Back in September, I was given the opportunity to review the ElementCase Vapor case for the iPhone 4, and I just couldn’t give it my recommendation, due primarily to the fact that it was uncomfortable to hold. I’ve now been given the chance to review another CNC-machined aluminum case for the iPhone 4, the Fusionwerkz Raw case. Can it do the job without actually feeling like a raw block of aluminum? Read on to find out.
Before I begin the review itself, let me get something out of the way: whenever I am assigned a new review, I take some time to go over the product web page to familiarize myself with it while I wait for the review sample to arrive. Doing so for this review left me a little uneasy. You see, were I shopping for an iPhone 4 case, and were I to come across the Fusionwerkz website, there is quite literally zero chance that I would have ever purchased the Fusionwerkz Raw case. The website is very over-the-top in its attempts at depicting the case as “tough” and “macho”, with a product image gallery that contains several shots of an iPhone 4 in the Raw case next to a couple of rounds of ammunition or a handgun. It’s not imagery that I find compelling, especially since such things have absolutely nothing to do with the case itself. Perhaps if the case was actually made from reclaimed ammo casings or something, I would understand. But as it is, this comes across as desperate posturing, and it’s sad and disappointing.
With that said, let’s move on to the real matter at hand, the product itself. Fusionwerkz ships the Raw case in a metal box, which also includes a microfiber bag that can be used for cleaning the iPhone’s glass, a sticker that includes the serial number of the case (why a serial number is important for a phone case, or why this information needs to be on a sticker remains a mystery to me), an allen wrench for installing and removing the case screws, and a couple of additional screws in case you lose one.
The case itself is made in two parts, a front half and a back half, each made of CNC machined aluminum and then anodized in one of several colors. The case is symmetrical on every axis, so there really is no wrong way to install it. Either end can be the top, either side can be the front. It basically becomes a question of whether you want the screws at the corners — which hold the whole thing together — to be on the front or back of your phone. Both halves of the case are lined with a black felt material, presumably to cushion the iPhone inside the case. One thing that I found odd, however, was that the installation instructions (which are not included in the package, but rather have to be obtained from the Fusionwerkz website), suggest that, if you have a screen protector on your iPhone, you should remove the felt from whichever half of the case you choose to use as the front, or the case could cause bubbling of the screen protector. I find this strange because this suggested action is not something you can undo. If you follow these directions, removing the felt from one side of the case, and then later decide that you want to use the other side of the case as the front, or you decide to remove your screen protector and not install a new one, you’re out of luck — you’ll have to get a new case.
Once installed, there wasn’t any indication that things were pressing or rubbing where they shouldn’t be, and it felt very solid in my hand. The design is very minimalist, basically forming a cage that follows the edges of the iPhone. The corners of the case are less rounded than those of the iPhone it contains, giving it a very boxy look. In fact, in the gunmetal gray color that I received for this review, the case gave the iPhone a look not entirely like that of the most recent generation of Zunes. Unlike most cases, the Raw case exposes the entirety of the top, bottom, and sides of the iPhone. While in this case, it is still possible to dock the iPhone in a universal dock that doesn’t have an adapter installed, and I had no problem getting all but my widest headphone jacks to insert fully into the headphone port of the iPhone while in the case. However — and much to my surprise — I found that the volume buttons were actually harder to hit in this case, primarily because the case design effectively places them into a channel that is narrower than my thumb. It doesn’t make the volume buttons unusable, but it does make it so that hitting them requires a conscious effort. Overall, the case is not much larger than the iPhone in Apple’s Bumper case.
I also found that the Raw case creates a more significant physical boundary than I was expecting. While using this case, it was not uncommon for my finger to collide with the lip of the case as I neared the edge of the touchscreen, making it sometimes difficult to perform operations that require the use of the edge of the touchscreen, such as moving apps from one home screen page to another.
I was, however, pleasantly surprised by how the case felt to hold. With the sides of the case being reduced to what are essentially pairs of rails, I would have expected this case to hurt my hands at least as badly as the ElementCase Vapor did. For whatever reason, though, I found that the Raw case actually wasn’t unpleasant to hold in any orientation — as a phone, in landscape orientation for typing or gaming, or in portrait orientation. I did notice that the channel along the sides of the case did tend to accumulate moisture if held in a sweaty hand. Certainly not something I was expecting to find, and probably not something that is likely to cause any problems, but something to consider if you’re really paranoid about tripping the iPhone’s moisture sensors. I also didn’t notice any significant change in the signal strength relative to the iPhone in the Bumper case; it doesn’t appear to interfere with normal reception, but still provides enough of a buffer to prevent the “death grip” signal loss issue.
The only other complaint that I could level against the Fusionwerkz Raw case is that some attention to detail is lacking. I’m used to CNC-machined objects looking as though they had been pulled right out of the CAD program they were designed in, with flawless fit and finish, this was not the case with the sample that I received. The arc of the curves in the side cutouts was not entirely symmetrical, and the edges of the pieces didn’t always fit flush with each other. Likewise, the felt lining inside the case wasn’t applied evenly, and just overall looked sort of sloppy. While neither of these things really affects the performance of the case, nor are they likely to be noticed by anybody who isn’t going over the case up-close and with a critical eye, I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention it here.
Overall, the Fusionwerkz Raw iPhone case a good option if you’re in the market for an aluminum iPhone case. While it might not offer the shock protection of rubber cases, it likely adds to the structural integrity of the iPhone, and certainly gives it a unique look.