Hornettek Vader Aluminum Metal Case for iPhone 4

The Hornettek Vader Aluminum Metal Case is a high-tech and minimalistic bumper style case for the iPhone 4. Aircraft-grade aluminum is CNC machined and anodized to form an elegant and fairly light case. The Vader comes in five color combinations; the one I received was Silver+Titanium.

One pleasant surprise was the CNC machined power button. Although it was not 100% precision fit and jiggled around a bit, the feeling of the much larger button compared to the one on the iPhone 4 was a pleasure to use. I kept wanting to push the larger power button because I just wanted to feel it.

Except for the power button mentioned above, the overall fit of the Vader is superb. As you can see from the photo the edges of the iPhone 4 don’t actually touch the sides of the case. This becomes an important bit of info later on. There is a hole on each of the four edges on the Vader where small screws tighten the top and bottom portions. Four additional screws as well as an allen wrench is included.

The corners are lined with what Hornettek describes as “a very high tech shock absorbing material.” I am not certain how high tech it is, but the absorbing material seemed to be doing its job cushioning the iPhone 4’s corners.

As you may or may not know most if not all aluminum cases for the iPhone 4 have a negative impact on signal quality. The Vader isn’t an exception even though the iPhone 4 stainless steel external antenna doesn’t actually touch the case. Once the Vader was on, the iPhone 4’s usually bad AT&T EDGE signal at about two to three bars went down to just one. It also failed to send a text message, a first for me. I sent Hornettek my feedback and soon thereafter I was shipped three strips of the absorbing material.

The shock absorbing material was taped on both the top and bottom portions of the Vader, where the weak spot is on the iPhone 4. That seemed to work: signal strength returned to two or three bars on AT&T’s EDGE network. I have not experienced any problems sending and receiving text messages. Call quality is just as good as when the iPhone 4 was bare.

Because I had so much shock absorbing material left over, I taped the inside of both sides and for good measure double taped the weak spot. Signals are the same, but I feel the Vader fits more snuggly.

The bottom Titanium portion of the Vader.

A closer look.

And here’s the iPhone with both the top and bottom. The mute switch and volume button area is one big opening. On the top, the 35-mm headphone jack area has a tight teardrop-like opening that doesn’t get in the way of the small microphone used for recording sound when capturing video. I only use the Apple headphones that came with the iPhone 4 so I didn’t have any problems with the opening, but bigger headphone jacks might have problems.

The Vadar looks good. One of my friends remarked that this case looked as if it was part of the iPhone 4. That’s some praise.

Although it looks like the Vader is tri-tone, there’s just two tones. There’s that big power button, which is a real pleasure to use. The fit of the botton isn’t as precise as I’d wanted it to be: it jiggles a bit. But the overall quality of the materials is top notch.

The bottom of the Vader allows easy access to the 30-in connector. I had zero problems connecting the Apple 30-pin cable. But, I don’t think the Vader-encased iPhone 4 will work with most if not all docks.

I take good care of my high-tech gear and so most are naked, meaning there aren’t any skins or cases that protect them. Prior to the Vader aluminum case, I kept my iPhone 4 the way it came out of the box: bare. Unfortunately, because Apple uses different cover glasses for the top and bottom of the iPhone 4 with the top being significantly more scratch-resistant, there are a few tiny scratches on the back. The Vader doesn’t help that much with the front and back, but it does help a little. The Vader is thicker than the iPhone 4 and so when you put it down the front or back of the iPhone 4 doesn’t touch the surface.

The Vader is light but it does add 19 grams or 0.67 ounces. That little bit of heft makes the iPhone 4 seem even more packed than it already feels. The extra thickness added to the width and height doesn’t bother me as much and neither do the bulges at the corners. In fact, I like those bulges as they help secure the phone when I hold it. And that’s another thing: I can now hold the iPhone 4 like I did before I found out about the weak antenna spot.

Overall Hornettek has done a fantastic job with the design of the Vader. With the CNC machined aluminum case the iPhone 4 feels more sexy and more valuable. Aside from the signal degradation that was easily fixed with some shock absorbing material, the Vader is exactly what I would want in an iPhone 4 case: high tech, minimal and elegant. Priced at US$79.99.

Update: From Hornettek’s Frederick Kwong:

One thing I probably had forgotten to mention to you was that one of this case’s main goal is protecting the corners. We conducted thousands of drop tests and found that the iPhone 4 tends to land on one of the four corners more than 90% of the time. We emphasized the need to strengthen the corners on our case to ensure if the phone is ever dropped the protection is there.

Update #2: I was at church today. Typically my iPhone 4 would automatically connect to the WiFi signal, which is almost always between two to three WiFi bars in the cafeteria. Well, with the Vader case on I was surprised: the iPhone 4 wasn’t automatically connected and when I did connect the WiFi signal showed only a single bar.

I thought this was strange because I haven’t read any reviews showing WiFi signal degradation from aluminum iPhone 4 cases. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t the church’s WiFi signal having a bad day, so I tested my wife’s iPhone 3GS. Well, it wasn’t the WiFi signal: the iPhone 3GS was showing two solid WiFi bars and was automatically connected.

I was disappointed; my iPhone looks so good with the Vader on. But if you’re in an area with weak WiFi signals, putting an aluminum case like the Vader on the iPhone 4 will make it more difficult to connect. Alas, my iPhone has returned to its naked state.

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