There are tough cases, and tough screen protectors, but most of them are ugly and bulky numbers that severely limit what you can do with your protected smartphone. Tech21′s claim is that its cases and screen protectors manage the protection work without the bulk.
Tech21 Impactology Cases and Impact Shield: On the plus side
Tech21 makes its toughened cases for a variety of smartphones; for the purposes of review it provided me with an Impact Band Smokey case and Impact Snap case for iPhone 5 and an Impact Mesh case for Samsung Galaxy S4. I also got to test out the company’s toughened screen protectors, the Impact Shield series for both phones.
The core idea behind Tech21′s durability claims comes from the use of a non-newtonian polymer called D3O; the idea is that when you drop the case, the D3O bits of it — it’s not the entire case — absorb the impact and spread the impact force out, meaning that a smashing drop merely becomes a slightly worrying bounce.
Case design can be a very personal choice thing; of the three cases I was sent, the iPhone Snap and Galaxy S4 cases worked well as basic cases, but I was less taken with the Impact Band case, which I’ll get to shortly. Having a range of impact resistant cases is definitely a plus.
There’s no polite way to put this; I, like many other smartphone users, have my clumsy moments. I didn’t specifically set out to brutally test the Tech21 Impactology cases, because they were wrapped around phones I’m using day to day, but they’ve certainly survived more than a few bumps and bruises over the past couple of weeks, including an inadvertent and heartstopping concrete driveway bounce. No damage to report.
I can also categorically say that the Impact Shields are very tough, and that’s one area where I did end up engaging in a little bit more destructive testing. A nail file over the screen didn’t break it, and deliberately dropping it into a piggy bank and giving it a solid two minute shake led to no real problems with its screen integrity. It survived being folded in half quite well, although that did leave a permanent streak across it. Then again, unless you’re Superman, who folds their actual smartphone in half?
Tech21 Impactology Cases and Impact Shield: On the minus side
The D3O impact material works where it is on a a case, and not where it isn’t. As an example, the Galaxy S4 case I tested with has it layered bumper style around the edges of the phone case, but not on the back, where it’s just a relatively thick rubber. There’s potential to still damage your phone if dropped while in one of these cases, in other words, and Tech21 doesn’t warrant that they’ll make your phone indestructible; merely less likely to take damage than when in a regular case.
I mentioned that I wasn’t as much of a fan of the Impact Band case, which combines a classic bumper-style band with a shiny optional plastic back. It all fits together well enough, but it makes the bright orange D30 material the design standout, which I’m not aesthetically enamoured of, and on a more practical level, it uses rather stiff rubber over the volume buttons, which I found uncomfortable to use. Comparatively, the Snap case was much easier to use and aesthetically more pleasant, hiding the D30 material in the case back.
The Impact Shields are, as noted, quite tough, and this was one area where I went in quite hard, but some of that (if I’m being honest) was to vent my frustration.
Last week, I republished an old article of mine, entitled “The complete lunatic’s guide to putting on a screen protector“.
The Tech21 Impact Shield for iPhone 5 was the precise reason why I was driven to insanity.
The instructions are pretty good, albeit quite standard, and you get the usual combo of a card for smoothing and a cloth for cleaning. I dutifully cleaned the screen to within an inch of its life, laid down the Impact Shield onto the phone… and discovered a large speck on display.
Damn. But these things do happen, so I carefully lifted the Impact Shield screen up, at which point I realised the speck wasn’t on the phone screen, but on the adhesive side of the Impact Shield itself. I carefully tried to remove it, and eventually did, but by this time several of its dusty compatriots had tried to set up shop.
If this was a situation comedy, that’s the point where you’d cut away for a while to discover me not-so-lightly-fuming at a filthy Impact Shield screen protector, many cleaning attempts and several hours later. Eventually, I had to admit defeat and peel it off. To be fair, the Galaxy S4 screen protector went on without a hitch, so maybe I just got unlucky with the iPhone 5 protector. Mind you, at $29.95 each, that’s an expensive kind of unlucky.
There’s another minor issue with the Impact Shield, and that’s the fact that it’s ever so slightly smaller than the screens on which it’s going. That opens up a fringe possibility where you could drop the phone screen-side down and have the impact point exactly where the Impact Shield isn’t. That would, it should go without saying, be a bad thing.
Tech21 Impactology Cases and Impact Shield: Pricing
Pricing varies on the Tech21 Impactology cases, which start at $29.99. A single Impact Shield screen protector for iPhone 5 or Galaxy S4 costs $29.99.
Tech21 Impactology Cases and Impact Shield: Alex’s Verdict
I do rather like the durability of the Tech21 cases, and my own clumsy efforts have made me a believer in their general durability.
Having tested plenty of “durable” iPhone cases in the past, I suspect those who work in genuinely hazardous environments might do better with the full tank-style cases, but that’s a niche market. For the wider consumer market they’re a good option, and I’ll be keeping the Snap and Mesh cases on for the time being.
The Impact Shield too, should work quite well at protecting your phone, but it is subject to the same issue that plagues most screen protectors. If you get it on right the first time it’s brilliant, but if you don’t, you can be seriously out of pocket.