4th Design T-type 1 Aluminum Bumper for iPhone 4/S Review

I love the feel of a metal case on my iPhone. So much so, that I’ve really focused in on that area (metal/metal hybrid cases) for most of my reviews over the past year or so. One negative characteristic of metal iPhone cases up to this point however, has been that most all of them use multiple tiny screws to fasten the case around the phone. If you’ve ever dealt with any of these cases’ screws, you know how irritating it can be to get everything lined up, held in place, and start these ridiculously small screws (without dropping them!) just to attach the case. 4th Design's latest all aluminum case, the T-type 1 Metal Case, looks to solve this issue of dealing with tiny fasteners. 4th Design, also known as Tiger Design, are the makers of the Blade Aluminum iPhone 4 Bumper Case that we had the pleasure to review in the past. So, how does this new T-type 1 perform? Read on past the jump to find out!

4th Design has put together a pretty attractive packaging for the T-type Metal Case. It comes in a clear front presentation style plastic hang-tag package, which showcases nicely the T-type metal case riding inside. Upon opening, you’ll find the T-type 1 case in the color of your choice, 4 metal buttons (3 for use, 1 spare) for the volume and sleep/awake buttons, and additional pieces of foam padding that can be used to compliment the 4 foam pads that are already installed inside the bumper case itself. 

The unique feature of the T-type 1 case is the way in which it installs on your iPhone. Instead of fumbling with little screws, this case snaps onto your phone, much like a plastic case like the Incase Snap does. Once you have the metal buttons in place inside the bumper itself, you snap the iPhone into the case from the back. There are 3 metal tabs in the rear of the case (1 along the top, 1 along each side) that hold the phone inside the case once installed. Make sure you put the phone in from the back of the case, as there’s no way it can fit through the front without damaging either the case, or your phone, or both. One warning here though…be extremely deliberate sliding your phone into the back of the bumper, as the bumper does have to give a bit and “bow out” to stretch/snap around your phone’s antenna band. You have a metal case sliding over a metal antenna band here…a prime situation to scratch your phone’s antenna if you don’t use some caution when installing. 

Once on the phone, the T-type is an extremely thin and sleek fit. Almost like an extension of the phone itself.  Imagine the metal antenna band of the phone extending toward the front and back glass surfaces, forming a small lip around each surface (allowing “lay on the table” design), and you’ll have a good idea of how this case feels on the phone. The case does form a lip on both the front and back of the phone, but does not overhang the glass itself, so this case should be fully compatible with all screen protectors and back glass shields on the market. The T-type 1 case has built in buttons (there’s also a T-type 2 case that has button cutouts instead) for the two volume buttons and the sleep/awake button up top, and they have a great feel to them. It’s as if you’re pressing the phone’s buttons themselves…good travel and response from all of them. There’s an enlarged vibrate switch cutout, which should allow this case to accommodate both the iPhone 4 and 4S. Along the opposite side there’s a SIM card cutout, which I’m torn about.

On one hand, particularly with the brushed silver color case I received, it makes the case to appear to be even more of an “extension” of the phone itself (seeing the phone’s SIM card opening through the case), but on the other hand, it also breaks the sleek, clean lines formed by the case. And the SIM card slot (for quick SIM card access) isn’t really warranted on a case such as this, as the case can literally be popped off the phone in a few seconds. In a typical screw on metal case, I can see this SIM card slot opening as a needed function for those world travelers among you out there, but with a case that is removed this easily, I don’t see it as a necessary design component. It’s fine on this silver model, but other colors that contrast the natural metal color of the iPhone’s antenna, it might look a little more out of place. 

As far as accessory compatibility is concerned, you should be good to use all but the fattest of dock connectors and cables. OEM (Apple supplied) cables work fine, and all of my 3rd party cables fit fine. Due to the case’s slim fit, all speaker/charging docks I tried work fine with this case. Since there is a separate cutout for the dock connector, there is a chance that an extremely wide cable connector might not work, but I’ve personally never seen one wide enough to not fit this opening. Up top, with the headphone port cutout, it’s unfortunately a different story. The cutout here is fairly tight, and although Apple supplied headphones will fit satisfactorily, anything much wider is going to have issues fitting. In fact, 4th Design itself states that any headphones with a connector larger than 7.2mm won’t fit.  

Let's talk about performance finally. No matter how nice a metal case looks and feels on your phone, they are relatively useless if they kill your wireless performance, which sadly, many/most all metal cases do. With the T-type 1 case, I was actually somewhat pleasantly surprised. It did have an impact on cellular reception, but not nearly as much as I originally thought it would based on other all aluminum cases I’ve tested. I found it hit my reception for, on average, a 10-12dB loss, which, depending on your reception without the case, will knock you down about a full “bar” to bar and a half. So, it’s definitely not a radio transparent case, but it’s definitely not the worst I’ve tested, either.

At least 4th Design is open about this case potentially impacting performance, and state that it “may affect the reception signal” right on the product’s web page. Being an all metal case, it’s actually a pretty good result. And one redeeming quality of this case that most other metal cases don’t have is that, worst case scenario, if it were dropping you down to “No Signal”, you can pop this case off extremely quickly if you absolutely had to make a call. With other screw-on type cases, that can’t be said. Not without having some type of tool with you, and even then, you have to hope you don’t drop any of those tiny screws when removing your case out in the field. When it comes to the other wireless radios’ performance, I saw no noticeable effects on the GPS or WiFi reception of the phone with the T-type 1 case installed. 

What about the other major aspect of a case’s performance…its protection capabilities? Well, with its slim design, the T-type 1 case definitely isn’t going to afford you the protection of an Otterbox Defender, but then again, that’d be an unreasonable expectation for such a thin aluminum bumper. This metal bumper is primarily designed as an aesthetically pleasing scratch protector for your antenna band. A metal version of Apple’s own bumper, more or less. I definitely wouldn’t expect my phone to survive a 10-foot fall in this case, but it’s sturdy for its design, and I think the majority of drops that users experience in daily life. I’d expect my phone to live through a waist-high fall in this case.   

In closing, normally, when an all-metal case impacts reception by a bar or more, I generally don’t recommend it. A major part of that reason is because with other metal cases, you never know when that 1 bar or more of reception loss could mean the difference between you being able to use your phone being stuck with basically a thick iPod touch. And if you’re not carrying a wrench or screwdriver of some sort, which most people don’t, you have no way to remove the case and fix your reception. This new style of snap on metal bumper by 4th Design changes that. Yes, you still have to deal with some reception loss from the case’s metal construction, but at least now you can have a quick and easy remedy when you need to maximize your phone’s reception. And I’d say that the alternate version of this case, the T-type 2 (which I didn’t review), would be even better suited for this than the T-type 1 reviewed here.

The T-type 2 only has cutouts for the volume and sleep buttons, and not the pass through buttons that the T-type 1 has. These buttons are one of the few niggles I have about this case. They are separate pieces, and designed to be held in place only by the phone being installed behind them (they will fall out without the phone in the case), so you do experience a little rattle from them when the case/buttons are installed on the phone. It would have been easy enough to design them to stay in the case even when the phone is removed. But, at least 4th Design offers the two designs to cater to different preferences. Another BIG plus the T-type series cases have going for them is the price…$49 suggested retail. That makes it one of the least expensive all metal cases on the market.