Plastic? Polycarbonate? Carbon fiber? No? How about wood, then? Yeah, we’ve got that. From the fine folks at Tonewood Cases, here’s an iPhone case made from wood. No, Pinocchio, these are real iPhone cases, and since they are made of real guitar tonewoods, each one has a unique appearance.
When you open the box, you will find your Tonewood case and a small instruction pamphlet. If you read the box carefully, you will note the disclaimer on the back: “This product is not endorsed or sponsored by Apple®.” This is very likely because, as the pamphlet states, “…wood is an inherently fragile and breakable material. It will protect your phone from scrapes and scratches, but is not necessarily able to withstand direct impact of being dropped onto a hard surface.” The cases do, however, have a rubberized strip along the inside surface of the sides to add reinforcement and to provide a floating support for the buttons, which are cut from the same block of wood.
That being said, the Tonewood cases look refined and appealing, as well as providing good protection from scratches. The case stands about 1/16” above the face of the iPhone so you don’t need to be too worried about setting your phone face down on your desk. The holes drilled for the various ports (charging, camera, earphone jack, speakers, etc.) are all well placed. The hole for the earphone jack may be a bit snug depending on the size and configuration of your jack. The hole for the camera is designed for the iPhone 5 (the flash is slightly different on the iPhone 5s).
There are three species of wood used to make the Tonewood cases: rosewood, mahogany and maple. The only real difficulty is choosing one, because they all look great. If you are thinking of splurging and getting more than one, be advised the mahogany and maple options are $79.99 each, while rosewood is $89.99. The Tonewood case is currently available for the iPhone 4, 4S and 5; nothing specific for the iPhone 5s yet, but the iPhone 5 case I tried fit my 5s just fine, aside from the camera flash issue.
If you appreciate a well worked piece of wood, these look great. The case is as low profile as possible while retaining some strength for protecting your phone. The camera cut-out is a sort of terraced outline, which adds some style. The interior of the case sports a felt strip to provide some cushion and to help keep the fit snug. There are also tiny metal strips embedded in the upper portion of the top and bottom to reinforce the most vulnerable bits of end grain. Over time, the wood will patina and look a bit richer, as long as you use some standard wood care to keep it clean.
Being made of wood has a couple obvious drawbacks. The first is that when wood is cut thin, it can be brittle and snap. As mentioned above, the product literature warns about survivability when dropped on a hard surface. The other is humidity. As almost all of the target audience knows, you have to be careful with humidity and moisture with bare wood; the expansion and contraction can lead to warping or cracking.
Most of the buttons seem to work well enough, even though the power button required a more definitive push (maybe part of the individuality of woodcraft?). The hole for the mute button is placed properly, but the button requires skinny fingertips or some fingernail to get to it (not bad, but not the easiest access). The worry with the volume and power buttons is they are very small bits of wood with no edge reinforcement, so there is increased risk of breaking.
A word of caution when inserting/removing your phone—be careful with the felt strip. If pressure is applied incorrectly, the felt may start to peel back, leaving your phone with some glue and black felt on its back, and a fit which is just a bit too tight.
Lastly, since this is a piece of woodcraft, the join between sections may not meet perfectly when you insert your phone. There was a tiny gap on one side for my case/phone arrangement but it is something I can put up with (less than 1/32” or about 0.3mm).
The Tonewood cases are stylish, attractive and unique (due to grain patterns). They provide good scratch protection, but not good drop protection. The bottom slides off relatively easily for charging/docking. They are a bit pricey, but they are made from a renewable resource. If you are generally careful with your phone to begin with, this will provide sufficient protection, but it will require more care than other cases.
If you like wood in general, or are into the guitar scene, these look great and work well enough.
Buy the Tonewood iPhone 5 case
Provides: Scrach/scuff protection
Developer: Tonewood Cases
Minimum Requirements: iPhone 5 (also available for iPhone 4/4s)
Price: $79.99 – mahogany and maple; $89.99 – rosewood