Element Cases are amazing. They're also intricate, beautiful, expensive and the kind of thing that will irritate the hell out of your significant other if they're already think you're way too into your devices and "toys."
The company also makes cases for all sorts of mobile electronics, including the Sony Xperia Z1, the Samsung Galaxy S3 & S4, iPads and older iPhones, but the jewels of their product line are all aimed at owners of the iPhone 5 and 5s.
An Element Case is complicated to put on your phone and complicated to take off. It's not a fashion accessory. It's a lifestyle choice. There are a lot of little parts to lose and some cases come with their own screwdrivers for the tiny screws.
Of course, a phone case that really demands that its owners have a workbench, a magnifier and a headlamp is really going to appeal to a lot of you. It's the same gene that appeals to folks who live to clean their guns or rewire their stereos or do their own car tuneups.
If you're still with me, there's a lot to love about these cases. There are a lot of options on their website, but the folks at Element Case sent me three of their marquee cases to try out with my iPhone 5s. Here's a (heavily illustrated) breakdown of what you get with the Rogue Black Ops ($99.95), the Ronin Go Stealth ($189.95) and the Sector 5 Black Ops Elite ($219.95) cases.
Yes, those are the real prices. You can get a case that will protect your phone really well for around $40 but there's nothing else out there that will impress your friends the way these cases will. If you're looking to justify it, tell yourself that it's not that big an investment for something that you use all the time every single day.
All right, here we go.
The case come with a nylon Tactical carry pouch, a combination belt clip/viewing stand and extra hold clip and an extra mute switch. Pro tip: the fact that the case ships with replacement parts means that kids shouldn't even be allowed to touch your phone once you've decided to use this case. This is a toy (sorry, tool) for grownups only.
The case features CNC machined aluminum side rails that slide onto the plastic case and are held in place by four pins that slide into the four corners of the case. The fit is sold and the buttons work beautifully, as well as you'd demand after you decided to drop $100 on a phone case.
The Hogue-branded strip on the back of the phone is made from aerospace-grade carbon fiber.
And here's the view from the front with no phone.
And here's a case with a phone inside. There's plenty of room to use the fingerprint technology to unlock an iPhone 5s. You get the case and the belt clip, so go ahead and tell yourself that it's actually a really good deal.
The Ronin Go Stealth is the one of the top-of-the-line models and the all-black version we tested is available only from the Element Case website. The case's CNC machined black mil-spec G10 side rails are manufactured from aircraft-grade aluminum, made and machined here in the USA. The top and bottom crowns are CNC machined from T6061 aerospace grade aluminum and finished in our proprietary, non-glare, black Flux finish. There's a black Ultrasuede backplate.
There's a lot in the box. Note the polarized screen cover in the back row. It's next to a clear plastic sheet that you can use to store Ultrasuede backplate if you ever decide to remove it: even though the backplate is removable, it uses a sticky backing to attach to your phone. The plastic is supposed to preserve the sticky backing when you're not using it.
Also note the black strips on the left. Since the iPhone 5 was notorious for the finish that chipped right off, Element Case came up with some stick-on bumpers designed to protected your phone's edge from rubbing up against all that aluminum.
There's a custom screwdriver to use with the case's tiny screws. you take off the top two screws, remove the top and slide your phone into the case. Note the extra screws. You definitely want to put this together on a workbench with a lot of light.
Here's the case and the backplate before the hole for the camera lens got removed.
The Ronin comes with a really nice zip-up case that will attach to a belt.
The backplate sticks on after you insert the phone in the aluminum frame and it feels really secure on the phone.
The case feels amazing in your hand and none of these photos really conveys how precise all the machine work is on the aluminum. I'd even consider using it without the backplate just because the finish feels so nice in your hand. Is it going to provide maximum protection for your phone? Nope. Is it incredibly well-made and really beautiful and sure to be the topic of conversation every time you pull out your phone? Definitely.
The Sector 5 Black Ops Elite is both incredibly flashy and highly practical (if you need an industrial grade belt clip). This thing really feels like a million bucks and it costs barely more than $200. It features a machined G10 back plate and matching knurled G10 side grips made by Hogue.
What's G10? Element Case says that it's a high-pressure thermoset plastic laminate consisting of multiple layers of woven fiberglass mesh cloth impregnated with an epoxy resin binder and that Hogue handles the manufacturing on its G10 parts.
You get a lot in the box: there are several sets of instructions because there's a lot of different ways to set up the case. You get a choice between silver and black stickers to protect your side rails. You get the same nylon case that comes with the Rogue and a clear plastic sheet to store the sticky backplate if you ever decide to remove it. There's an extra side rail that you have to stick between your phone and the outer rails. You get the polarized screen cover and two different screwdrivers, one for the outer rails and another one to change the position of the clip on the backplate.
You get a Black Ops Elite logon on the side rail and there's also a nice color contrast with the amber hingles on the corners of the case.
Here's the backplate before the sticky backing got exposed.
To insert a phone into the case, you just remove one screw. The other three corners are hinged. Wrap the case around the phone and reattach the screw.
The backplate attaches after you've inserted the phone into the case and feels secure enough that you're not going to worry about it falling off.
You get easy access to all your buttons and it feels almost as good in your hand as the Ronin does.
OK, the truth is there are a lot of more practical ways to protect your phone. You can probably find something cheap and plastic at Ross or Big Lots for $15 or less that will do a pretty good job of protecting your phone. Of course, most of those cases look awful after a week or two and you're likely to replace one of those three or four times over the life of your phone contract.
Element Cases are the opposite of cheap. They're beautifully made and a definite luxury item. They're also conversation starters and the kind of accessory that sends a message to business clients if you're in a line of work where that's important. There are a lot of other options available on their website and you can even design your own case. If you can talk yourself into spending the cash on one of these, you won't be sorry.