Over in Slovenia, CalypsoCrystal is making a different kind of iPhone case, handcrafting one case at a time using meaningful materials. CalypsoCrystal's new CalypsoCase Cabrio is another high-end and very much premium protective case made for the iPhone 5 and iPhone 5s using elegant materials like beautiful genuine Italian leather merged with the rigid qualities of a machined aluminum chassis. It's certainly a very different kind of CalypsoCase compared to the hard leather and titanium sleeve-type we liked so very much back when we reviewed the very first CalypsoCase variant for the iPhone 4S. The CalypsoCase Cabrio edition encases your device with the same luxury and sophisticated style, but it's a proper case that protects and gives you instant access to your iPhone without having to pull it out of a separate protective accessory. The question is – will it be worth your $159/€139 investment? Let's go find out!
Stowed underneath the Cabrio case is where you'll find CalypsoCrystal's CrystalShield clear screen protector film along with instructions on how to apply it in a way so that you won't have any air bubbles trapped underneath during the application. It's nice to see that a protective shield is included with this case because without it the Cabrio doesn't offer very much front-sided protection. There's nothing special about the CrystalShield though, and it's a regular plastic screen protector cut to fit precisely. We recommend that you use a tempered glass screen protector if spending a bit more money on the ultimate scratch-free experience is something you value more than plastic films which are far more susceptible to scratches and don't offer the same smoothness as glass versions do.
CalypsoCrystal is know for its top-end quality leather gadget accessories, but unfortunately we think that high quality stooped recently with the introduction of the CalypsoCase Endless sleeve case edition. Even though it is CalypsoCrystal's least expensive offerings, we weren't impressed by the fit and finish of it. So much so that we never felt compelled to bother publishing our official review of it. To us, the CalypsoCase Endless (which is made with Alcantara fabric as well as a titanium frame stiffener) felt cheaper than it costs and wasn't up to par with the regular leather CalypsoCase sleeve.
The bittersweet news is that the Cabrio edition steps it back up a notch in the quality and premium department. Alas, it isn't as good as we had hoped it would. And we found that our during our real world usage testing of the case which ended up taking a full month.
We were sent the "Brooklyn Noon" colorway of the CalypsoCase Cabrio, which is available in a number of different leather and microfiber trim colors from classic black with red trim around the front - to a toned down dark green. CalypsoCrystal is calling this Brooklyn Noon colorway a brick red in color terms, and in person it indeed looks like a very dark shade of deep mysterious red with a hint of dark purple mixed in. In some lighting conditions, it actually looks more like a reddish brown hue. Needless to say, this brick red Cabrio leather flavor is elegant, mature and anyone will be able to rock it.
Looking behind the Cabrio we see that it boasts clean and classy muted rear leather. A a tramp stamp-free surface if you will, meaning that it has no embossed branding to ruin the clean styling of the Cabrio. To be honest, I never did mind CalypsoCrystal's logo embossed on the bottom corner of its CalypsoCase cases. So beat that Apple and Vaja. Interestingly however, the only visible CalypsoCrystal logo is found embossed on the inside lining. And because of that, it leaves a very clean exterior for the Cabrio to express its svelte design.
If you'll notice, around the front of this particular Cabrio case is a black trim of microfiber. The material is used to also cover the interior of the case and it ends up making its way up and around the edges of the case to create a bit of contrast between the aluminum, leather and the bezel of the iPhone 5s. This fabric trim gives the Cabrio additional warmth when you touch it and hold your device rather than having to hold onto cold, bare industrial metal as the majority. That said, the microfiber material covering the trim around the front of the case isn't particularly handsome or beautiful. I'd much rather it be made out of leather as well - kind of how Apple's official leather iPhone 5s Case is made. The drawback to this material is that it tends to pick up more dirt and small particles as a microfiber should by design. And that's a small detail that we think was overlooked.
The first thing that springs into mind is just how incredibly solid the Cabrio feels for the type of case that it is. Usually snap-on cases are made out of thin plastic or some form of flexible polymer beit thermoplastic or a hybrid of two kinds of materials. Where the Cabrio differs is that it is made out of machined metal. A lightweight aluminum to be more specific.
The entire core structure of the Cabrio is in fact one solid, unibody aluminum construction that when picked up for the first time really gives you that special sense of quality and amazing build quality compared to other cases of this type. Of course CalypsoCrystal isn't the only case manufacturer that designs cases with this similar form factor, Vaja and even Spigen are both notably brands that make quality leather back snap-on cases like the Cabrio. The only huge difference is that unlike the somewhat flexible nature of these hard polycarbonate shells which are wrapped with leather, the Cabrio case swaps out that arguably inferior plastic material with aluminum. That not only helps give the Cabrio its strength and solid construction, but also breathes beauty into the Cabrio's design and styling.
The amount of protection you're getting with the Cabrio is decent at best. That's because as far as a front-facing drop, your screen most likely won't survive. There's a minimal lip around the screen, but it's just not enough to give you confidence. Not to mention the wide cutout openings all around the edges of the case leaving parts of the bezel vulnerable.
The outer silver aluminum band is then sandblasted to give the surface a fine luster metallic finish to compliment the Apple design language. Because of it and how it contrasts against the leather, the Cabrio stands attracts a lot of attention. Not only that, but pulling this case out and touching it up close and personal really makes you appreciate its unique aesthetics and lavish fit and finish. While I will say that the Cabrio's sandblasted aluminum outer bumper-like edge features a smooth and clean aluminum finish that glistens when you take a closer look or when the light hits it at a certain angle, it is nowhere near as ethereally refined as the iPhone 5 and 5s. To be fair, that's being a bit too harsh. Then again let's not forget what you'd be paying for one of these - $160.
What CalypsoCrystal has done with the CalypsoCase Cabrio is quite brilliant. The core structure of the case is one solid and restively thin aluminum shell with genuine Italian leather meticulously wrapped around the entire rear side of the case. It's so seamless that it is made to look like it's a separate leather back panel when in fact the leather is simply glued onto the metal and wraps around the edges of the case where it meets the aluminum band created by this flush and careful integration of the leather which is fitted around machined grooves. We've never seen this done before, and the end result is a case that feels complete and without any moving parts or materials. It is a bit of a shame that the Cabrio features cutouts along its aluminum edge for the iPhone's control buttons rather than integrating individual buttons along the way which would have not only looked nicer, but also provided a more pleasing user experience. Not that pressing the side volume and top buttons is a pain in the ass like most other similarly designed cases.
One of the great things about the Cabrio is that it does have very large and accommodating button control and bottom port openings. It makes reaching these frequently used buttons a very easy and painless thing to do. As for the bottom area, the wide opening will let you use virtually any Lightning connector cable and 3.5mm audio plug at your disposal. Even docking the Cabrio on Twelve South's versatile HiRise docking stand proves the point.
As soon as you open up the box, the first thing you see is gorgeous leather. It smells great, and there's no question that it's the main attraction of this case. There's a good reason for that too. CalypsoCrystal started using high quality full grain leather ever since it started making accessories for the iPhone. The company is built around this natural stuff, and it has gotten better with time. The Cabrio's Italian leather is smooth and supple to the touch, smells amazing and is on par with some of the best leather cases we have reviewed from well known companies such as Vaja. That earthy leather grain not only has a beautiful pebbled texture, but it also gives you an ample amount of grip and softness necessary for the case to fit comfortably in your hand without having a slippery feel. As far as bulk is concerned, the CalypsoCase Cabrio is relatively slim and doesn't add any unwanted bulk to your iPhone.
The edges are nice and smooth because of how the leather reaches right up to the edges of the rear while the aluminum gives it that familiar feel of holding a naked iPhone 5/5s. But although the metal shell of the case it extremely durable to wear and tear, the things that cover it aren't. You’ll notice that the leather, particularly around the corners will darken with use. This is caused from friction when putting the case into the pocket as well as general contact with your palm over time. There’s nothing that you can do to avoid it, that is how leather naturally wears. It isn’t always the prettiest depending on the color of the leather, so you should pick dark colors if you don’t want that wear and tear on the grain to be bluntly obvious.
Technically speaking the Cabrio is what we call a back snap-on style case. But unlike plastic cases, it doesn't literally snap into position. Because of the microfiber lined interior, which we found to be excellent in fully covering the aluminum unibody of the Cabrio, the iPhone simply fits snugly into the case and can be removed effortlessly. The Cabrio provides a tight and precise fit that is extremely secure. Even if you were to drop your iPhone, the Cabrio will hold onto it through thick and thin. And even though there's plenty of material lining the interior, there's very little actual padding to help absorb and impact during a drop. Not that we can really know for sure.
I know what you must be thinking right about now, and you're right. A case made entirely out of a single piece of metal is going to have a significant impact on wireless reception. What was CalypsoCrystal thinking? There is not one opening or break in the construction of the Cabrio case to allow the WiFi, Bluetooth and 4G antennas to breathe through that solid aluminum casing. And what we found was that as soon as you put on the Cabrio, the signal strength drops a full bar (or dot on iOS 7). And you may say that it's actually not that big of a deal, which it isn't most of the time, however LTE reception does take a significant impact when the case is on.
Data speeds on both WiFi and on cell reception reduce slightly as well. If you live in an area where reception is spotty, this case is most definitely not for you. And even if you don't, recommending the Cabrio case for use as a daily driver just seems wrong. It negatively affects the iPhones 4G LTE signal reception and reduces the WiFi reception on top of it all. It isn't surprising when you're covering parts of the iPhone 5 and 5s which were never meant to be covered with any type of metal. It's a shame that CalypsoCrystal didn't make any openings in its aluminum construction and integrated hard plastic in parts that covered sensitive areas in order to avoid signal degradation.
As far as durability is concerned, it isn't looking very promising. And it's when we put things to use for a while that we find every little kink. We mentioned earlier that the leather is adhered to the aluminum shell using some type of an adhesive in order to make it look more seamless without having to use stitching or other from of bonding. And apparently sticking leather to metal using an adhesive isn't a very reliable solution. I found that within a month of normal daily usage, part of the leather along the side edge has simply lifted off and away from the otherwise seamless edge. I was able to stick the leather down and tightly back to its place and haven't had any more issues with it peeling away again. Though if you apply pressure on the leather, it would easily start to lift away from the edge. Not a good sign of long-term or even heavy usage durability. I doubt that even if you're as careful as I am with handling things and keeping good care of them, that the Cabrio's adhered leather wouldn't end up a botched glued mess of unfortunate craftsmanship.
At the end of the day, the Cabrio is a case that after paying $160 for it, you can come to respect from the very moment it is unboxed. Sadly however, respect will most likely turn into disappointment after spending a few nights using it. It's like finding out you've contracted some mild STD from a super model you've been dating for the last couple of days. You could still keep at it and suffer quietly, or move on. Not that I would know. That's sort of how I feel about using the Cabrio case. Yes it offers decent (minimal front) protection and it feels good in the hands, but it impacts reception and isn't very well put together in terms of durability.
On that note, should you purchase the CalypsoCase Cabrio? Even if you don't mind sacrificing some reception and data speed degradation, we think not. We obviously like the unique approach that CalypsoCrystal took with the Cabrio case, it's just that it feels rushed and poorly planned. With a questionable short-term durability, and a naive all-metal construction, the CalypsoCase Cabrio should be admired from within its charming gift box-like packaging. It's a real shame because we do like this case a lot. It features amazing genuine leather and a beautiful hybrid aluminum aesthetics and sturdy build quality. Only I that it falls short on too many levels to be considers a practical means of protection and everyday usability. Hopefully CalypsoCrystal will work on a much improved, and more attentive version of the Cabrio for the upcoming iPhone 6. For now, we suggest you take a look at the original CalypsoCase sleeve if you're after a high quality leather protective accessory for your iPhone 5 or 5s.