Elago S4 Breathe – perhaps the thinnest and best case for iPhone 4?

This might be a strange way to start a case review but I hate iPhone cases. I’ve bought every single iPhone (2G, 3G and 3GS) released on launch day and used them all naked, without cases or screen protectors. I’m not a clumsy person, I take exceptionally good care of my iPhones, cameras and gadgets and as such I’ve never needed a case for “protection” reasons. Apple spend hundreds of thousands of pounds on designing some of the best looking hardware available today so it seems a shame to hide such beauty under a horrible, bulky case, if I wanted an ugly chunky phone I’d have bought a Nokia (sorry Nokia, I was a loyal 8-series fan until the iPhone).

So when I picked up my iPhone 4 on launch day I loved how slim it felt compared to the 3GS it was replacing and thought the black glass back with stainless steel sides looked superb. Unfortunately after a few days use I (along with many others) realised just how bad the signal issue (nicknamed antenna-gate) really was. I was gutted, I’m not ashamed to say I’m an Apple fanboy but I couldn’t deny they’d got things wrong with the iPhone 4 antenna design. I patiently waiting for Apple’s press release announcing free bumpers or third party cases for everybody to resolve the issue and at the earliest opportunity I ordered the Apple iPhone bumper. I was loathed  to have to use a case but I was hopeful that the minimal, backless Apple bumper wouldn’t be too intrusive. How wrong I was, the bumper makes the phone feel bulkier than the iPhone 3GS and I had to take it off every time I wanted to cradle it in my B&W Zeppelin Mini speakers, so after a week I couldn’t stand it any longer and went back to using the iPhone 4 without a case. Long story short, my I took my first iPhone 4 back to Apple as the signal issue was so bad without a case on, they gave me another brand new iPhone 4 in case I just had a faulty one but the replacement had the same problem.

There was one benefit of getting a new iPhone 4 though, I could order another free case as they log IMEI numbers to determine if you’ve already have a free case. So this time I opted for the Speck Pixel Skin HD case and when that arrived it was much better than the Apple bumper. It didn’t feel as bulky as the bumper and made the iPhone feel around the same size as an iPhone 3GS without a case but again I had to remove it from the case every night to cradle it on my Zepplin Mini speakers on the bedside table. This was getting ridiculous now, I knew I needed some kind of case in order to keep a strong signal and I’d even tried cutting some scotch magic tape to exactly fit the stainless steel sides and that worked for a while until it stared peeling off.

There had to be a better solution, I spent hours, and I mean hours(!) trawling the internet for a stylish, thin and unobtrusive case for the iPhone 4. Amongst my friends it’s a well know fact that I am completely “anal” when it comes to researching and finding the right product to suit my needs and searching for my 3rd iPhone 4 case was no exception. I went into The Carphone Warehouse and made them open up all the iPhone 4 cases they sold for me to try on the phone, ease of taking off and putting on, whether it would fit on my Zepplin Mini speakers, how it felt in the hand, whether it would damage the iPhone in the long run. After annoying all the Carphone Warehouse staff I still hadn’t found the right case and then by chance I stumbled upon a company called Elago who had just brought out their new case for the iPhone 4, the Elago S4 Breathe. On screen and on paper this seemed to be exactly what I was after in a case, extremely thin, completely open at the bottom to allow it to cradle on my Zepplin’s without having to remove it and most importantly it looked good.

Bad news….I couldn’t find a UK stockist as it was so new, but luckily for me I had a friend living in America who was coming over to visit so I asked him to order me one direct from Elago and it (along with my friend) arrived 3 days later and WOW is all I can say, I really can’t put into words how perfect this case is for the iPhone 4. I thought about how I could show everybody just how thin this case is and how good it feels in the hand but it’s tricky to portray this without you actually getting your hands on the thing.

In the end I tracked down a digital micrometre and took some photos of the iPhone 4 naked, with an Apple bumper, Speck Pixel Skin HD and with the super slim Elago S4 Breathe. I know we’re only talking mm here but in the palm of you hand just a few mm make a HUGE difference. The Elago S4 also retains the square edge feel of the iPhone 4 rather than the smooth rounded feel you get from the bumper and Pixel Skin HD.

  • Naked iPhone = 59.21mm
  • Elago S4 Breathe = 60.39mm (i.e. just 1.18mm thick)
  • Speck Pixel Skin HD = 32.80mm (i.e. 3.59mm thick, 304% thicker than the Elago S4 Breathe)
  • Apple Bumper = 63.69mm (i.e. 4.58mm thick, 388% thicker than the  Elago S4 Breathe)

You can easily get to the volume and silence switch with the generous cut-out in the side and the top and bottom of the iPhone are completely open so there’s no issues accessing the multi-port connector on the bottom or the headphone, noise cancelling mic and power button on the top.

The sides of the case also protrude around a one mm from the glass to prevent the screen scratching if you place it face down on a table.

The case is available in three colours, silver, white and black. I wasn’t too sure what the silver one would look like and thought white on a black iPhone may look a little too funky so I played it safe with a black one. The tolerances of this case are second to none! It snaps on so snuggly the iPhone has no wiggle room at all, once the case is on the phone cannot slide around inside the case one little bit. I found my bumper wasn’t a snug fit and there was marginal play with the phone sliding around inside the bumper, even after a week of use a small amount of grit got between the case and the stainless steel surround and scratch it as the phone slid around inside the bumper. There is no opportunity for this to happen with the Elago S4 Breathe, I’ve had it on my iPhone for over a month now and there’s no marking to the stainless band on the iPhone at all.

The S4 Breathe has a strange (but good) feel to the touch. It’s like a hard ABS plastic but coated in a scratch proof soft touch paint (or at least I think it’s a paint). It’s similar to the back of the Google Android phones and I’ve also noticed it’s the same as the coating on the centre of my BMW steering wheel and door handles.

If you’ve not got the gist of this yet, I love this case! I’m not being paid to say this, I’m not getting anything free from Elago, I have bought this case with my own hard earned money but that was also one of the best bits, the case retails for $19.99 but Elago were selling it for $9.99 at the time which makes it about £8 here in the UK. I just hope Elago find a decent UK stockist soon! I’ve got a little list on my iPhone PaperLess App (great list making app if you need one btw) of friends that have fallen in love with my case and asked me to get them one and so far I’ve got 8 friends on that list so I’m going to be putting a call into my friend State Side pretty soon to ask him to buy and ship them to me.

There’s a whole gallery of images of the Elago S4 Breathe on and off the phone below.

4 Replies to “Elago S4 Breathe – perhaps the thinnest and best case for iPhone 4?”

  1. I’m a researcher like you, and so huge thanks for the detailed review – and even more for the crisp big pics which really illustrate exactly what the case covers and leaves open and looks like.

    With this information I made up my mind and am placing my order for a couple of these covers (SF black rather than Breathe which I expect it would also be fine).

  2. S4 Breathe – The best case I’ve owned bar none, looks good and protects the iPhone at same time. Unfortunately my case cracked after a nasty drop but it did its job and my iPhone was protected.. not a Mark on it, I’m currently looking for a replacement from uk supplier, I think I might try the silver colour this time, I had black last time on a black iPhone.
    Btw great review, I’ve sent link to my mate who’s looking for new case


  3. thanks for the great review. like you, i’m a ‘researcher’ and the elago is one of the cases i’ve been looking at. the only things not addressed by you an important to me: ease of putting in and out of pocket; does the case scratch the phone (on the back)?

    1. @Tammy_B – sorry I missed your comment when you originally posted it and no doubt you’ve already sourced yourself a case for your iPhone 4 but for others who may stumble upon this post I shall still answer the original question. No, the Elago S4 Breathe does NOT scratch the phone in any way.

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