Review: Element Case’s Vapor Pro
When you’re attempting to sell a $129 iPhone case you need two things: A kick-ass case, and a big set of balls. Element Case appears to have both with the latest version of their popular, if not controversial Vapor Pro.
I reviewed Element Case’s original Vapor case back in 2010, and while I loved the look and feel of the case, there was an unfortunate “reception hampering” aspect to the case that, when compounded by Apple’s own iPhone 4 reception issues (yes, I am one of those fanboys who is willing to admit I had antenna issues with my iPhone 4) I just ultimately could not recommend the case. Well, I am happy to report that those reception issues are no longer issues, and the Vapor case is now ready for buying, assuming you find it worth its somewhat hefty asking price.
Design-wise, there is much to love about the Vapor case, starting with the ability to customize the color of nearly every aspect of the case using Element Case’s online design tool. The Vapor comes in two flavors – the thinner Comp model, and the larger, more aluminum-heavy the Pro. I have the Pro model, in a wonderful (to my mind) black and orange combo.
Despite not looking insanely different from the previous version, the new Vapor Case has some subtle design changes, and all of them for the better in my opinion. The case is still machined from two pieces of aluminum which perfectly join with the included hex screws to form the most solid-feeling case you’ll find. In fact, the case feels like it IS a part of the iPhone.
The most obvious and appreciated design change as far as I’M concerned is the shrinking of the Element logo which took up the entire side of the previous model. The new design is much more elegant and in keeping with the idea of what I feel a $129 iPhone case should be (not that I necessarily think ANY case should be $129). The right side of the case has also been opened up a bit. The previous version had an opening which allowed for the SIM card to be removed, as does the new case, but there are now two other SIM card-sized holes cut into the aluminum along the edge of the case that appear to be solely cosmetic, but perhaps aid in reception. Either way, I like them as one of the most appealing aspects of the Vapor case is the sensation one experiences when running your fingers along the various perfectly-machined edges. Similarly, if you are someone who is able to leave your iPhone alone on a table for a few minutes (something that is diffuclt for me) the case will get a wonderfully cool metallic feeling.
In addition to the SIM tray hole, the Vapor case has openings for the dock connector, volume buttons, and headphone jack/noise canceling mic. The Hold button on the top of the phone is covered by a built-in cover that you can customize the color of if you wish.
Along with the case you will receive a screen protector, cleaning cloth, and a nicely redesigned hex screw driver and a couple extra screws. Also included is a zipper case you will never use.
Protection-wise, the case is a bit of a mixed bag. The basic case forms a metallic “bumper” around your iPhone, providing protection against drops, and keeping it slightly raised off of tabletops, so if you are someone who is fairly careful with your iPhone, that may be all the protection you need. However, you can also buy optional back plates in the form of Ultrasuede “stick on” inserts. There is also a matching Ultrasuede stick-on ear cover for the top front of your iPhone. I must say when I first saw these, I was not overly impressed, and still sort of am not. My original fear that the suede back plate would pick up dirt and look ratty over time appear to have been unfounded, however the color choice (at least for those of us with orange Vapor Cases) are FAR from a perfect color match, and just looks horrible in my opinion. The frame is sort of a burnt orange while the back is a brighter, non-matching orange. The good news is that the online color picker does a great job representing the colors, so if your color combos look horrible together online, don’t expect anything better to show up.
The Vapor case is elegant, looks great, feels wonderful in the hand, but is certainly not for everyone. The first thing you need to remmeber is that putting on and removing the vapor case is not done idly. While with much practice you might be able to get it down to a 2 or 3 minute affair, you still won’t be doing this on a lark, so if you are someone who likes to swap cases when you exercise, go to the beach, or biking etc., you may find the case annoying, especially keeping track of the tiny screws. Secondly, the case will likely not fit in a good percentage of docking accessories you may own, including speakers. It actually still fit just fine in my iHome iD9 speaker, but not so great in my iDapt charger. Again, given how hard it is to remove, if you regularly use a certain speaker or dock, there’s a chance you may be out of luck. Also, the Ultrasuede sticker back is not designed to be removed at all, so if you like to switch up your cases, you’ll probably want to skip getting this altogether and perhaps opt for a clear sticker back to protect the back of your iPhone and still allow it to fit in other cases.
It should also be mentioned that the metallic Vapor case will increase the “volume” of your iPhone when in vibrate mode on a table, specifically a glass one).
I have been using the Vapor case as my sole iPhone case for nearly 2 months now and love it, but admit it will not be for everyone – the main issues of course being accessory compatibility and removing the case is a bit time consuming and requires special tools (not to mention keeping track of the tiny screws that hold the machined aluminum piece together). I would not say it is a case for the “Active” iPhone user who changes cases depending activity or mood – more perhaps for the refined, organized executive who has a fairly predictable day and wants a refined-looking case for his iPhone. That being said, the case is the best-looking and best-FEELING case I have ever owned. If you are someone who appreciates the finer things in life, such as Grey Poupon mustard, and can justify spending the money for such a luxury, then the Vapor Case will likely be a “perfect fit”.
Price: About $129 – price depends on configurable colors and options
Pros: Looks great, feels great. Feels very solid, provides decent impact protection.
Cons: Hard to remove, not compatible with many speakers and charging docks, not a fan of the Ultrasuede stick on back plate, does not provide over-all protection.