After years of sitting on the sidelines of the iPhone case market, Apple has now decided to jump into the game with something that’s not quite a case, but rather a protective band, called the Apple iPhone 4 Bumper ($29). How does Cupertino’s first foray into the world of iPhone protection go? Is it worth the $29? Read on to find out.
The Apple Bumper offers only a thin band of protection over the stainless-steel rim of the iPhone, leaving the rest of the phone, which is glass on both the front and back, uncovered. Apple seems to be betting that their “ultradurable glass” doesn’t need much further protection. Various online videos say otherwise, proving that just the right type of fall from a normal height can shatter the iPhone 4’s special glass. The Bumper’s rim does stick out a bit above the iPhone’s glass and will take some of the impact if the iPhone is dropped, but it’s minimal and nowhere near what a full silicone case can offer. If you want complete peace of mind that your iPhone 4 won’t shatter when dropped, this probably isn’t the case for you.
The Apple Bumper is composed of a hard plastic spine lined on either side by soft silicone strips that stretch and grip the iPhone when placed on. There are cutouts for access to the mute switch, headphone port, docking port, and speakers. The Bumper comes with its own set of metal buttons that cover up the iPhone’s volume and sleep buttons. They even have the matching plus/minus symbols. The faux buttons work as expected without degradation in ease of use of the real buttons.
The Bumper will soon be available in several different colors, including white, orange, and blue, but currently can only be purchased in black. So, if you desperately want one, you’re stuck with the Model T version — available in any color as long as it’s black.
The fit of the Bumper is tight while also not being too difficult to put on or remove. The case has a slight stretchiness to it, which you’ll need to utilize to place it around the iPhone. Once it’s on, the Bumper fits tight with little worry of it falling off.
As mentioned, the hard plastic spine of the Bumper is lined on either side by softer silicone strips. The silicone is there not only for shock absorption and for slipping around the edges of the iPhone, but also to increase the grip of the Bumper. It’s not exactly on par with the grip of a full silicone case, but it’s an improvement over a naked iPhone.
Aesthetically, we find the Bumper appealing if somewhat bland (especially in black). It slim, minimal profile matches the iPhone 4’s, and its glossy surface echoes the iPhone’s gloss. You’ll soon even forget it’s there, and others probably won’t even notice it. The downside is that it covers up the iPhone 4’s shiny stainless steel rim, one of the most distinguishing features of the phone.
The Bumper also has an added benefit that, while it’s not clear if Apple created the Bumper for this distinct purpose, is nevertheless the biggest selling point for the accessory. Early iPhone users have noticed signal degradation when holding certain sections of the iPhone’s stainless steel rim. The Bumper helps avoid these signal loss problems by putting a layer of plastic between your fingers and the antenna. Thus, the Bumper becomes a simple and convenient solution offered by Apple. But so could any other case the covers up the band.
The Bumper does have issues, the biggest being the lack of protection. At a fundamental level, the reason you pick up a case for your phone is to protect it from bumps, bruises, and the dreaded and expensive shattered glass screen. The Bumper’s thin rim offers only the lightest shock-absorption protection. The iPhone’s edges are well looked after, and the Bumper’s small silicone lip that peaks up above the glass will help a little, assuming it falls on a perfectly flat surface. But drop this on the corner of a table, on a rock, on gravel, anything that isn’t smooth, and you’re looking at a potentially cracked iPhone.
Another issue we have with the Bumper is that the silent switch is very difficult to reach. And the narrow headphone port is a disaster—we even had trouble getting the official Apple headphones in and out, and a pair of Sennheiser CX300s wouldn’t fit at all.
At $29, the Bumper is rather expensive for what little of it there is. For example, compare the Bumper to the fortress that is the Otterbox Defender for the iPhone 3G, currently $19 on Amazon. Usually, when an iPhone case debuts, it starts off pricey, then plummets after a couple of months. Call it a hunch, but we bet you Apple won’t lower their price on this, so you’ll be stuck forking out $29 for it, even when there are better, cheaper options available.
The Apple iPhone 4 Bumper ($29.00) looks and feels good, and it’s a remedy for the external antenna issue, but as a protective measure for your iPhone, it’s nowhere near the best solution. The price tag is too high for this small strip of plastic and silicone, and the somewhat ridiculous price could easily be used as evidence for those who believe in an Apple Tax. While Apple reserves some of the world’s best industrial design for its main products, it continues to disappoint with their accessories. We rate the Bumper a 6.2 out of 10, average.
Be sure to check out all our iPhone 4 case reviews.