Element Case Ion 5 Case for iPhone 5 Review

Continuing Element Case's Composite line and the renowned Ion legacy, the Ion 5 is the company's much improved third iPhone case iteration made for the iPhone 5. The $50 Ion 5 is Element Case's most affordable iPhone 5 case yet. All while retaining a high level of extreme design and functionality you'd come to expect from EC. With a real aerospace-grade matte carbon back integration, the Ion 5 is every carbon fiber-fanatic's dream iPhone 5 case.

TPU-style cases are a dime a dozen no matter what type of device you have. And why wouldn't they be when they're the most popular type of case around? We've seen our fair share of TPU cases to last us a lifetime, and then some. But what we haven't seen much of is really outstanding TPU cases that are in a league of their own. You know a TPU case is destined for greatness when Element Case is involved in the making. The Ion 5 is in a class of its own.

Let's not start comparing Element Case's $50 case to one of its premium CNC machined aluminum cases that can top $140. The difference is marginal if you're looking at design aesthetics, and will mostly be a matter of personal preference and taste. But if we were to pick which of the two types of cases felt better or more convenient to use as an every-day case? The Ion 5 would be our pick without a shadow of a doubt.

As of this review, the Ion 5 case only comes in one color. And if black isn't your preferred color of choice, then you'd be happy to know that Element Case will release the Ion 5 in contrasty red, white and gray colors - all with a black carbon fiber back. Unfortunately you'll have to wait until these come out, and we're not sure when exactly.

One of the most refined and comfortable to hold drop-protective TPU iPhone 5 case

Element Case's Ion 5 shares a similar shape with the Vapor Comp bumper case. It's apparent when looking at the Ion 5 ahead on. The Ion 5 isn't as overly engineered as the Sector 5, and instead it features a sleek and dare I say simplistic design with sweeping corners and edges that are contoured to fit your palm grip just right. Element Case wasn't kidding about ergonomics. The Ion 5 fits so well in the hand that you'll never want to set it back down again. It feels very pleasant to hold. No pun intended.

I've also known Element Case to make outstanding aluminum cases, but I've never held one of its Composite cases before the Ion 5. And when I picked it up for the first time, it blew away my expectations. It's a lot more slender in the hand than it looks, both in person and online. The Ion 5 is nearly as thick as the highly protective Urban Armor Gear composite case, yet it manages so slip its way into looking and feeling a lot slimmer because of its ergonomically shaped body. 

The amazing part is that the Ion 5 is by far ElementCase's most comfortable to use iPhone 5 case. It's also one of the more effective solid designs for protecting the iPhone 5 against accidental drops and impacts. It's got reinforced corner protection, a great shock-absorbing material and a lay-on-the-table lip that protects the front side of the iPhone 5 in the even of a drop.

The Ion 5 utilizes a high impact-resistant TPU material that in reality feels a lot like a standard TPU case of high quality. That said, the Ion 5 isn't just any ordinary TPU case, but rather a precision TPU case because of its refined lines and attention to detail. The finish is what Element Case calls a matte rubber stoned finish. It's got an amazing granular texture that provides great tactile grip when held, but won't attract dust and lint - nor will it snag when put into a pocket. The material definitely feels exactly like SwitchEasy's rubberized TPU material it uses on its Bonds and Tones cases.

Despite the Ion 5's stiff appearance, I was pleasantly surprised to find the material to be remarkably flexible. You can easily pop your iPhone 5 inside like you would with any one-piece TPU case. The material is still firm enough to hold its own shape snuggly around the iPhone 5 though.

A small detail goes a long way to make a big difference in user experience

Speaking of attention to detail, Element Case thought it would be best to upgrade the Ion's volume cutouts with integrated volume and sleep/wake buttons for convenient and easy operation. But unlike regular TPU cases that simply cover up the iPhone 5's buttons with a molded piece of TPU, the Ion 5's buttons are actually individually designed to freely move about as modules, much like the integrated sleep/wake button in the Sector 5 case and the original Apple Bumper. Although they look and feel like metal buttons, they are in fact made of plastic - and quality plastic at that.

They're a pleasure to press and provide the same naked-button feeling you'd get when not using a case. While the Ion 5's integrated buttons have true movement to them, they don't rattle or make any noise inside the case and are actually self-sustained by design. No other TPU-style case we know of features such an attentive button design except for Apple's original Bumper case that is. What this really means is that the Ion 5's buttons aren't held back based on the rigidity of the TPU material which in most cases causes poor tactile feedback and ease of use in a lot of cases. 

Gone is the glossy and plastic-coated looking carbon fiber that for long has been the centerpiece of Element Case's Ion and Formula cases. The Ion 5 is all about the natural sheen of carbon fiber and the unique looking pattern it brings forth. You can clearly see that looking at it from the back where a sharp looking large matte layer of carbon fiber occupies the majority of the surface. Although carbon fiber is durable, the clear matte coating that protects the finish isn't. To help eliminate scuffing, the carbon fiber plate is slightly recessed in relation to the rest of the TPU body. So every time you set your iPhone 5 on a table or rub it around unintentionally, know that the carbon fiber will remain unscathed. A little attention to detail goes a long way. We really look forward to the release of a duo-toned Ion 5 case that'll really make the carbon fiber centerpiece pop out.

That said, keys and anything else in your pocket that might rub against the Ion 5's carbon fiber will cause scratches. It's worth noting that in the time that I've had using the Ion 5 as my daily driver, it proved itself to be quite resilient to cosmetic damage.

From a cutout prospective, you can see that the Ion 5's cutouts are precise and offer no room for large adapters and plugs. You won't be able to use Apple's 30-pin to Lightning adapter or large 3.5mm audio plugs.

At its core, the Ion 5 is a basic TPU case. Again, a very basic interior you would find in any TPU case. There's no sign of the carbon fiber integration or fancy protective honeycomb texturing.

The carbon fiber adds no rigidity or protective properties other than lending to the Ion 5 aesthetics. It's merely a really thin back plate sticker Element Case includes with its aluminum bumper cases only that it's applied with a permanent adhesive. And we question its durability of keeping the skin in place over a long period of daily use and abuse.

My only complaint is regarding the Ion 5's questionable build quality, which isn't what I had anticipated. The carbon fiber plate isn't co-molded into the case, but instead uses glue to keep it stuck onto the TPU material. And that can cause potential issues down the road. You can see that the glue's elasticity starts to peel apart if you bend the corner of the case. Not that you'll notice it otherwise or with normal use. But we felt that this was important enough that we should point it out.

A brief touch on screen protector compatibility. Let's just say that ordinary screen protectors will fit just fine. However, using any type of glass screen protector will yield a very tight squeeze and unless you've got it centered perfectly, the Ion 5 will cause it to lift. If you don't already have a glass screen protector on your iPhone 5 but plan on installing one, then applying a glass screen protector with the Ion 5 already on the iPhone would undoubtedly be the best way to ensure that you'll get a perfectly aligned application.

The Ion 5 will most likely appeal more to gearheads, motorsport enthusiasts and obviously to those who like the complexity and pedigree real carbon fiber has to offer. Element Case has been known to market the Ion and Formula composite cases in such a way as well. Because one look at the Ion 5 and you know it'll sell extremely well in a motorbike dealership alongside other carbon fiber-clad gear.

As much as I'd like to say the Ion 5 is worth every penny, if it weren't for the carbon fiber presumably driving up the cost, the Ion 5 wouldn't be worth as much as $30, let alone $50 in our eyes. Then again, if you're into carbon fiber, $50 does get you a pretty great case that's a pleasure to use and delivers above average TPU drop protection in a form that you could actually use as your daily driver. The exotic nature of the Ion 5 coupled with Element Case's incredible expertise with creating its very own original design aesthetics makes it a worthy iPhone 5 case with carbon fiber elements to boot.