My run of cellphones hasn’t been something to really brag about. I was late to the game in even getting a mobile, so when I first setup an account I made the mistake of getting a “free for signing up” phone. Later on I would get a Nokia 5300 before replacing it with a HTC G1. Not once did protection for these phones enter into my mind. Case in point, I’d often throw around the signing bonus phone (it was free). I also fell asleep on the 5300 to wake up to a cracked screen. Now that I own a real phone, it occurred to me that it was a proper time to protect my investment. After all, a 4S isn’t exactly a cheap piece of hardware. I wanted something that could hold up if I dropped it or knocked it around, but also had a sleek design. Luckily enough Case Mate had a product that fit the bill- the Phantom.
When the Phantom came in, I could immediately feel how rigid it was. It was then that I realized I was feeling up a packing envelope. Once I liberated the new case from its bubble wrap prison, I plucked the phone from its ziplock container and gripped it tightly in my hand. The Phantom felt solid and rigid, but without feeling like it was a brick that would eventually slice my palm. The rubbery substance on the protective outer shell, dubbed DuoFlex by Case Mate, didn’t have much give when I squeezed it. This was surprising given the last two iPhone cases I tried out either completely squished in my hand or twisted to unclasp their securing device. Even putting it down on the table without the phone in it provided good enough friction against the table to keep it from sliding around too much.
Assembling the case and phone together provided to be more of a task than I initially thought. The core of the Phantom snaps into place around the sides and face of the iPhone 4 or 4S. This plastic-like core, or PolyCore as Case Mate tells me, provides a tough, transparent shell that provides a basis of the structure for the Phantom. There are various cut outs on the piece, leaving spaces for the iPhone buttons to extrude, like the power and volume toggles. Other openings are left exposed for the headphone jack, power/data cable, Facetime camera and ear speaker, and silence switch. The earpiece and home button sections are covered by the same DuoFlex material that makes up the outer shell of the case. The home button does have a cut out as well, but the coating goes over it to give a soft, springy touch to the button. This made me skeptical at first, but it retains the responsiveness it should. This material placement plays another role in protecting your iPhone from scraping around if for some reason you place it face down.
Once secured in PolyCore the iPhone needs to be slid into the rubberized case with the buttons on the left going in first. It needs to be done with way (even the instructions state as such) to avoid damage to the phone or the Poly casing. Since some force on the phone will be needed to insert it in the DuoFlex part of the covering, not aligning the proper side to give clearance to the buttons could lead to damage. With the Poly being weaker on the left side because of the cut outs, it can be easy to crack the thinner pieces. Once the left side is in place, push the phone into the Duo part of the case from the corners on the right side. I found that pushing it right where the flex ends on the corners, I was able to push it out a bit to stretch it. That way seemed to be a little easier to seat it in there without crushing the plastic.
From taking it on an off several times in testing, I was left with a feeling of concern about how you just wedge it in and push the phone in. I can see that having to do this a lot overtime might eventually weaken the transparent covering enough to cause a stress fracture. Prying the phone out requires a little bit of creativity with your hands. I would end up pushing down on both the corners to get it out of the way of the Polycore, then pushing the back of the phone out through the camera hole with in index finger. Using the phone for leverage made it much easier. In the end I’d quantify the fit of the case on the phone as snug.
After using the case for some time now, I’m happy that it has held up. I’ve done my share of dropping the phone and accidentally tossing it while using my speaking hand gestures. While I wouldn’t expect it to save the phone from a ten story drop, the case seems to handle the everyday type of shock rather well. The outer coating of the Phantom has been resistant to the scratching from my keys that it often resides with in my pocket. I do see some finger wear from my grip while playing games. However, they are only minor blemishes to the finish on the case. Dust and lint collect around the edges as you would expect, but seem to get stuck under the Poly part of the case on the front of the phone. This can make keeping the phone clean a tad annoying since you will have to de-case the phone to get to it. Looking towards the future, my only concern outside of the cracking mentioned earlier is how the flap for the data connector and the thin strip above it will stand up over time.
Even with how good the Phantom is holding up, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out a few of the problems it has. First, the opening for access to the silent button is incredibly small. I don’t have very large hands and I have problems getting a finger in there to flip the switch. The best way I’ve been able to access it is to cram my pinky in there and get a nail on it. For people with bigger hands than I, it is hard for me to imagine that it would be accessible at all without some sort of aid. Second, I found an issue with taking pictures in dark areas with the flash. During a Flogging Molly concert I attempted to take a few pictures from the crowd. I found that I was getting massive glare and flares on the photos when attempting to use the flash. I’m not sure if this was a product of the semi-gloss of the black bezel that allows a portal for the camera or the fact that enough of the back of the phone was showing that light could reflect. Either way, pictures in those dark settings were useless. Third, the tolerances in the PolyCore are not exact. I’ve found that because of that and the weakness due to the cutouts on the left side of the phone it makes a sort of creaking sound if I push on it. Not a major deal, but it just differs from the fit on the right side.
Cosmetically, the Phantom looks great. The difference in textures between the diagonal siping around the edges of the case and the smooth flats and color inserts provide a nice contrast in design. While there were some issues with the Phantom, the greatest among them being the small opening for the silence button, none of them were great enough to stop me from recommending this case. There are things that I can nit pick over all, like the undesirable color combinations the Phantom comes in, but I’m not about to knock it for not coming in a certain RGB value. The importance of a case boils down to function and protection. The Phantom has those qualities in spades. The thought in the design is apparent, straight down to the openings for the speakers that are wide enough to keep the sounds from being muffled. Even if this case only came in the brightest of neon pinks, I would still have to pick up this triumph of Case Mate’s iPhone covers.