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Friday
Nov092012

Draco 5 iPhone 5 Aluminum Bumper Case Review

Another number, another case. Draco Design blew us all away with the Draco 4 back when we first got our hands on the Japanese inspired work of art for the iPhone 4 and iPhone 4S. Formally known as Deff Japan in Asia, Draco Design is the North American brand name that has made quite a name for itself. The most sought-after aluminum bumper case for the iPhone is back, and it desperately wants to add exotic style to Apple's thinner and stealthier iPhone 5. The Draco 5 is the latest and greatest premium aluminum designed bumper to be reanimated and precisely tuned for reception performance. Everything you need to know about this unusual iPhone 5 bumper case is in our in-depth review right after the jump!

Here it is, the newest award-winning Draco 5 in all its shiny matte glory. Draco Design sent us over an authentic unit mind you in Metro Black as there are loads of copies, replicas and fakes floating around just because of how popular the Draco series has become. You can find yourself an authentic Draco 5 directly from Draco Design USA or from one of its authorised resellers such as Tekcases. A Draco 5 bumper for the iPhone 5 is going to cost you $90 with a color selection that includes black, gray, silver, red, blue and purple. No matter the color you pick, the Draco 5 as of this review only comes in a two-tone color scheme featuring a silver trim around the edge of the bumper which we will get into further on.

The new Draco 5 is every bit of what we all came to know and love about the Draco 4 (or Deff Cleave everywhere else in the world), better known in its Roman numeral name as the Draco IV. That same exotic sports car-esque concept is all here, but at a much more elegant style this time. You won't find the same growling, extreme design with the Draco 5 though. It's as if it matured on to become less of a sporty bumper and more in the lines of the polished and refined edges of the iPhone 5. And that's quite upsetting to be honest. We loved the brilliant cutting-edge styling of the Draco IV's exposed hex screw heads, the aerodynamic shaped edges and the individual machined rounded button integration. It was truly a masterpiece of engineer. Well, as far as iPhone accessories are concerned that is.

As if the Draco IV wasn't slim enough as it was, the Draco 5 is obviously much thinner sporting an ever sleeker design with shaved off fat that once made the iPhone 4S have a wide wingspan. The curved and convex top and bottom of the Draco 5 completely give the iPhone 5 a whole new design that kind of looks like a really sleek Samsung Galaxy S3.

There are more curves here per square millimeter than there are on a McLaren MP4-12c. If there ever was a sexy handset accessory, it's made by the Japanese. And again, we're comparing the Draco 5 to a sports car only because of the huge gaping difference between ordinary iPhone cases compared to the amount of precision design that goes into making the Draco 5 bumper. But there are some drawbacks to computerized designed curves.

The detail, the finish and the fit. This is a work of art, not some lazy CNC machined block of aluminum turned into a boring and obvious piece of ridiculous underwhelming crap lacking beauty and uniqueness. Sure the Draco 5 is a showstopper, however, like its iPhone 4/S iteration it isn't what you would call a practical case.

Handling it feels like grabbing onto a unidentified object. And that's what happens when you care more about a bunch of curves and little about comfortable ergonomics. I'm sure this is as aerodynamic as it gets, but who cares? You need a bionic hand to say the Draco 5 is comfortable to hold. It simply isn't I'm afraid. Draco Design described the ergonomic design of the Draco 5 to be comfortable which it isn't more so now with the new trimmed edges that aren't rounded and feel somewhat sharp and unpleasant against the skin. With that said, I'm pretty sure some people would rather feel less comfortable holding their iPhone 5 for the exchange of pure adrenaline eye-candy that is the Draco.

Gone are the rounded machined metal buttons the Draco IV was known for. The Draco 5 has much more simple metal buttons and a mute switch. Nonetheless, the fact that there's such a great deal of attention to detail is very impressive. Each button works as you'd expect and provides the same amazing tactile feedback as the original iPhone 5 buttons and switches. And although the top power/sleep button sits completely flush with the curved body of the Draco 5, it is still extremely responsive by design it seems. Very little throw is required to initiate a button press. Again, impressive.

When comparing the Draco 5 against some of the well known competitors such as the Sector 5 aluminum bumper by Element Case, you come to appreciate Draco Design's effort that was put into designing such a bumper. Reaching thru cutouts to get to a certain button or switch definitely degrades the user experience. The Draco 5 continues to amaze us with such dedication.

Those of you who are new to the iPhone bumper scene, the Draco 5 is a 100% aluminum machined bumper which means it offers very minimal protection and leaves the backside of the iPhone 5 fully exposed for all the world to see it's beauty. With that said, the Draco 5 does provide a small amount of elevation on both the back and front sides so to keep the iPhone 5 from making total contact with the surface. Aluminum or metal bumper cases aren't what we would consider to be the ideal protective accessories as the first and foremost target on their checklist is to look as pretty and as unique as possible. It's safe to say the for a select few, the Draco 5 serves its purpose.

Upon opening the Draco's packaging, inside you'll find a care packaging that includes four hex-type screws, a screw tool and a silent switch that you will need to place yourself. Otherwise Draco Design has pre-installed both the volume and the sleep/wake buttons using what looks like clear tape in order to keep them situated in their place for easier installation, as well as to prevent any potential scuffing and scratching done to the iPhone 5's own buttons with use. Good thing they've taken care of that for us, or else we would have advised that you do so yourself just to be on the safe side. Installing the Draco 5 isn't difficult, however, it does require screwing together the two parts of the bumper using two screws on either ends.

Interior silicone shock absorbing pads keep the iPhone 5 from contacting the aluminum of the Draco 5 and add some protection in case of a drop.

Looking at the bottom we can see the beautiful wide cutout made for the iPhone 5's Lightning port, speaker and mic grilles as well as the 3.5mm audio output. You're not going to fit anything usually large like a bulky 3.5mm headphone plug into that cutout, but since every modern audio plug today is designed to be as slim as possible, we don't think this would be much of an issue.

Slapping a clear or styled skin like a carbon fiber DuoTones or a Trunket on the back of your iPhone 5 is recommended for extra protection unless you want to fully enjoy the iPhone 5's brilliant backside of course.

As you can tell, the Draco 5 looks very much like its predecessor, only with a new shaved surrounding edge which exposes the raw natural color of the aluminum to create that polish effect. And I must say, it does look rather sharp. It absolutely does have that elegant style now that it sports a polished trim to coincide with the chamfered edges of the iPhone 5. 

The finish of the silver trim is highly reflective and mirrors the colors that surround it like an expensive piece of jewelry or fancy timepiece. While we like the two different types of finishes used in the Draco 5 to make it more of a different looking bumper than it was before, we would love to see some solid ceramic colors we saw used in the white Draco IV Limited Edition.

Unfortunately that dreaded SIM card cutout slot has made a comeback. Why it's there is beyond me. It's ridiculously unnecessary and it only hurts the sleek design of the Draco 5. Not to mention the rough sharp edges of the cutout feels unpleasant.

As for reception, it's something that we've found to greatly vary depending on the environment where you live and work. Our testing concluded that the Draco 5 impacts reception very little even though it entirely made from aluminum. Typically where I would get 2-3 bars of signal strength in an area without LTE, I get the same show of bars with the Draco 5 on. WiFi and 4G internet speeds remain unaffected, but some people have reported that the Draco 5 for some reason does degrade LTE reception considerably. When looking into the technical, behind the scenes details of the reception using the iPhone's field test mode, I did find that the Draco 5 will actually degrade the iPhone 5's reception by a margin of -10dB points. That's nowhere near killing a decent signal reception and defiantly an acceptable loss. The cutout made to the top is supposedly there to help the Draco 5 with its reception design.  As always, you should never purchase these type of aluminum bumpers if you live and are present in areas with very bad reception.

Looking back at Draco Design's earlier achievements with the innovative Draco IV, the same cannot be said about the Draco 5. There's something about the Draco 5 that just feels like a letdown compared to the Draco IV. That substantial build quality and feel is gone for a much lighter weight and iffy connection points that aren't nearly as interesting to look at. The finish of the anodized aluminum on the Draco 5 is also less refined as it was on the Draco IV. The matte black color is too grainy and rough, but the polished raw aluminum trim does have a spiffy looking machined cut to it. I doubt you'll find anything wrong with the finish unless you were an earlier Draco user. To you the Draco 5 will seem like a step backwards in terms of fit, finish and structural design.

Our review sample is experiencing a little bit of play, particularly at the bottom where the Draco 5 has wiggle room to move ever so slightly back and forth. This Isn't what we would expect out of a $90 Draco bumper, and we suspect it has to do with the fact that one of the two bottom corners doesn't have a rubber shock absorbing pad to keep an even snug fit around the iPhone 5.

The Draco 5 will always have a special place in our hearts, but it's not our favorite iteration. Draco Design wanted to change and move things around with the Draco 5 and that resulted in a beautifully designed aluminum bumper that just doesn't seem to have that wow factor and spark of quality details we've come to expect from the Draco IV days. It's not to say the Draco 5 lost its edge, because it certainly is one of the prettiest and elegantly designed aluminum iPhone 5 cases currently available that doesn't impact reception all that much. You'll be hard pressed to find another metal accessory such as the Draco 5 with so much unique curves and a graceful ability to change the shape of the iPhone 5 into a different kind of architectural piece.

Dracodesignusa.com

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