Premium cases made out of the sought after 13th element can end up costing you a small fortune, and for that exact reason these type of accessories must provoke excellence. We weren't entirely thrilled with how 4th Design's Blade 5 bumper case for the iPhone 5 turned out compared to its predecessor. Fortunately, 4th Design is back with another offering and this time it's playing it simple. Or should we say safe? Because the new T-type 3 is the same T-type bumper case we've reviewed for the iPhone 4S apart from a few design enhancements and careful polishing. Unlike the Blade 5, the T-type 3 bumper brings back the likable creature comforts in a minimalist design. Our full review awaits!
If you're not willing to spend $140 and up on one of Element Case's Sector 5 offerings, or maybe a showy case isn't what you're looking for, the T-type 3 fills in the gap very well for $79 of your disposable income. Let's talk about the one thing that a case such as this grabs your attention, the design. It's no secrete the iPhone 4 and iPhone 5 both ignited a newfound era of metal-made accessories in order to offer a similar industrial feel and quality to match that of the iPhone. Much like the iPhone 5 itself, 4th Design's T-type 3 is designed with simplicity in mind. It's one of the more minimalist metal bumper cases we've reviewed on here. And a pretty good looking one too.
Simple clean lines and rounded off corners greet your fingers and soothe your vision. It almost appears as if the iPhone 5's front glass melds together with the edges of the T-type 3 bumper like a cascading waterfall of glass and metal awesomeness. I can't stress enough how thin and slim the T-type 3 is compared to other aluminum bumpers and cases in its class. If there was ever doubt in your mind that this will alter the shape or form factor of your iPhone 5, you best think again. The integrated, machined metal buttons are a 4th Design staple we really appreciate. Thankfully they're not as ridiculously obtrusive as the ones found on the Blade 5, and instead remain true to the original Blade and T-type bumpers offering true tactile feedback when pressed. There's a wide cutout for the silent switch that's easily reachable.
The bottom cutouts for the iPhone 5's ports are done in a way that only the Lightning cable and slim 3.5mm headphone plugs would fit. Adapters like the 30-pin to Lightning connector will not fit. That's because in order to create such a slim bumper, 4th Design had to maintain a level of structural integrity and that meant creating individual cutouts for the Lightning, speaker and headphone/mic. Speaking of cutouts, I'm disappointed that once more 4th Design decided to cut an ugly SIM slot cutout on the right side; which only detracts from the T-type 3's simple good looks and otherwise clean design.
The finish is probably the single best thing about this bumper. It perfectly matches the smooth, refined and subtle sparkle of Apple's own aluminum finish it uses on all of its gadgets and peripherals. The T-type 3's aluminum is sand-blasted to create that lovely matte refined surface finish that's more grainy in texture than the shiny anodized finish of the Blade and Blade 5 (left). It looks great up close and personal, and it makes the T-type 3 a more enjoyable bumper to use compared to the Blade 5. The T-type 3 is available in multiple colors including silver, titanium gray, black, red, blue, purple and gold. What we have here is the black and titanium gray flavors. 4th Design plans to release even more color options thru special editions in the near future.
As for using the T-type 3 as an every day bumper case, well, it's actually quite comfortable to hold in the hand being that it has no bulging points or rough corners. The T-type 3 definitely makes for a solid and usable every day bumper case unless of course, you live or spend the majority of your time in areas with weak or bad reception. As with the Blade 5 and a host of other all-aluminum and non-hybrid cases for the iPhone, signal degradation is pretty much unavoidable. But with that said, the T-type 3 only reduces the reception by roughly one bar at most. So that certainly doesn't live up to 4th Design's own testing and claims for absolutely no hit on reception, but at the same time it's a marginal change. Like we always say, you're mileage may vary.
I also wouldn't go as far as saying there's no lip around the bezel of the iPhone, but the T-type 3 bumper barely even tries to interfere with the incredible thin profile of the iPhone 5 by providing a decent lay-on-the-table rim around the glass. It doesn't intentionally, and that's a bad thing if you're worried about your screen getting shattered or even scratches when you drop or lay your phone screen side down. On the plus side however, you feel less imposed by the bumper case itself as you have more unobstructed space for your fingers to swipe around not having to be confined inside a deeply recessed surface.
Around the back you can see the thinness of the T-type 3's aluminum circumference that maintains the incredible low-profile, true minimalist design. A black plastic polymer frame is used to secure the iPhone 5 inside the bumper, creating a very thin bezel that sits flush against the back and with the rest of the aluminum construction. That black polymer frame is so narrow in size (narrower than the one on the Blade 5), that it merely looks like a contrasting trim accent which looks great against the back of the iPhone 5, no matter which color combination of iPhone/T-type 3 you've got. The T-type 3 creates more of a lip around the back than it does on the front to help keep the back side of the iPhone 5 protected and away from coming in contact with the surface as a bumper should.
The integrated metal buttons come with no form of padding or lining to prevent potential scuffing from the friction caused by the metal-on-metal contact. This also causes a bit of button rattling, though a simple fix can be achieved using small pieces of tape.
What's interesting about the T-type 3's installation process is that instead of relying on a few interior foam pads to secure the iPhone inside, it uses the same black plastic polymer frame insert that is used on the Blade 5, to secure the iPhone 5 into the case securely and without any screws. It's a similar concept E13ctron used with its S5 bumper yet failed to implement correctly; including the note worthy AL13 bumper. The iPhone rests by its chamfered bezel inside and against the inner front of the bumper, while the rest of the iPhone only comes in contact with the black plastic polymer frame. There's no padding or silicone lining on the inside unfortunately. So if you're a squeamish about a little bit of metal-on-metal contact, you might want to look elsewhere. However, you'll be hard pressed to find a better alternative at this price and slim form factor.
Releasing the iPhone 5 free from the T-type 3 takes a little force, but it pops out when you want it out. The best method we found is to push the top and bottom ends of the iPhone 5 out, and the black plastic polymer frame should start to detach from the bumper itself. You could use your fingernails to pry open the back frame using one of the few pre-defined spots for detaching the case apart, but it's much easier to simply push instead of trying to pry the case apart.
Putting the T-type 3 up against the Blade 5 in terms of providing a comfort grip, the T-type 3 feels a lot like the bare iPhone 5 due to its streamlined design. Of course these type of metal cases aren't going to replace the outstanding grip you could get from using a non-metal case nor will they be as comfortable to hold. But with that said, 4th Design did a good job with the industrial design of the T-type 3. Sandwiched between the almighty Sector 5, the tasteless Blade 5 and the mediocre E13ctron S5 - you can see barely spot the T-type 3 and with its simple and low-key form factor.
We think 4th Design's T-type 3 is an iPhone 5-worthy aluminum bumper case that's not only better than its predecessor, but one that rivals others with its simplistic and refined styling. The T-type 3's simple, clean industrial profile and rounded off corners truly fit the design sense of the iPhone 5 and Apple products in general. Anyone looking for a polished and slim aluminum bumper that's done right in nearly every way, would be thrilled with the T-type 3. That said, $79 is a little pricy considering the metal buttons wiggle a bit unless you do something about it yourself. We think 4th Design should at least include sticker pads to help remedy this small nuisance.