If you listen to the everythingiCafe podcast that I co-host or have caught a few of my blog posts here, you know that I think Apple’s decision to make the back of the iPhone 4 glass was a stupid one. I mean, really? An eminently-droppable portable device that costs at least $200 with a carrier subsidy made mostly out of glass? How was that a good decision, design aesthetics aside?
At any rate, I’ve been trying out metal replacement backs for my iPhone 4 almost as soon as they were available, starting with a very nice beveled one from cnn.cn that I still love. However, I found some new ones recently produced by Mas Design made out of durable and exotic titanium and simply had to try one out. Read the rest of my review after the break.
Price and materials
First, though, they’re expensive. They cost $68 plus shipping. Yep, expensive. They come with a few extras, including a neat leather pouch and a screwdriver for installation, though that’s still not enough to make up for that high price in my opinion. Comparatively, the metal one I purchased from cnn.cn cost in the neighborhood of $18 shipped. However, I understand that titanium is a relatively expensive raw material that is very hard to work with. According to Wikipedia, titanium (Ti 22 on the periodic table of elements) has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any metal.
I chose the black brushed titanium. Mas Design also offers a natural brushed finish and some patterned “armor” and “patch” styles (which are not at all attractive to me).
About 2 weeks after I got the Mas Design back, a tiny piece of the finish flaked off leaving a bare silver spot. I had noticed this spot as soon as I got the back since it looked like there was a small blemish there to begin with. I haven’t seen any other spots like this so hopefully this won’t happen again. I’ve been careful with it so I’m a little disappointed to see a flaw like this in such an expensive accessory even though it is a small one.
Design and usage
Installation was easy (see iFixit’s guide here for instructions) and the Mas Design back fits well though if I were to be a perfectionist, it’s not completely flush with the at the very top – I can see a tiny gap between it and the iPhone’s metal frame there that goes away when I press on it. But I have to hold the iPhone 6 inches away from my face to even see that and it’s unnoticeable in normal use.
The back has some logo-y stuff going on that I’m not completely down with. There’s the periodic table symbol for titanium in the bottom right corner, the Mas Design logo in the top right, the word “Thanasit” above the cut-out for the camera flash (I have no idea what this means and a Google search doesn’t really provide any good hints), and then more Mas Design lettering along the left edge. I could do without everything except the titanium designation in the lower right corner myself.
The back has a brushed finish that still feels very smooth to the hand. The camera lens and flash cut-outs are perfectly aligned. The glass covering the flash has the same jeweled diffuser pattern as the OEM glass iPhone back, something I’ve never seen in any of the other replacement backs I’ve purchased or viewed online. Kudos to Mas Design for matching this detail.
Also, the Mas Design back is heavier than the OEM glass back. According to the food scale in my kitchen, the OEM glass back weighs about .75 ounces (around 20 grams) while the Mas Design back weighs about 1.2 ounces. This may not sound like a big difference but the extra weight is definitely noticeable to me. It doesn’t make me use my iPhone less or any differently but if you have teeny tiny hand muscles that can’t handle the strain of a few extra ounces, beware.
In addition to being heavier, the Mas Design back is also tiny a bit thicker (less than a millimeter though I can’t say exactly without a caliper to get an exact measurement) than the OEM back, making fitted hard cases a no go. Also, my iPhone no longer fits into some dock accessories, like my iHome clock radio with an iPhone 4-specific dock adapter. This is a little disappointing since I sometimes like to throw on a fitted plastic case for some extra protection when I’m going to be out of the house a lot with my iPhone and it’s not possible with the Mas Design back on. Of course, I didn’t get a pretty $70 replacement back just to hide it under a case, but still. I think Mas Design should note this on their sales page (which is not yet up at the time of this review) to warn people about this in advance to avoid disappointment.
All in all, it’s a beautiful replacement back. Except when you start to use it – it’s a veritable fingerprint magnet. I’m guessing this is not as much of an issue with the other colors and styles Mas Design offers but it’s pretty bad on the black cover I have. Of course, this is really no different to what happens with the OEM black glass back with normal use as well. I think I’m just unused to this since I’ve been using other metal backs that don’t show fingerprints that easily at all.
A quick note about reception – I’ve never noticed any difference in reception with any of the metal backs I’ve tried, including this one from Mas Design. Remember, the iPhone 4’s antenna is connected to the metal band that surrounds the edges of the device (remember that whole Antennagate thing?) and the Mas Design back has a plastic frame (like the OEM glass back) so that the metal portion does not come into contact with the metal frame at all. Technically, no metal back designed like this should significantly affect signal levels. However, cases that surround the metal band definitely do – see this video about Element Case’s Vapor bumper-style metal case for the iPhone 4.
Overall, my list of pros and cons:
- Generally well-made
- Should be very sturdy in the long run given titanium’s properties
- Gives a unique look to your iPhone 4
- Has a flash diffuser unlike other cheaper metal backs out there
- Is not easily-breakable glass. /me shakes fist angrily in Apple’s general direction
- Expensive (yes, that was worth listing a second time with a price of $68)
- Fingerprint magnet (at least the black one that I have)
- Too much printing/company info on the back
- Thick enough to interfere with fitted hard cases and dock accessories
- Finish flaked off in one tiny spot after only a couple of weeks despite careful handling
If you have money to burn and are paranoid about having a phone that’s mostly glass or just want a different look for your iPhone 4, go for it. The Mas Design back is not a required accessory for the iPhone 4 but it is definitely a sharp-looking one. I’m not entirely convinced of the value of the Mas Design back considering the other options available from cnn.cn and eBay but I don’t plan on returning or selling mine if that’s any indicator for you.
At the time of this review, Mas Design has not yet opened their online store so you can order one of these but you may be able to use the “contact us” link on their site to order one via email, which is what I did. Shipping was very fast – I paid for it on Tuesday, July 5 and received it on Friday, July 8.