Review: AL13 iPhone Bumper

Covering your iPhone’s sleek industrial lines with unseemly cases is borderline blasphemous, but unfortunately the device’s vulnerability to scratches, dings, and shattered glass forces our hand. We’re not about to wrap our device in one of Apple’s minimal but flimsy plastic bumpers either, and fortunately other options exist, notably designed by m’s enticing AL13 Aluminum iPhone Bumper. We put one through the wringer over the last 50 days to see how it would hold up against everyday abuse, so click on through to read our full impressions.

It’s evident that a lot of attention to detail went into AL13’s design. The first thing we noticed upon lifting the thing out of its box is how ridiculously lightweight it is (14 grams to be exact), attributed in part to the anodized aerospace-grade aluminum used in its construction. AL13 bears close resemblance, especially in texture, to the iPhone 5’s housing (which, not coincidentally, is also crafted using aluminum), though the color of our review unit, Slate, is lighter and weighted slightly towards a grey-purple hue. Cutouts on the top, left and bottom grant access to the lock button, vibrate toggle/volume buttons, and Lightning port, respectively, while also leaving plenty of clearance around the mic and speaker. Equally important, AL13 adds only about 1.3mm to the iPhone 5’s razor-thin 7.6mm profile for a total thickness of roughly 8.9mm, as well as a few millimetres in width and height (which we prioritize to a lesser degree).

One huge plus for AL13 is that no tools are required for installation or removal: an intuitive sliding back panel holds the phone in place between a thin anti-scuff rubber lining on the inside that dissipates impacts and keeps the phone nice and snug, though we noticed that ours had an ever-so-slight forward and backward give that’s likely for accommodating screen and back protectors of various thicknesses. One consequence of this design is that the front and back of the case both have different sized borders and that the back is slightly more depressed than the front, with as a silver lining that the phone’s sides are immediately distinguishable when grabbing inside a pocket or backpack without so much as a glance. Another plus: AL13 comes packaged with both front (crystal clear) and back (with a frosted/matted effect) protectors as well, since a bumper isn’t likely to protect the back of your phone from scratches by keys, coins, or other gadgetry. We promptly put both on our device, albeit carefully to avoid trapped dust, and haven’t much more to add other than that we highly recommend making use of them.

But how about protection? Following previous (and unprotected) drops, our iPhone 5’s aluminum housing earned itself a few battle scars, particularly visible considering the bare uncolored metal underneath its black anodized coating. Over our test period, however, this particular AL13-equipped iPhone went through a handful of accidental drops, spent quality time with keys and other scratch-inducing gizmos, and rested atop a somewhat abrasive stone table every day for a few weeks without so much as a scratch. More surprisingly, the case came out nearly unscathed as well, with only a couple of faint dings that reveal themselves up upon detailed inspection, which leaves us wondering how designed by m’s finish is more resilient than Apple’s.

That’s not to say that AL13 isn’t without qualms. It took a couple of days for us to get used to pressing the lock button through its cutout, and reception was slightly affected by the case, a phenomenon commonly attributed to metal cases shielding signal input/output (i.e. a minor Faraday cage effect). While we hardly noticed, at the limits, for example in areas of exceedingly low reception, removing the case – which is overwhelmingly simple and quick to do – would sometimes help slightly with the signal. Designed by m’s testing showed only a 5% to 10% decrease in cell reception, a number that compares favorably to many of their competitors (and which we suspect may have to do with the case’s thin form factor and use of rubber lining for spacing).

To wrap up, we have no plans to replace AL13 at the moment, which probably says it all. While reception is lightly affected, overall it’s a non-issue and the bumper barely detracts from the look, feel, and weight of the iPhone 5 (and iPhone 4/4S) while adding peace of mind in case of accidental drops and dings for both AL13 and the iPhone within. Find it at designed by m’s website – $80