Road tested: ElementCase's Sector 5 case for the iPhone 5
I didn't know what to think about the ElementCase Sector 5 (SE) iPhone 5 "case." I had been using my iPhone 5 for a while, and I really appreciated the fact that it felt like it didn't need a case. I've lauded ElementCase in the past because the craftsmanship and quality were outstanding. But previous iPhones, with the glass on the back, really did need a case of some kind. I know too many people who have cracked back plates to recommend not getting one. The iPhone 5, in my opinion, rarely needs a case at all. Yet I found myself enjoying the Sector, despite the feeling it may not be completely necessary.
As usual, the ElementCase used its knowledge of machining and has produced a lightweight and beautiful case -- except it's not so much a case as an aluminum bumper. The Sector needs you to remove only one screw to open it up (what ElementCase calls a multilink connection), and it wraps around the sides of the iPhone. The kit includes an adhesive-backed suede backing and a screen film, both of which I chose not to use. However, with all the included parts you could really protect your iPhone while keeping it looking very sharp.
One unfortunate bit is a "road rash" protector, basically a collection of vinyl stickers you'll put around the edges of your iPhone to "protect" it from the Sector's rubber feet. The rubber feet are inside the four corners of the case, giving the shock absorption you want but having the nasty side effect of leaving some bits of rubber behind after prolonged use (see pic below). While I object to the vinyl, it's a good idea for ElementCase to have included these. That said, it makes the easier-to-remove case itself somewhat less easy to remove as you'll need to remove the non-reusable vinyl off your iPhone before ditching the Sector completely (if you choose to).
The "road rash" vinyl sticker after over a week of use under the Sector 5
The Sector bulges out at the corners a bit, and adds a little visual interest to the iPhone. There are a couple of inadvertent issues with the Sector, however, and while they stem from the design, I'll detail them in the functionality section. Suffice it to say the "trussed" design (meaning there are a lot of cutouts) is a blessing and a curse, keeping weight down but also causing potential problems for big fingers.
The review unit I got was a nice dark gray gun metal color. The weight is negligible, and that's really amazing. Still, this does add enough weight to the already crazy light iPhone 5, so you will definitely notice the iPhone is a bit heavier. Since I'm not covered in replacement iPhones, I did not perform a drop test. It's possible the shock absorbers will protect the phone, but it's also possible the added weight could be a problem.
The Sector comes with a handy screwdriver for removing the case itself (and you can even attach it to your keys), but with that vinyl tape I doubt you'll be doing it often.
OK, it's a case. As I said, I'm unwilling to throw my iPhone at the ground, but let's take this just as a sort of backup insurance. It's light, it's barely there, what's not to like?
Unfortunately the deeper wells around the volume buttons make it much harder to access them if you have big fingers. I have relatively small fingers and often found myself having to squeeze in to flick the mute or change volume. That's not good. Apple puts those above the "surface" of the edge for a reason.
Also, the lower left bulge is just big enough to where I really have to stretch my left thumb to access the upper right corner. While the 5 is taller, this additional distance was just enough for my smallish hands to have a problem where there was none before. Your mileage may vary.
And lastly while the hole cut for the headphone port is ample, I found it was not ample enough for a generation of plugs made before smartphones became our music players. My old Sony desktop speaker plug barely fit, and seemed to pop out regularly. If you use EarPods or any of the more recent audio cables, changes are you'll be OK. My Sony MDR headphones were not OK, however. The plug fit, but so barely it kept popping out. The ports otherwise (mic, speakers, Lightning cable) all were fine thanks to the extensive trussing going on for weight purposes.
The power button is accessed with a push button atop the case, so that worked fine. You also have access to the SIM slot, for what that's worth (in owning 4 iPhones I have yet to touch my SIM tray). One small problem with the stainless steel screws is that, in my review unit, they were painted black and after some use that paint came off. I actually like the patina look and it's not obvious at all, but if you're the kind of person who inspects cases with a jeweler's loupe, you'll see it for sure.
The build quality of the Sector is incredible. What's amazing to me are all the chambers and edges on the Sector, the trussing to keep weight low, and how it feels in your hand. When I first added the Sector to my iPhone I wasn't sure it was such a great idea, but after a week I have come to really enjoy it, and feel like I've got just enough added protection to my 5 that I can keep slapping it down on tables as I did before the case. I can imagine that with the additional suede backing it would be even more protected.
The problem is that the price, US$139.95 may not justify the protection and the minor aggravations (specifically access to those volume buttons). If you have small hands or feel like your iPhone 5 is the perfect weight, you'll also have problems with having it on there.
So is the Sector a great case? Yeah, it's a good case. I'm not sure it's worth the money, but if you are into status symbols, and the ElementCase lineup is mostly that, it's probably the coolest iPhone 5 case you can get right now.
- Provides some protection
- Looks cool
- Easier than ever to remove or put back on
- Vinyl stickers are a bummer
- Some usability issues with volume
- The iPhone 5 doesn't feel like it needs a case, so this can feel extraneous at times
Who is it for?
Anyone who wants their iPhone 5 to look different and can afford a luxury case which offers modest protection.
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