Over the past several months, I’ve had the opportunity to review a handful of aluminum cases for the iPhone 4, and so far I’ve not found anything that I’ve felt could replace a good plastic/rubber bumper-style case. The latest entrant in the machined-aluminum case is the Kinetic Case; is it more of the same, or does it set a new standard? I got the chance to try a Kinetic Case and find out.
The Kinetic Case is a CNC-machined aluminum iPhone 4 case, anodized in one of six colors. This sounds a lot like the previous aluminum iPhone cases we’ve reviewed, but one point that distinguishes it is that the case has been designed to distribute impact evenly across the frame in the event that it is dropped, hopefully helping to preserve the precious iPhone within. The case itself is composed of two L-shaped pieces, secured by small hex screws. As with the other cases, Kinetic Case has included a couple of spare hex screws and an allen wrench. Kinetic case also includes a two screen protector films, a clear plastic backplate, and for an additional ten dollars, a carbon fiber backplate. The inside of the case is lined with what appears to be a layer of clear acrylic material, much like what the clear backplate is made of. The fit and finish of the case are, in a word, impeccable.
A big issue with the previous two cases — the Vapor case more so than the Fusionwerkz case — was with how they felt in the hand. Both cases used a relatively angular design, and the edges weren’t terribly comfortable to hold. The Kinetic Case absolutely does not have this issue. This case is not only rounded rather than beveled, but the arc of the curve on the back is wider than that on the front, and it feels fantastic. In addition, the low profile of the case prevents if from interfering with touching the screen towards the left and right edges.
Cutouts are provided for all of the controls and ports along the edges of the case. The cutouts for the sleep and volume buttons are sort of “scooped” out, making it pretty easy to reach the buttons despite how thick the case is. The cutout for the headphone jack and top mic are wide enough to work with most normal-sized headphone plugs, and the cutout for the dock connector should provide enough room for even the largest third-party dock connector cables. The downside here is that, due to the thickness of the case, I could not successfully dock my iPhone in any docking cradle while it was in this case, not even the Apple Universal docking cradle with no adapter installed. On the upside, while I didn’t have a Verizon iPhone to test with, I’m reasonably certain that this case should fit both the AT&T and Verizon iPhones equally well, as the only major exterior change is the location of the mute switch.
As for the backplates, I found that the camera/flash cutouts in both the clear and carbon fiber plates were large enough that they didn’t interfere with the flash or produce any visible vignetting in photos. One note on the clear plastic backplate, though: prior to beginning my review, I was informed by Kinetic Case that some users had not noticed that the clear backplate is shipped with protective film on both sides. To be honest, I might not have figured this out either, had I not been told; while one sheet is tinted blue, the other is clear, and there are no pull tabs provided to help with removal of the film. The people at Kinetic Case might consider affixing a pull tab of some sort, both to make removal easier, and to make it more apparent that there are two sheets of film.
Finally, there’s the matter of signal reception. The AT&T iPhone 4 has been notorious for being oversensitive with regards to signal loss when held in certain ways, to the point that many people buy a case for the iPhone 4 just to address that issue. I’m sad to say that my tests with the Kinetic Case were less than impressive. My experience has been that the phone loses a full bar of signal simply by being in the case. This may not be a concern if you spend all of your time in a strong signal area, but for me, it’s a deal-breaker. Again, this is the result of testing on an AT&T iPhone 4, and I cannot speak to whether or not the case has the same effect on the Verizon model.
So what does that mean for the Kinetic Case? It feels great, it provides good protection, and it looks really nice, but it makes it impossible to dock the iPhone in a cradle, and it may have deleterious effects on your signal strength. I’d say give this one a try if you never have signal problems and you never plan to dock your phone in a cradle, but pass on it otherwise. I will certainly be keeping my eye on Kinetic Case, in the hopes that they get these issues ironed out, because they’re definitely headed in the right direction.