Joshua Schnell, November 16, 2012
Now on my fourth iPhone 5, I figured it was time to get a case for my phone. I prefer going naked (twss!) with my iPhones, but given the phone’s propensity for getting scratches and my tendency to sell my unlocked phones once a year, I needed something rugged, but minimal, but strong enough that it can protect my phone. Element Case, the company behind the famous Joule stand and other products, recently shipped the Sector 5 case for the iPhone 5. I’ve been using it for three weeks now, and I figured it would be a great time to share some thoughts on the product. Long story short, I’m loving this case. It’s not cheap ($144.95, and more on that in the final thoughts section), but so far, it’s the only thing I’m willing to put my phone in at this point. I hate cases. I love this case.
The case itself is built from a “precision machined aircraft grade aluminum frame.” It’s rugged, and can take a fall quite well. Although I haven’t done any drop tests from massive heights, the case has survived some tumbles courtesy of my eleven-month-old daughter who has made it her mission to lick, steal, and run away with my new iPhone.
The Sector 5 isn’t easy to install. Well, it is kind of easy, but it’s not as easy as snapping the device into a bumper, or slipping it into a sleeve. Element Case has provided a number of protective measures to ensure that your case is safe from unnecessary damage, including a screen protector, two backplate options, and some sticker-like things to protect your antenna from the case itself. The added attention to protection is a nice little perk that we weren’t expecting when we opened up the box.
The installation of the case itself is quite simple. Using the included wrench/screwdriver thingy, you just have to undo one of the fasteners so you can wrap the case around your iPhone 5. It’s very simple. The difficult part comes with installing the stickers, backplate protectors and screen protector should you feel like actually using one or all of these. Take your time. Proper alignment and getting bubbles out of the transparent protectors will take some patience. I installed all of the protective parts on my phone. Normally I hate front and blackplate covers on my phone. In this case I decided to keep the protective layer on the back of my phone, but I ended up removing the screen protector. The cool thing about this case is that you have a choice if you want to use these preventative measures or forgo them entirely. I removed the screen protector because I felt, as I always do, like it was messing up my display clarity. It’s completely a personal preference. There’s nothing wrong with this one in particular; I’m just not a fan in general.
Antenna problems? Not really. Size Problems? Nope.
The biggest concern I had heading into this installation was whether or not the aluminum case would interfere with cellular connectivity. I live in a weird little valley that gets terrible reception from cellular towers. I average two bars on the Rogers network at home, and the case didn’t affect the transmission rates at all. Bizarrely, a couple weeks after installation, Rogers upgraded its connection software on my iPhone. I actually get more bars now than I did in the past. It’s unrelated, but it also makes it difficult for me to determine just how much influence the case has on my connection to cellular towers.
If you’re worried about the antenna on your iPhone 5 with this case, I wouldn’t worry about it unless you’re in an area with one bar or less on average. There could be a small difference in your transmissions on that level, but where I am now, I have no problems at all.
Size, Girth, And Will It Move The Earth?
The case itself doesn’t add much bulk to your phone in girth. In fact, if you’re hoping that the case will help get your phone off the table a little bit to prevent it from getting scratched, we absolutely recommend installing the back-plate protector that Element Case ships with the Sector 5. If you decide to forgo it, the case sits pretty flush with the front and back of your phone.
The bulk that it does add will be in the length and width department. It’ll take a little bit of getting used to, and the parts of the case that are machined-out will feel a little weird when you’re holding your phone, but when you put it into your pocket, you won’t notice much of a difference from a naked iPhone. Heck, it’ll certainly feel smaller than a Samsung Note in your pocket (Huzzah!).
On that note, getting to the volume buttons and the screen lock switch is a little bit difficult for any one with human sized fingers. You have to turn your thumb perpendicular to the case and slide your finger into the cutout to get at the switches. It’s not a big deal, but it’s worth pointing out. If there was one recommendation I could make to Element Case, it would be to figure out a better solution in that section of the case. It’s really the only downside.
For the most part, the installation was simple. I do, however, have some advice you should keep in mind while installing the outer rim case (the actual aluminum case). Element Case provides a tool for unscrewing a couple of screws so you can fit the case to your phone. It’s a nice touch, but given the torque required to remove the screws and then retighten them, be very careful that you don’t lose control of the mini screwdriver and jab your iPhone, or worse, the screen with it. I did on a couple of occasions, but luckily there wasn’t any damage done.
We recommend getting a better driver to deal with the screws. Use something that’s a little bigger and that gives you better control. Stabbing your iPhone or finger isn’t fun.
Honestly, the driver is the biggest complaint we have with this product, which says a lot about the case. I’m not a case guy. I’m really not, but this one is a little different. It looks like an aluminum bumper, and doesn’t add very much bulk to your phone. If you forgo the front and back protective layers, you can still show off your iPhone in all of its glory. We should also point out that Element Case is in the process of providing customers with the ability to build their own Sector 5 case, allowing you to choose different backplate colors and casing materials for the various parts of the case. Pretty soon you’ll be able to completely customize your case to meet your style. That’s pretty cool if you ask us!
The case is pricey at $144.95; we’re not going to hide that fact. But, the case is made entirely in the USA, and along with that kind of philosophy usually comes pricing differences from competitors who take their manufacturing jobs overseas. We’re not going to get into the economics and ethics around building products at home or abroad, but when you’re looking at that price tag, wondering why it’s so expensive, it’s worth considering.
If you have the cash, and you’re looking for a great case, we absolutely recommend picking this one up.Follow @macgasm