Exovault has been making high-end cases for Apple’s iPhone since the release of the iPhone 3G, using unconventional case materials such as brass and aluminum, and even more recently, titanium. Often times they fuse these metals with an exotic wood, such as rosewood, for a truly unique looking, well-crafted product. But, as many people now know, when utilizing metal in the manufacturing of an iPhone case, often times reception and wireless performance is compromised for the aesthetic beauty of metal. Is this the case with Exovault’s latest entry into the high-end metal case category, the EXO10? Or has Exovault pulled off the rare feat of combining a metal construction with solid wireless performance?
Read on to find out…
Exovault has changed their packaging since I first reviewed one of their products, and is now shipping their cases in a wooden carrier which is routed/milled out on the inside to hold the case, with a clear polycarbonate slide off lid that shows off the Exovault case on the inside very nicely. I’ve been told that they are getting this wood used for packaging from a local woodworker (discarded scraps), so it’s good that they are recycling another businesses waste to make packaging for their product. This wood packaging looks great, and adds a nice touch to the presentation of this case, with the added bonus of being a very sturdy container for shipping. Inside the packaging you’ll find the EXO10, hex wrench, 2 additional screws (spares), and an Exovault contact card.
For review purposes, I received two versions of the EXO10. One in black anodized aluminum with a Rosewood back, and another made of brass with the same Rosewood material for the back. The design is a “sandwich-style”, with a front section that screws together with the back section at each corner. With both of these cases the high level of craftsmanship is easily apparent …the fit and finish of the two materials together (metal and Rosewood) just reeks of quality. The finish of both the wood back and the metal frame is smooth and consistent…no rough or uneven spots. There’s just enough texture to both to give a bit of grip to the phone when cased versus the slick glass front and back of the bare iPhone 4. Inside the back portion of the case is a soft liner to keep the hard metal and wood from making contact with the glass back of your phone, preventing damage.
Once installed on the iPhone the EXO10 adds very little thickness or depth to the phone, and in fact, is much less bulky than I expected. It’s very comparable in width to a TPU case such as the Speck PixelSkin HD. One thing that is noticeable between the two different metals available (aluminum and brass) is the dramatic weight difference! The brass is MUCH heavier than the aluminum, but that’s to be expected as aluminum is known for its light weight. Both metals look great on the iPhone..the brass with its dark patina already forming on the finish, resembling an old family heirloom, and the black matte aluminum, with its “stealthly” look, helping to make the gorgeous Rosewood back really pop out. One thing I really like about this EXO10 versus earlier Exovault cases is that this is one of the first designs that use the thin “picture-frame-like” front case, and don’t cover the area around the ear speaker and Home button with metal like previous EXO cases did. I really like this newer minimalist look.
As far as access to buttons/ports…all sides of this case are open and very shallow so there should be little to no trouble with 3rd-party accessories (syncing cables, docks, headphones, etc) fitting, or operation of buttons (vibrate switch, volume buttons, or sleep/awake buttons). Also because of this “open-side” design this case will work with both the AT&T/GSM and Verizon iPhone 4’s.
Here’s where metal cases like this either swim or sink…in how they affect signal reception. Some metal cases can turn your iPhone into nothing more than a fancy paperweight in all but the best of cellular signal areas, and/or can render the GPS useless. Well…I’m pleased to report that this doesn’t seem to be the issue with the EXO10. When reviewing a case such as this, I always like to point out that performance with a metal case can often times vary greatly from region to region, and depends greatly on the quality of signal that you receive in your area of use. So what works great for a person in say New York might not work as well for a person in LA. Having said that, I saw very little reception impact with the EXO10, especially with the aluminum version. The average drop in cell reception was around 7dB, which is around a half a “bar” of service. For comparison purposes, this is in line with one of my all time favorite aluminum cases, and one that consistently has the least signal impact of an all-metal design, the e13ctron s4. With the brass version, I saw a bit more negative impact on reception, averaging out to be about 12-14dB of drop. Even with the increase in signal interference on the brass edition, this is still only a drop in signal of about 1 “bar”. So as long as you’re in an area where you consistently get 2 or more bars of reception, both of these cases should be fine for your use.
With the GPS performance, again, I did notice slightly more of an impact with the brass case. With it, occasionally my GPS would take longer to get a solid lock on my location, taking as long as 30-45 seconds to locate me. For reference, my phone typically gets a positive lock in less than 10 seconds. Once locked (brass version), the GPS was able to track me fairly consistently, but would intermittently “lose” me and be off by as much as 100 meters for a bit, but would almost always reacquire my position and track me accurately again. With the aluminum model, I saw none of this. Once it acquired a solid lock on my position (taking no more than 15 seconds to locate me), I never saw it lose track of me.
All in all I have to say that Exovault has done a great job with their newest case, the EXO10. The newer minimalist design is much more flattering to the already beautiful design of the iPhone 4 than early EXO cases were. As always, they have married metal and wood into a wonderfully crafted case for the iPhone 4. And much more so than some of their earlier cases have managed to keep the negative signal/GPS impact down to a bare minimum competing with some of the best in this category of cases. If you happen to be in an area of low signal, my personal recommendation would be the black or sliver aluminum version. The only real negative to this case is the price…it’s not cheap, starting at $155. But if you’re looking for a truly unique and handmade case for your iPhone, check out the EXO10 by Exovault.
The EXO10 is available here.
PROS: exquisite craftsmanship, rigid construction and protection of metal, very minimal signal impact for a metal construction case.
CONS: high price, some people might not like the “square” design.