic giveaway promotional swag wraps to the legion of (unlicensed) Angry Bird skins that can found at any Hong Kong street market, any new case design faces a steep challenge to make itself stand out from the crowd. The Gasket case from id America certainly acquits itself in that regard. Bold design and inventive material choices demand attention, and a reasonable price tag ($29.99) keep your attention squarely focused. The overall experience of the case, however, is a bit more complicated than simple first impressions.
Like the Spark Headphones (reviewed last week on GeekBeat by Leland Flynn), id America draws on automotive imagery for its inspiration. Taking visual cues from the head gasket on a racing engine, the Gasket case casts a striking shadow. Formed aluminum hugs tightly to the surface of the iPhone with a laser cut graphic pattern instilling the unique design language. Six color options for the anodized finish add a bit more distinctiveness when applied on top of the brushed texture. My review unit was Rally Blue, but I think for my black phone, some of the other colors might have been better choices.
As mentioned before, the laser cut pattern grabs the eye and makes a statement. The three large circles on the centerline dominate the scene with the not quite symmetrical elements around it adding interest and perplexing a bit until the gasket analogy is understood. While the cutout is distinctive, my first thought as I looked at the bare iPhone in my hand was, "Isn't that going to look weird with the regulatory text showing through the bottom hole?" After installation, my concerns were somewhat accurate, if a bit misplaced. The biggest issue was the fact that the Apple logo was not centered in the top
hole. It was well below center, although still fully enclosed without any bit of it obscured. It doesn’t look bad, really… it’s just jarring to see that the iconically nibbled fruit wasn’t meticulously placed in the center. I can understand that the restrictions of the look they were striving for did not work with a centered Apple, and under that constraint, they have done the best they could with what was available. To my surprise, the regulatory text was centered in the bottom circle, and it actually looks better that way than on the bare case.
I had some big concerns about putting my precious iPhone into this case with so much of the back exposed to potential scratches. My concerns were quickly allayed during the unboxing when I saw that there were both front and back protective films included along with a microfiber cloth and a plastic squeegee for bubble removal. Furthermore, the inside of the metal case was lined with die cut pieces of suede to guard against scratches and to provide some cushion against impact. With the back of my phone safely behind a thin layer of clear plastic (which went on easily with a nice two-cling film application process), I began slipping my iPhone into place. It slid in surprisingly easily until I saw a huge problem… the lips on each long edge of the case that wrap around and grab the metal “antenna ring” were going to scrape right across the ring’s unblemished surface. The laser cut edge was too sharp for me to feel secure that no abrasions would be left behind, so I took the plastic bag that held the protective film and sandwiched it between the iPhone and the case edge. That allowed me to slide the case into place with no damage to the iPhone metal. Now I just have to figure out how I’m going to get the thing off without introducing scratches to that metal strip.
Here the unit really ran into some problems. From the first handling of the assembled unit, the edges of the laser cut holes are very noticeable. They are sharp enough to cause concern every time you run your fingers across them. As my girlfriend noted, any woman who put this in her purse would find it catching on something in there all the time. As she was telling me this and running her finger around the edge of the cutout circles, she actually broke the skin of her fingertip. It wasn’t enough to bleed… think small paper cut. Still, this is a pretty big concern and a serious consideration that is directly related to the manufacturing methods chosen.
Once in your hand and settled into a working position, I must admit that this does feel good to hold. The thin metal adds very little thickness to the phone, and compared to my daily driver, the Griffin Reveal Etch, which I consider to be a fairly svelte cover in its own right, the Gasket feels like it was shrink wrapped onto the iPhone. It is very light in spite of being a metal case, and the sparing bits that grab the edges of the metal iPhone ring expose so much of the front that you barely notice it from the business side of the unit. The problem with the case is what happens when it isn’t perfectly seated in the hand.
Now for what should be the primary concern for any case… how well does it serve the purpose of being an iPhone cover? The metal should provide plenty of protection for the areas that it does enclose, and the suede will provide some protection from shock, but I suspect it is not as effective as other cases that have thicker sections of rubber in place for impact resistance. The bigger problem is that so much of the phone is exposed. Beyond the openings on the back (which are unlikely to matter in most drop tests), the entire front glass is completely unprotected. End-to-end, top-to-bottom, there is nothing on the front to guard the face of the phone. No raised lip around the perimeter to hit a surface before the glass, not even anything to protect the glass if the phone is placed face down. The protective film might prevent the glass from scratching, but it will likely show scratches pretty quickly itself. On the positive side of the ledger, all that exposed area and thin aluminum wall means that a Gasket-enclosed iPhone will not likely have trouble working with any accessories or docks. All of mine plugged in just fine with no interferences, and that is becoming a rarity in the cases I gravitate toward.
Something that I completely forgot about until I returned to my normal plastic-and-rubber case is that all that metal in the Gasket might possibly affect the performance of the antenna. There is a hit in reception although it never dropped a call on me. I had fewer bars in both 3G and WiFi signals, but I did no quantitative measurements of this. One thing was clear… my battery life dropped substantially, which I assume is the result of the iPhone addressing the weaker signals. This was obviously not a huge problem as I didn’t really notice it as it was happening, but it is still an issue. With a metal enclosure, it’s pretty unavoidable.
An unexpected drawback appeared in a meeting. I had the iPhone on vibrate sitting on a conference room table. When my first email alert came in, the vibration of the hard metal case against a laminate surface turned the “silent” vibration into a very discernible buzz. Simple physics… I should have known, but my history with rubber cushioned cases had left me unprepared for that eventuality.
- Distinctive design with bold material choice and tight execution
- Thin and lightweight
- Some cushioning and scratch protection
- Works well with accessories
- Reasonable price
- Sharp edges risk cutting user and scratching iPhone
- Large areas unprotected, especially the front glass edges
- Thin suede liner may not be as shock absorbent as other more heavily cushioned cases
- Reduced signal strength and subsequent drop in battery life
- Noisy vibrate mode on hard surfaces
There is a lot to like about the Gasket. Its unquestionably innovative styling will get it noticed, and in the hand it is a lightweight, sleek performer. The suede lining shows an appreciation for the needs of the user in protecting the contents of the case. Too many other drawbacks make it hard to recommend this… especially the fact that it is sharp enough to break skin. The design prioritizes style over comfort, not unlike old European sportscars or ladies’ stiletto heels. I understand that some people have numerous cases that they accessorize to fit their outing or environment. This might work for that… when the user wants to set themselves apart with a unique and distinctive case, the sexy flash of the Gasket can certainly overcome its functional shortcomings. For everyday use, it probably is not the best choice.