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Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S review: Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S

Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S

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Kent German
Kent_German.jpg

Kent German

Senior Managing Editor / Features

Kent is a senior managing editor at CNET News. A veteran of CNET since 2003, he reviewed the first iPhone and has worked in both the London and San Francisco offices. When not working, he's planning his next vacation, walking his dog, or watching planes land at the airport (yes, really).

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4 min read

Though new cell phones get the most attention at mobile trade shows like CTIA, much of the show floor is devoted to accessories like smartphone cases. Even when I have just a few minutes, I always take some time to check out the various wares because I never know when I'm going to find a iPhone case that can open a beer bottle or a company like Tech21.

Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S (black)
8.0

Tech21 Impact Band for iPhone 4/4S

The Good

The <b>Tech21 Impact Band</b> adds a strong layer of protection to your iPhone without adding too much bulk. It feels great in your hand and it looks good, too.

The Bad

It was difficult to press the iPhone's volume controls through the Impact Band. The hole for the wired headset could be bigger.

The Bottom Line

It's not cheap, but the Tech21 Impact Band provides solid protection for your iPhone while showing a welcome bit of innovation.

What the heck is D30?
Its cases focus on durability, but Tech21 doesn't rely solely on rubber or hard plastic to protect your phone from bumps and bruises. It also uses a non-Newtonian substance called D30. In its "natural" form, D30 is sort of an orange goo that might get dumped on a contestant's head during a Japanese game show. And if you think that's weird, just consider how D30 behaves in your hands. If you handle it gently, it almost feels like soft putty. Press your finger in slowly and you'll leave an impression that will stay for several minutes. You can pull it like taffy, as well, and it will break off into tiny bits that will get all over your clothes.

D30 pulls apart like taffy, but it will absorb any sharp impact. Kent German/CNET

Yet, if you strike it firmly or throw a ball of it against the ground, it suddenly becomes hard as a rock. I tried it a few times and marveled about how a sharp hammer blow barely made a dent. In reality, that's the whole point of D30. It can mold to soft touch, but it also absorbs shocks and deflects the impact away from your precious cargo. Tech21 only uses a small amount of D30 in its cases, but it's enough to make a difference.

The Impact Band
Tech21's cases come in all sizes, from a simple bumper called the Impact Band to a fully watertight case called The Submariner. Though it's not the flashiest member of Tech 21's family, the Impact Band is the cheapest ($39.99) and most accessible and it fits in the company's bigger products like the Submariner.

iPhone fans will recognize that the Impact Band looks a lot like the free bumpers that Apple gave away shortly after the iPhone 4 debuted. But while the Apple bumpers were more about solving the iPhone 4's unfortunate attenuation problem, the Impact Band is clearly about keeping your handset safe. Like the bumper, it only wraps around the iPhone's edges, but it's thicker and is made of a firmer material. It comes in three colors (black, clear or pink) and it won't distract from the iPhone's clean lines. On the inside of the Impact Band you'll see an orange stripe running round the perimeter. That's the D30 material resting right against the iPhone's metal side.

The orange stripe shows the D30 material inside the Impact Band. Josh Miller/CNET

The Impact Band slipped on my iPhone 4 easily. Though it's made of a tough material, you can stretch it slightly. When it's on, the Impact Band adds a decent amount of girth to my handset, but the payback is a comfortably solid feel in my hand. I also liked that the rubbery material never felt that it would slip from my fingers. What's more, the Impact Band didn't result in a tighter fit in my pocket.

Though the iPhone's display and rear panels aren't protected, the Impact Band wraps around either side to offer some protection. There are gaps in the band for the docking port, the speaker and microphone, the headset jack, and the ringer switch. You can access the ringer switch easily, but the hole around the headset jack could be larger. It's not an issue if you're using Apple's standard wired headset, but you may have trouble fitting a nonregulation headset. Also, I had to press quite firmly to activate the volume bottoms with the band on.

When using the Impact Band you have to press the volume buttons quite firmly. Josh Miller

I used the Impact Band for several days with my iPhone 4. I'm a natural klutz, so it's pretty much guaranteed that I'll drop my phone at least once a day. Fortunately, the Impact Band held up to the torture. When dropped on a carpet, a sidewalk, and or a hardwood floor (only the first one was an accident) the iPhone emerged unscathed. I also fumbled with it on a table and didn't have a problem. Since the rear of the phone isn't covered, the Impact Band won't offer protection if you drop your phone on an uneven surface like a rocky stream bed. That's one test I didn't attempt.

Conclusion
Out of all the cases I saw at CTIA 2012, Tech21's products were the only ones to make it on our Best of CTIA list. Indeed, the Impact Band delivers on Tech21's promises for a sturdy case that will protect your iPhone without being too big or ugly. At $39.99 it is expensive, and I'd tweak the design a bit, but for most tumbles and falls, the Impact Band and D30 do their jobs.

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