disclaimer: this, like any other product reviewed by me, are not “review units.” i buy and pay for all of the items reviewed and the manufacturer is unaware of my intent to post publicly my impressions of their product. because of this, any issues in the ordering process can and will be included.
the slider style case was pioneered by the original Slider Case made by InCase, available in only two colors, black and white, for the original iPhone back in 2008. With the release of the iPhone 3G, it was updated to fit the new design, ditto that for the iPhone 4 in 2010. the simple design afforded large swaths of real estate for owners and artists alike to add their own unique flavor, or settle for InCase’s current wide range of colors. however, the 2 piece design’s raison d’être is its full coverage device protection while the removable lower section provides quick access and compatibility for the many docks on the market, not to mention it’s foolproof assembly.
as time passes and other manufacturers include a slider case of some sort into their lineup based on the market’s demands for the simple, easily compatible, and complete protection inherent to the design, very few have truly innovated. some of the design trade-offs chosen also can interfere with usability. for instance, some have increased the height of the forward-facing lip: despite improving protection of the screen, it makes using the screen, especially at the edges, nigh impossible for most with average sized fingers. others have chosen a thinner overall design but have run into issues with durability. some have added complexity in the way of button covers to provide more overall protection but in turn added bulk and/or fragility. however, generally you’re safe no matter which manufacturer’s design you choose as you will still get what you’re after: full coverage protection from drops and scratches while maintaining easy, quick accessibility for dock compatibility.
now, ElementCase has updated their original Formula design for the iPhone 4. they’re well known for their previous exotic designs using forged aluminum, creating some of the most beautiful bumpers and cases available for the iPhone 4; the Vapor, despite wreaking havoc on signal strength due to it’s use of aluminum and the Vapor Pro, an improvement on the design that nullifies the previous signal strength problems but carries an exorbitant price tag not for the average consumer. the Formula 4 forgoes the use of aluminum and the bumper style protection by use of the slider style case and a cheaper, easier to produce injection molded polycarbonate. for a touch of class and modernity, ElementCase has inlaid a sheet of real carbon fiber into the back.
initial feel of the case is slightly rubbery; their choice of polymer base is more flexible than the acrylics used by most other slider case manufacturers today. it gives a better grip, is resistant to the oils in your skin, and provides an overall feeling of increased density that gives it a heightened sense of quality and presence. tapping it with your fingernail results in a muffled ‘thud’ rather than the higher pitched ‘snap’ of the acrylics used by others which again adds to the premium feel ElementCase is known for. the rubberized coating provides a matte finish that enhances the premium feel and also gives the owner a surer grip. adding to that is a strip of rubber inlaid into the right edge that also features ElementCase’s name engraved. the brand’s name and logo is also laser etched into the carbon fiber insert with model name and their “E” logo is moulded into the removable lower portion of the case. the case also features a cover to protect the sleep button made of the same materials and each corner has additional material to protect from drops and give you a more positive feel when holding the device, especially in landscape, that can only improve grip and positioning when typing or playing games.
the rear of the upper half features a carbon inlay that is of pure beauty. using a very thin layer of resin, the weave is allowed to come through just slightly and gives the surface an almost semi-gloss look while the weave can almost be felt when running your finger over the surface. granted, this isnt exactly aerospace-grade, autoclaved carbon fiber, but the choices made in manufacture give it more emotion than the smoothness of standard production carbon. it also lets the owner know that it truly is carbon fiber, with all of the emotions associated that this stuff is able to conjure up in the minds of engineers and boy racers. the weave is near perfect, edges are smooth, the resin having no bubbles or other injection process imperfections to speak of, and the semi-gloss nature of the limited resin used in manufacture even manages to make it a bit subtle, as subtle as a sheet of decorative carbon fiber can be, anyways. it ends up being quite tasteful.
moving on from the aesthetic to engineering, the artistic flourishes carry over despite their existence being a true design necessity. removing the lower portion results in a very defined “click” as the molded notches that keep the two parts together give way. friction from the close fit between case and phone will prevent accidental loss of either portion, but the close tolerances between all 3 parts is remarkable despite the use of injection molding. the seam between the parts almost disappears as they’re mated unlike any other slider case on the market, but the click of the notches will ensure they only come apart when you need them to. internally, molded rails allow the iPhone to glide in almost effortlessly and properly aligned; the rails use the notches between the steel band and glass covers on the iPhone, with additional rails cut into the right side to accommodate the protruding volume buttons and silent switch. like other brands, the Formula also features a protruding lip that protects the screen when the phone is placed face-down. however, internally molded rails provide the necessary alignment and retention so this lip does not protrude over the screen’s edges like the other designs. the benefit of this design choice is two-fold: the lip will not interfere with operation of the touchscreen at the extreme edges and, more importantly, it will not interfere with the application of protective screen films. this kind of accuracy and thoughtfulness of design is what separates the Formula from all other slider cases on the market, and is quite remarkable to my engineering brain based on my familiarity with the injection molding process.
normally this kind of accuracy would only be seen on the machined aluminum cases and bumpers currently on the market as this sort of accuracy is not easily achieved using injection molding. if you know what you’re looking at, you’ll be amazed that ElementCase has been able to mass produce, through injection molding, cases that feature this level of detail. it’s thoughtful choices like this that make it more usable than it’s peers and help to justify a price tag that’s nearly double of their competition.
other design choices include the cutting away of material to the aft of the volume controls to allow for easier access, while still providing an unbroken line designed into the perimeter of the frame as well as the additional material necessary in that location for strength surrounding the opening. the bottom opening is just that: open, to allow for the expansion of sound to emanate from the speaker, into the mic, and unfettered access to the docking port by the widest range of accessory cables as possible. as mentioned previously, the corners have also been bulked up to provide increased impact protection while having the secondary function of giving a better feel in the hands when held in landscape position for typing or games. it also happens to give the lower portion a better gripping surface for easy removal of the lower portion for docking. all other brands are usually very difficult in this regard for 2 reasons: the use of smooth acrylics and a featureless exterior, and most owners find it can be difficult to remove the lower cap.
in my previous ownership of the InCase brand slider case, the combination of smooth, low tensile acrylic, tight fit, and featureless exterior proved very difficult to remove the lower cover and usually resulted in eventually cracking the part, with cracks visually appearing at the inner corners. the combination of materials, coating, and thickened corners of the ElementCase completely solves these issues.
these bulked up corners are also proof of ElementCase’s much thinner overall design. compared to the competition, the ElementCase is visually thinner and is further felt in the hand. the combination of using extra material only where needed, better protective lip design, and beveled edges all result in a case that not only feels thinner, but IS thinner, while sacrificing nothing in protection and improving usability many times over.
also included into the design are a matching sleep button cover, which provides protection and improved access to it without having to compromise design by having to remove material around the button. the camera hole has a matte surround to prevent flash issues commonly found in other cases. the hole for the headset jack is not only large but beveled, to accommodate the widest range of accessories as possible while having a teardrop profile like the camera port that features unfettered access to the secondary noise-cancellation mic that sits next to the port.
the combination of design flourishes and engineering choices have resulted in a slider style case that far exceeds all others in its class. it’s an example of when design and engineering are allowed equal importance and results in many oxymorons: a case that is as functional as it is a delight to hold in the hand. it is minimal yet substantial. design flourishes are backed by engineering necessities. however, it may not be a case for everyone once price and color choices are examined ($59 + $12 shipping, matte black only) but it’s definitely worth the price if what you want is a no-nonsense, best-in-market slider case. it truly has all of the benefits of the slider style design and none of the previous caveats that the other brands once made us believe were unavoidable.
- ultra-slim design with enhanced corner protection that improve ergonomics and grip while assisting with case removal, unfettered access to all ports, buttons, and switches.
- exacting tolerances throughout that provides a level of fit and finish uncommon for cases of this style and base material, exceeding the expectations of it’s higher than average retail price.
- understated, professional look.
- extremely close tolerance of the back of the case to the back of the iPhone. there gave been past reports of hard foreign objects like dust or dirt particles marring the glass during insertion or removal of tightly fitting slider cases. the back glass of the iPhone is *not* the same aluminosilicate treated glass featured on the front, making it more susceptible to scratching. because of this tight clearance, be sure to clean both case and glass before application of the case to reduce the possibility of marring the back glass. i tested this by adding a strip of plain, black electrician’s tape to the interior of the case and noticed significantly more friction during case application. to further prevent marring, it would be wise to consider the use of protective film like that from PowerSupport or SGP United. i do not recommend solutions like the Zagg Invisible Shield due to that material’s tackiness, as it may create significantly more friction and interfering with the case removal process. or you may use strategically applied tape to prevent the case from rubbing directly against the iPhone’s back. standard “Scotch” brand tape will do, and be sure to apply it to the phone and not the case for the proper effect.
- price. $60 ($72 after shipping) is not always cheap, no matter your budget, but is more affordable to some than others. regardless, it’s still about twice the retail price of competing products. however, it’s well worth the quality design and construction of the Formula4, thus good value. compared to the cost of replacement, it’s still very competitive and not exorbitant by any means.
- aesthetics. matte black isnt for everyone, no is the carbon fiber inlay, exaggerated corners, and sharply beveled edges. it’s not girly, nor is it even near “neutral”; it’s a very masculine design. ElementCase is known for their wide range of color options in their Vapor and Joule lineups, but as history shows, not so much in their injection molded solutions. it may not match your personality, but it will definitely tell others that you care about good design, if you care about what others think, that is.