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Review: AL13 raises the bar for iPhone bumper design

post #1 of 68
Thread Starter 
Designed by m has managed to craft one of the most exquisite and well designed iPhone bumpers we've ever seen ? in fact "bumper" seems too unrefined a descriptor ? but one flaw could mar for some people what is otherwise a nearly perfect companion to Apple's smartphone.

AL13


The brainchild of Designed by m founder Lester Mapp, AL13 is the culmination of many days in the lab and one immensely popular Kickstarter campaign. Demand was so high that AL13 quadrupled its funding goal on the way to becoming the highest backed iPhone bumper in Kickstarter history, quite the goal for those not familiar with the crowd funding site and its many fledgling iOS device accessories.

Mapp told AppleInsider the mantra of his company is to create products with a "clean, simple but awesome design." Sounds a bit like something Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive would say.

"When we designed AL13 we wanted to make something that looked like it came with the iPhone," Mapp said. "We were pretty anti-case when it came to our own iPhones. Why would anyone want to cover up anything as awesome as the iPhone?"

Indeed.

Design



Upon receipt of AL13, a clever homage to aluminum's symbol and atomic number, we were impressed at how closely the thin piece of metal mimicked the shape of the iPhone it was built to protect. For reference, the model under review is AL13 for iPhone 5, in slate black. Designed by m also has an identical offering scaled down for the iPhone 4/4S.

Most bumpers on the market today tend to stand out, at times intentionally so, with bold colors and designs that seem to contrast and diminish the sleek profile of the original device. Mapp agrees.

"[W]e found other cases were doing just that; either covering the phone up, or changing its silhouette," he said. "AL13 is slim, extremely lightweight and built to blend in with the look of the iPhone."

Design cues were obviously cribbed from the iPhone 5, like chamfered edges and an anodized, lightly textured surface. The finished product lends itself nicely to the handset.

AL13 Front


Using aerospace-grade aluminum, weight is kept down to around 14 grams, a specification Designed by m's website says is nearly half that of the average bumper. The iPhone 5's 112 grams, said by many to be surprisingly light, is veritably obese in contrast. When taking AL13 out of the box, its heft, or lack thereof, was noticeable. The bumper is very light.

Despite the weight, AL13 is substantially rigid. Taking care of padding is a strip of dense anti-scuff rubber material which lines the inner walls. The medium also serves to keep the iPhone snugly in place during use.

Performance



With all the prettiness going on, one could easily overlook what is probably the most ingenious attachment methods on the market. Instead of using screws, snaps, or other cumbersome forms of installation, AL13 harnesses aluminum's ability to undergo flexure. Simply lift the edge of rear cover, slide it out of the main chassis, slip in an iPhone, and replace. The assembly glides back into position with a satisfying "snick."

AL13 Lock


Despite being easy to put on and take off, the attachment mechanism stays in place when dropped. We were unable to force the bumper off with drop tests onto wood and tile from three feet to five feet. The front and rear of the bumper are raised just enough to keep any exposed areas of the phone away from the ground.

"The initial design featured an almost invisible rear cover, but we found that in cases of falls it wasn?t staying in place, putting the phone at risk. So we altered the design slightly," Mapp said. "We made the rear cover a little wider, not wide enough to mess with our goal of not covering up the phone, but enough to increase its stability and eliminate the problem of it coming loose during falls."

Tolerances are extremely tight, though we found that the iPhone would shift back and forth a touch if the included protective backing film was not used. No such slippage or rattling occurred with the film in place.

Importantly, AL13 doesn't take away from the iPhone's thin design, adding just the right amount of girth to the handset. Buttons are easily reachable, as are the Lightning connector and headphone jack.

AL13 Back



Cell Reception



AL13 is beautiful and functional, but there is one caveat. Because the bumper is made from aluminum, it blocks radio signals. In our testing, we found a decrease in reception strength of about -20 dBm, depending on proximity to the nearest cell tower. This can bring overall reception down to around two or three bars as represented by iOS "signal bar" mapping.

While the iPhone 5 is honed from similar aluminum billet, the handset has four breaks, or "windows," in its unibody chassis, through which radio waves can pass. These are filled with a dielectric material, like plastic, which is non-conductive and allows for the phone's dynamic two-antenna setup to communicate effectively.

AL13 masks these windows somewhat, but doesn't create a conductive bridge over the gap thanks to the rubber lining. If it did, reception would be much worse.

AL13 Lining


Mapp said that preliminary testing found signal loss of 5 to 10 percent; not enough to cause dropped calls. Investigation into new materials is already underway, with an ultimate goal of making the bumper, as well as future designs, radio transparent.

We didn't experience dropped calls, but battery life was impacted slightly. Our guess is the iPhone has to boost power to the radio module in order to maintain acceptable signal strength. Though not unacceptable, some power users who are already teetering on the edge of running their iPhones dry in less than a day may find the added burden worrisome.

That said, we believe the flaw would go largely unnoticed by the average consumer. In some cases, especially with the iPhone 4, the bumper may actually increase reception. As seen in the notorious "antennagate" fiasco, putting a finger over the dielectric filled gap can drop reception down to nil.

Bottom line



With a product like AL13, it's difficult to attach a star rating. The bumper is beautifully designed and executed, but the hit to cell reception is definitely a problem. In the end, we based the final score on attributes a well implemented bumper should display: protection, aesthetics and ease of use.

As a majority of readers will have trouble seeing the difference in cell reception and battery life, only one half star was deducted from the final tally. It should be noted, however, that more discerning users may need to look elsewhere, beyond wraparound aluminum bumper designs.

AL13 lives in that intersection where beauty and function meet. It takes special attention to detail and knowledge of craft to end up with a product like this.

Bottom line: many accessory makers never even reach the level at which Designed by m started with AL13.

AL13 Hand


At a price of $79.99, AL13 is expensive, but some will find it worth the premium. Those interested can pick one up at Designed by m's website.

Score: 4 out of 5



ratings_hl_40.png

Pros
  • Incredible, lightweight design
  • Exacting fit and finish
  • Low tolerance build, high quality materials

Cons
  • Causes reception/battery drain issues
  • Expensive for some
post #2 of 68

Is this article actually an advert or is it a paid placement?

 

Why would I buy a very expensive casing for my phone that very effectively dampens its radio transmission/reception anyway? This isn't 'news' and if it deserves a place anywhere on this site, it should be on the 'back page'. Sorry, but that's my opinion.

post #3 of 68
I like this case- but two things would keep me from ever buying it.
1- my neighborhood, for some reason, I barely get two bars- so losing reception would make my phone not work.
2- $79.99 is ludicrous. A bumper is absolutely the only case anyone should put on a iPhone. Unless in the rare case you are a labor contractor- then life proof or otter box would be a smart move. But I'll take my $6 bumper from Amazon thank you. I've had it since day one, it is just finally starting to show wear after several bumps and small drops, and did I mention it was only $6?
Bumper + media devil front and back protectors are the only things ill ever use again. I feel bad for those using big cases.

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2014 27" Retina iMac i5, 2012 27" iMac i7, 2011 Mac Mini i5
iPad Air 2, iPad Mini 2, iPhone 6 Plus, iPhone 6, iPod Touch 5
Time Capsule 5, (3) AirPort Express 2, (2) Apple TV 3

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post #4 of 68
I agree with cogito. If any money changed hands here for the article it is imperative that it be disclosed as a part of the article (which reads like a 7th grade love letter IMHO).

As for the bumper so lovingly described, are you kidding me? On the back it most certainly does not look like it came with the phone. It's horrible. And it blocks cell reception? Apple sells a bumper, you know. If you need one buy the one Jony actually did help design.
post #5 of 68
After reading the article the bumper sounded great. I thought, "maybe I'll splurge and spend $15 on a bumper instead of $5". $80 is ridiculous, even offensive. $20 would even be too much.
If they charge this much to justify their investment then they spent too much money designing the thing.
post #6 of 68

Mate, however well designed, a bumper can't be awesome because at the end of the day it's just a bumper, and there are minimum complexity requirements for a thing to be impressive.

post #7 of 68
Jeez guys, cannot you just appreciate that is a finely crafted product ? It's refreshing to me that in this world where cheap price is worshiped over quality, that there are actually people who still believe in being "craftsmen" rather than just laborers. I wonder if they could just machine small slots in the case where it covers the iPhone antenna windows?
post #8 of 68
This almost reads like a sponsored review.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #9 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by eyeakel View Post

Jeez guys, cannot you just appreciate that is a finely crafted product ? It's refreshing to me that in this world where cheap price is worshiped over quality, that there are actually people who still believe in being "craftsmen" rather than just laborers. I wonder if they could just machine small slots in the case where it covers the iPhone antenna windows?

The review for this not new idea is nearly as detailed as the iPhone review itself. He's practically gushing.
Quote:
Mapp told AppleInsider the mantra of his company is to create products with a "clean, simple but awesome design." Sounds a bit like something Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive would say.

What? Ive would never say anything like that. He doesn't even think like that.
Edited by Ireland - 5/18/13 at 5:55am
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #10 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by makingdots View Post


Shut up folks. Who are you guys to dictate which article shouldn't be posted in this site? If it doesn't interest you, just ignore, don't click and move on. Tech news are rare during weekend anyways.

I mean, how dare they be critical of an article on a site they basically live on? Right? They should simply shut up? You're not making any sense.
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #11 of 68
I can stand bumpers. They ruin the iPhone's beautiful lines. Makes it look like its wearing floaties. Judging from the photos spending 80 bucks on one doesn't change that.
post #12 of 68
Gotta agree. Been coming to this site since the 90s, never seen a 3rd party product pushed so hard. If the site owners are going to do this more, they should make a review section.

The whole "don't click on it then", I personally don't know what the true contents of the articles are going to be until I'm inside. A lot if articles have vague or misleading headlines.

Either way, $80 + lower cell reception == lose in my book.

 

 

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post #13 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by CogitoDexter View Post

Is this article actually an advert or is it a paid placement?

Why would I buy a very expensive casing for my phone that very effectively dampens its radio transmission/reception anyway? This isn't 'news' and if it deserves a place anywhere on this site, it should be on the 'back page'. Sorry, but that's my opinion.

I agree that it reads like a paid 'article' except for giving any negatives. Generally such bits are big on the praise and, because they are generally written by the actual selling company, zero on any down sides. So it is likely an honest review, although perhaps overly long.

And yet I find that I agree about the bsckpage comment. There are many things on the site that are not Apple News or even Apple Rumor that I wish would not appear as headline news if they appear at all

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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post #14 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by Shogun View Post

Apple sells a bumper, you know. If you need one buy the one Jony actually did help design.

Not for the iPhone 5

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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post #15 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by makingdots View Post


Shut up folks. Who are you guys to dictate which article shouldn't be posted in this site? If it doesn't interest you, just ignore, don't click and move on. Tech news are rare during weekend anyways.

It's called a opinion. We have a right to have one and to speak it.

But you are right about one thing, the power of ignoring. Something you made find folks do to you if you keep up your comments like 'shut up'.

And, in my opinion, a lack of tech news is not an excuse for lessening the already on the border quality of this site by whoring out space to paid advertisements posing as articles or reviews. If you have issue with that or that I exercised my right to speak such an opinion then hit that ignore button and never subject yourself to my comments again.

A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

(She's family so I'm a little biased)

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A non tech's thoughts on Apple stuff 

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post #16 of 68
Glad AI reviewed it even though IMO it deserves 0 stars for diminished iPhone function. Without review I would likely have bought this beautifully crafted accessory.
post #17 of 68

Does anyone else find it strange that an item with no moving parts and no processing capability warrants a two-page review?

 

The radio interference is a complete deal-breaker for me. This is an egregious case of form completely overwhelming function since the iPhone is basically a collection of radios.  Anything that diminishes the iPhone's ability to transmit and receive radio waves is totally unwelcome.

 

We don't even need to mention the insane price . . .

post #18 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by charlituna View Post

Not for the iPhone 5

Thanks for the correction.
post #19 of 68
"Shut up folks. Who are you guys to dictate which article shouldn't be posted in this site? If it doesn't interest you, just ignore, don't click and move on. Tech news are rare during weekend anyways."

Those "guys" are people like you that read stuff that offends them and comment.
post #20 of 68
"Because the bumper is made from aluminum, it blocks radio signals."

Killer feature.
post #21 of 68
Why would someone who cares about design create a metal bumper that they had to know would block the antennas? Why is this review so positive? Was this post supposed to come out on April Fools' Day?
post #22 of 68
So, $80 for a signal blocker. Yeah, that sounds like a wise investment.
post #23 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by mulrich View Post

After reading the article the bumper sounded great. I thought, "maybe I'll splurge and spend $15 on a bumper instead of $5". $80 is ridiculous, even offensive. $20 would even be too much.

Especially for a bumper which has been shown to have a 20 db impact on reception. 20 db is HUGE - far, far more than the 5-10% they're claiming.
"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
Gatorguy 5/31/13
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"I'm way over my head when it comes to technical issues like this"
Gatorguy 5/31/13
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post #24 of 68
Sorry, $79 for a case is too expensive, especially considering the loss of signal. After the 'antenna-gate' mess surrounding iPhone 4, why would they design a case that essentially creates the same effect?
post #25 of 68
"decrease in reception strength of about -20 dBm, "

This is sloppy and the author can't be right. The sentence may also be a double negative.
20dB is a horrific reduction in signal. They can't have meant that. -20dB IS a reduction. decreasing by -20dB means increasing. -20 dBm (note the m) is an absolute measurement, not a delta. The sentence is like saying reducing by sea-level when they meant reducing TO sea-level.
The correct wording might have been "decrease in reception TO about -20dBm". Dunno. -20dBm means 100th of a milliWatt. That's an awfully large signal to be expecting to receive. If the cellphone is truly that insensitive with the cover on, I wouldn't expect it to work unless you were leaning against the cell-tower. As I understand it , decent receive sensitivity is around -120dBm which means a 1000000000000th of a milliwatt. See the difference?

So, reducing by 20dB is horrific, likened to to putting the phone in a engineering shielded box. Reducing it to -20dBm is more like clipping the radio out altogether!

On the iPhone, the gaps in the metal are not "through which radio waves can pass". This is ignorant. The reason the gaps are there are so the separate pieces of metal can serve as antenna. What the author said is much like saying that an old fashioned car antenna has the rubber insulator at the base to let the radio waves pass. Also wrong. What the rubber insulator at the base is for is so the antenna is separate electrically from the body of the car. Same with the gaps in the cellphone body.

By putting aluminum willy-nilly around the antenna of the cellphone, the shape of the radiation pattern of the antennas is very badly affected. This kind of tosses out the "design effort" Apple put into making the antennas in the first place. You do NOT want to put metal around the cellphone. This is truly awful. The good news is that your cellphone won't be broken by slamming it into a rock. The bad news is that its usefulness as a cellphone is reduced. Doh!
post #26 of 68
My rubber and plastic bumper case for iPhone 5 weighs 7.76 grams--or a tad less if totally clean--which is nearly half the weight of "m"s and cost $10 on Amazon in October 2012. I wouldn't want it any heavier, nor would I want metal interfering with reception. No data to support it, but I believe the rubber and plastic combination also provides better shock protection than aluminum.

Typical 2013 reporting style is exhibited here: echo the subject's words without verification. The Designed by m is almost twice the weight of other bumpers. It certainly is "incredible" that the weight of the m is nearly half that of others... because it's not.
Edited by Cpsro - 5/18/13 at 10:02am
post #27 of 68

Ironic that the iPhone 4 bumper supposedly resolves a signal problem, while this one creates one.

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post #28 of 68
I wouldn't buy it, nor any bumper at any price because the iPhone by itself fits perfectly into my belt holster. Anything around the edges or back would cause it not to fit the holster
post #29 of 68

Now, if only Apple had made something that looks like this, we could be on to a winner !

post #30 of 68

While the design may be good, the weight ,performance drop and high price definitely kills this accessory.

Why would I want to take away from the reception or increase the weight of the phone so much. The heavier the iphone is the harder it hits the ground and more likely to break.

Bottom Line: These guys haven't accomplished anything.

post #31 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by markroder View Post

"Because the bumper is made from aluminum, it blocks radio signals."

Killer feature.

Classic!
Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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Citing unnamed sources with limited but direct knowledge of the rumoured device - Comedy Insider (Feb 2014)
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post #32 of 68
I bought a bumper at the mall for $15. It fits and looks great, doesn't have logos plastered all over it and didn't need a 2 page article.
Edited by bdkennedy1 - 5/18/13 at 12:47pm
post #33 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by CogitoDexter View Post

Is this article actually an advert or is it a paid placement?

Why would I buy a very expensive casing for my phone that very effectively dampens its radio transmission/reception anyway? This isn't 'news' and if it deserves a place anywhere on this site, it should be on the 'back page'. Sorry, but that's my opinion.

It does read like a paid ad. Sometimes this site's editorial management is inscrutable, a site that wants to be taken at all seriously would avoid even the appearance of conflict of interest.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Cpsro View Post

My rubber and plastic bumper case for iPhone 5 weighs 7.76 grams--or a tad less if totally clean--which is nearly half the weight of "m"s and cost $10 on Amazon in October 2012. I wouldn't want it any heavier, nor would I want metal interfering with reception. No data to support it, but I believe the rubber and plastic combination also provides better shock protection than aluminum.

I don't believe aluminum provides more than a small percentage as much shock protection as plastic or rubber.
Edited by JeffDM - 5/18/13 at 10:58am
post #34 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by AppleInsider View Post

Mapp told AppleInsider the mantra of his company is to create products with a "clean, simple but awesome design." Sounds a bit like something Apple's Senior Vice President of Industrial Design Jonathan Ive would say.

no, actually, it does not sound like something Sir Jonathan Ive would say. methinks he can come up with better words than "awesome".

then i stopped reading the advert ...
post #35 of 68
80 bucks for piece of metal that reduces performance and does jack to actually protect the phone if you drop it, and AI considers that a "4 out of 5" product?
I'm sorry, but that's just ridiculous, even for an Apple product.
post #36 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by eyeakel View Post

Jeez guys, cannot you just appreciate that is a finely crafted product ? It's refreshing to me that in this world where cheap price is worshiped over quality, that there are actually people who still believe in being "craftsmen" rather than just laborers. I wonder if they could just machine small slots in the case where it covers the iPhone antenna windows?

thank you, Designed by m, for your second post.
post #37 of 68
Mikey C lowers the bar for what goes for an AI article.
post #38 of 68

A strange article.

 

The headline made me think "wow, some sort of breakthrough material or bumper design/look that (somehow) hasn't been done yet? Cool...I'll check this out!"

 

Not really.

 

Seriously...it's a bumper. There aren't too many ways to do one, when you think about it (and still have it be legitimately classified as a "bumper"). So the big front-end buildup proved to be a little excessive.

 

And the breathless gushing came across like a Harry Knowles movie review (which is something no one should ever strive for), which was my second "yeah...I don't know".

 

The antenna blocking/performance hit and insane price were straws three and four.

 

Who in the holy hell would pay $80 for something that makes their iPhone perform WORSE? Brainless, "if it's expensive it's automatically good!", form-over-function hipster types, I suppose? But even they sometimes have moments of clarity and good sense.

 

And, judging by the photos, it's not that "sleekly integrated" and "looks like it's part of the iPhone" as the article tries to make it seem.

 

Has the 1980's crack epidemic resurfaced at AI HQ? Because somebody's smoking some.

 

:D

 

I don't give a rip how "exquisitely designed" or cleverly marketed something is. If it's carrying a nutball price AND creates more problems than it solves, that's not a product or service I want to throw in with. Either of those by themselves would seriously limit its appeal, but here we have both working in tandem...and it's getting this borderline-orgasmic write-up and a 4-out-of-5-stars rating?

 

"You mean I get to pay 3-4x what I normally would for such a product AND my phone reception gets to suck too? Cool...where do I sign?!?" -- Nobody, ever


Edited by pscates - 5/18/13 at 11:28am
post #39 of 68
Quote:
Originally Posted by pscates View Post


"You mean I get to pay 3-4x what I normally would for such a product AND my phone reception gets to suck too? Cool...where do I sign?!?" -- Nobody, ever



sorry, all of your text wouldn't fit on one card.
post #40 of 68
"In our testing, we found a decrease in reception strength of about -20 dBm"

Every -10dB is 10 times less signal.

so -20dB is 100 times less signal.

Yeah, you can keep this useless product.
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