Our first Samsung Galaxy S4 case review covers the latest of Element Case offerings that are exclusive to Samsung's 5-inch Android forerunner. Today, were going to be taking a look at two totally kick-ass cases for the Galaxy S4, one fancier than the other. The aluminum hybrid Eclipse S4 case and the ergonomically shaped Atom S4 case, two exemplary means of protection featuring genuine carbon fiber, sound-boosting awesomeness and all the attention-grabbing styling you could ask for. If upscale cases is what you really want, the Eclipse S4 and Atom S4 are the exact opposite of what you'll find elsewhere. Catch our the full review after the break!
Element Case's affinity with carbon fiber, and countless other premium materials in general has people flocking over its exuberant case lineup. And not only because Element Case uses aluminum, if you haven't noticed, the market is deeply saturated in such cases. The way these cases are designed, finished and put together is what makes an Element Case case worth its cost.
Element Case's Eclipse S4 and Atom S4 are both prime examples of TPU cases done right. And that's not to say that you can find a few excellent alternatives out there like the ultra-badass looking UAG Composite case for the Galaxy S4 without having to settle for less. But if you want that extra bit of unique qualities, Element Case answers that cry for greatness - albeit at a higher than usual price of course. Spigen is another example of one of the top names which makes some of the best low-cost cases for the Galaxy S4 including many other devices. And it has been one of our most favorite case makers ever since we could remember its former SGP name.
Let's begin with the Eclipse S4, Element Case's supreme $80 case for the Galaxy S4. The price may seem high to you, but in reality the Eclipse S4 is the most affordably priced case Element Case makes that features CNC machined aluminum. The Eclipse S4 marries an anodized aluminum bezel with injection moulded TPU polymer body which creates a hybrid fusion of affordable protective awesomeness you won't find anywhere else. At least at this point and time. Believe it or not this is an exclusive case design for the Galaxy S4 as there isn't one made for the all-time favorable iPhone 5. Oh how the tables have turned. You can find the Eclipse S4 in a few different color combinations, but all are understated.
It nice to feel a bit of metal encasing the Galaxy S4 and all of its plastic construction. Really nice. It's a feeling that you notice and come to appreciate which is one of the many reasons that make the Eclipse S4 a wonderful case to use as a daily driver. The Eclipse S4's aluminum top bezel creates a flat yet subtly tapered around the edges which surrounds the periphery of the galaxy S4 to form a unique looking face that is beautiful to glance at. It perfectly hides the rest of the case when looked at directly giving you the visual sense of what it is like to use an all-aluminum case.
This particular version of the Eclipse S4 that we have gotten to review is what Element Case calls the black with silver bezel. But in most light conditions the silver aluminum bezel appears looking white in color. Whether that has to do with the matte Flux finish Element Case is known for which creates a satin type of a finish I'm not entirely sure. But if you're really concerned about the color, it does look more white than silver that's for sure. Speaking of the bezel, it does create a very minimal front lay-on-the-table edge for you to place your Galaxy S4 screen side down.
And if you're using a tempered glass screen protector it'll fit just fine with the Eclipse S4. The great thing about having a minimal lip around the screen means that most tempered glass screen protectors will even out that gap as they'll virtually sit flush with the bezel.
The Flux finish that coats the aluminum bezel is none other than brilliant and very much in tune with the rest of Element Case's aluminum-made cases we have reviewed over the years. Very refined, smooth and almost ethereal-like, matte in texture and amazing to look at to say the least.
Perhaps the most useful feature that the Eclipse brings with it is its SBS - Sound Boost System. Not so much a system as it is a simple passive channeling of the audio that comes out of the Galaxy S4's poorly placed back-facing speaker. Simple, but ingenious. It's highly effective at directing audio towards you whilst also improving the quality of sound by essentially amplifying it. The result is outstanding. You can definitely hear the difference in speaker loudness with the Eclipse S4 on which is nearly comparable to the front-facing speakers of the HTC One. Notifications, incoming calls, music and videos are greatly enhanced due to the front-facing SBS audio port.
It makes sense that Element Case catered a specific case design for the Galaxy S4 instead of making an iPhone going version. The Galaxy S4 and it's huge screen practically beg for a little support. And that's why Element Case thought about this - a kickstand. If you notice, around the back side of the Eclipse is where you'll find a seamlessly integrated flip-out kickstand that works exactly as you'd expect. It props up the Galaxy S4 at a comfortable landscape viewing orientation, great for giving your hands a break when wanting to watch a video or browse the Internet for a long time. Similar kickstand cases made for the iPhone 5 are out there, but the thought of using a kickstand for such a small device that can easily be held is ridiculous. Not the case with the Galaxy S4 though.
The stand, or kickstand I should say, is very stable and seems to hold its own even though it is made out of plastic. Happily, nothing about it feels cheap. It fits into the design better than I could ever hope for. I'm actually surprised Element Case hasn't let itself go crazy with the styling of the Eclipse S4 as it could have easily gone for a contrasty style by painting the kickstand a different color, or giving it some brushed metal type of a look which I actually wouldn't have minded to be honest. It is after all, a premium case right? The more metal, the better.
The back of the Eclipse S4 looks like hardcore. There's no other way of describing it. Carbon fiber, real carbon fiber, makes up for a small part of the back in a tasteful manner. In this case, less is more. The TPU body of the Eclipse S4 is textured slightly with a matte, grainy finish that's rugged. While I'm not entirely confident as to how effective this flexible piece of carbon fiber veneer is in providing protection, the rest of the TPU material does serve an important purpose of protecting the Galaxy S4 from accidental drops and of course scratches. The rest of the TPU body is flexible when not encasing the Galaxy S4, but when it does it fits like a glove and feels solid. It's also contoured all around so it fits nicely in the hand. The stealthy design is solid and as bold as it looks.
Speaking of metal, the Eclipse S4's aluminum bezel does in fact impede on the Galaxy S4's signal reception. Who would have thought such little amount would affect reception. But there is good news. Although the Eclipse S4 causes a drop is signal strength, the signal degradation is indeed negligible and nothing that would hinder your precious devices a useless chunk of AMOLED display.
With all of these features embedded into the Eclipse S4, Element Case has done a fantastic job in designing this case with a ergonomic grip. Right where you hand grips around the phone is where the Eclipse S4 narrows down to form a place where your thump and fingers can grip the case so that is doesn't feel overly bulky. There's no hiding the fact that the Eclipse S4 is a rather bulky case, but even so it is extremely comfortable to hold due to the way it was shaped.
Buttons around the case are covered by the Eclipse S4's TPU body and can easily be pressed. My only issue with how these buttons were designed is that they have very little tactile presence due to being completely flush with the case instead of protruding out slightly to keep a low and sleek profile. Instead of covering the buttons with an impression in the TPU material, I think Element Case should have gone though the trouble of putting similar moving buttons as it has on the Ion 5 case for the iPhone 5.
As for installation, the Eclipse is known as a two-piece case meaning it splits into two segments which are snapped together instead of using any type of screws which is ideal. For the first time in a long time I had to resort to reading the instructions on how to install and remove a case. My initial attempt at pulling the Eclipse apart had made me very nervous only because a very large and somewhat fragile piece of aluminum was concerned. Luckily Element Case includes a very helpful guide that answers how to install the Eclipse, as well as how to correctly separate apart the Eclipse once assembled. So suck in your pride before you break something.
Element Case has always done a great job at ensuring every part of aluminum is amply padded, it's true even here. The interior of the aluminum bezel is lined with a thin layer of foam as to not scratch the plastic of the Galaxy S4 when it is placed around it. The Galaxy S4 is installed into the Eclipse S4 front side first, and only then do you snap over the rest of the TPU body as it snaps into place like a battery cover. Pulling the case apart is done by first starting with the Eclipse S4's micro-USB opening where you'll need to pull away the TPU shell from the aluminum bezel as you work around. Thankfully, it's much easier than it sounds.
Finally, we move onto Element Case's Atom S4, the least expensive option at $55. But paying less still gives you a real carbon fiber back element, and a much larger one at that. But of course the Atom S4 is basically a TPU case in its entirety which is reminiscent of the Ion 5 case Element Case makes for the iPhone 5. Although the Ion 5 is less ostentatious than the Atom S4. Which brings me to its design. The Atom S4's large carbon fiber back inlay is adhered onto the back surface and just comes off as looking like some cheap decal slapped onto the back which isn't, arguably, very pretty.
I'm not a fan of the Atom S4 I'm afraid. It's not that it's a bad case, it's that unappealing carbon fiber back which I think looks distasteful. Or to put it simply, it's childish unlike the Eclipse S4. That glossy TPU accent and mediocre styling doesn't add up. It makes a $55 case seem overpriced, and I'd agree. Here in our photos, the Atom S4 might look all glamorous but up in person it's a different first impression.
And again, build quality concerning the carbon fiber inlay is questionable. More so on the Atom S4. It is in fact glued on, and I wasn't a fan of this when I reviewed the Ion 5 nor am I now. You'll notice it once you look at it closely, and it just seems a little cheap considering the price of the case. Now because there's a much smaller carbon fiber inlay on the Eclipse S4, it isn't as a big of a nuisance or a concern as it is on the Atom S4. It only Element Case would have hardened the carbon fiber instead of simply adhering on a thin veneer of the stuff and melded it into the case itself - the result could have been much more favorable.
Unlike the Ion 5, the Atom S4 also features the same outstanding SBS front-facing audio port that the Eclipse S4 boasts which greatly enhances the audio output of the Galaxy S4's back-facing speaker. The Atom S4 is also much easier and quicker to get on. Just slip your Galaxy S4 into it and you're good to go. It comes in a few color options, but they're all very similar to one another. You'll find the Atom S4 in black and gray with lime green accents, or just a plain all-black variant.
Looking at the interior of the S4 you can see the audio channeling going on as well as some of the lime green plastics protruding inwards. Other than that, this is a very basic TPU case. And if it wasn't for the carbon fiber veneer or the SBS feature which still makes this a compelling protective case, the Atom S4 I think wouldn't have cost as much as $25 as it isn't that special - unlike the Eclipse S4.
There are cutouts for all mics, the IR blaster and a very tight opening for the Galaxy S4's headphone port. The same goes for the Eclipse S4. So you're only really going to be able to plug in very slim headphone jacks with these cases on.
The flexible TPU construction allows the Atom S4 to bend easier so it can absorb impacts, but in addition to that it also has these hard polycarbonate plastic bumper corners which supposedly help to reinforced its corner protection which is a great little detail to have when in the event you drop your phone. In retrospect, the Eclipse S4 doesn't have these reinforced corners - instead it has the aluminum bezel which sort of acts in a similar way to reinforce the rest of the TPU shell with stronger frame support. Both cases are equally thick, but like I said earlier they're still comfortable to use and hold.
Like the Eclipse S4, the Atom S4 also offers a very comfortable grip where it is shaped to fit your hand grip nicely. The integrated buttons are a little different here in that they are separate from the TPU body and are actually hard polycarbonate buttons. The trouble with these and it's very unfortunate, no tactile feedback when pressed. They're well designed and I love how they stick out the sides, alas they're underwhelming in terms of responsiveness.
Where the Eclipse S4 looks great from the front and from the back, the Atom S4 on the other hand looks really cool from the side edges with its accented bumper-like elements and contrasting shiny plastics that pop against the matte textured TPU body.
It should be noted that both cases come with a wrist lanyard, and you can see the each case has a spot on the lower left edge where you can attach your lanyard. When attached, the lanyard can detach using a clip when you don't feel like using it. All that will be left is a small piece that you won't have to remove from the case which is convenient.
So in the end, the verdict of it all is that you shouldn't drop $55 on the Atom S4. It doesn't do much to thrill you for that price nor it is very pleasant to use due to the lack of button feedback. But if you have an affinity towards the Atom S4's styling, then the fit and feel of it as a case along with its protective design and sound enhancing audio port does give you something to really like about it. We would still recommend you look at some really solid cases that are worthy of a mention, which are the Spigen Slim Armor and Neo Hybrid. Two cases which can be had for a fraction of the Atom S4's cost that we think are still much more satisfying.
And if you want to get excited each time you whip out your Galaxy S4, the Eclipse S4 is one of the most thrilling cases you could purchase. And at $80, it is an impressive hybrid aluminum case with bold good looks, sound-boosting prowess and a useful seamlessly integrated kickstand you'll find yourself putting to good use. With a top notch quality design that is ergonomic and makes you want to grip your device with excitement, Element Case's Eclipse S4 is the sort of high-end stealthy case you'd want to get even though it isn't entirely perfect.