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In the middle of January this year I got my new iPhone 6, put it in the Thule Atmos X3 case and has hardly taken it out of it again and here comes a short review. Thus paired, this happy couple has hardly ever left my side for the last four months – from the white emptiness of Finnish Lapland to the meandering rivers in the Belgian Ardennes they have shown me the way and helped me to document all my hiking and packrafting adventures. And here is why.
Update 17.12.2015: The Thule Atmos X5 has been released. The X5 is waterproof compared to the X3. Have a look here.
I am an iPhone person. I have not always been one, but due to lots of problems with my HTC, which died on me almost immediately after its warranty lapsed, and a lucky coincidence when a friend of mine gave me her old iPhone 3s for my birthday, I was introduced to the world of iPhones and the convenience of using them. With a myriad of easily-installable free apps, my iPhone allowed me to do things that I could not previously do. And taking and post-processing pictures was one of them.
Please, do not take me wrong – I still prefer to use my DSLR camera and I think that still for a long time the mobile photography will not be able to match the quality of the image produced by a proper designated camera. But whether I like it or not, my Nikon is a tad too big and heavy to carry it around, and my phone is always in my pocket, ready to be deployed whenever the situation calls for it.
In addition, publishing pictures on Instagram (the activity, which I as a blogger have to peruse) is that much easier when they are all at your disposal and you do not need to fumble around with the cables, card readers and backup systems just to post a single image. In short, being able to take pictures on my mobile is important for me.
Having used my iPhone 3s for a while, I switched to iPhone 4s, which was my main phone (and the camera) for about two years. But time takes its toll and the phone has become older, its battery life being shorter. At the same time the development of technology has relentlessly been moving on, each new phone offering even more pixels and better image quality.
That is why it comes as no surprise that when the release of iPhone 6 was announced last year, I, similarly to many other people, got very excited. My two-year sim-only contract was about to expire and was really looking forward to the improved camera features, bigger screen, longer battery life and more storage space of the new phone.
But having visited the shop and having held the phone in my own hands, I was a bit disappointed by how flimsy it felt, my enthusiasm about being immediately curbed by it. Being very light and thin, with smooth rounded edges the new iPhone lacked the solid “chunkedness” of my old iPhone 4s, which I grew to enjoy and love so much.
This ‘solidity’ of the old phone did not just feel right, but also served a very practical purpose – when paddling or hiking I cannot always have optimal conditions for taking pictures which makes a good grip essential. It is especially necessary when packrafting or kayaking as dropping your phone does not merely mean a broken screen or some scratches (I have a good insurance plan covering that). What it means that there is a very big chance that you will have to say your phone and all the pictures on it ‘goodbye’.
Reading stories about bent iPhones 6 and seeing pictures of them on the Internet did little to mitigate this first negative impression and make me want to invest in it.
Yes, the new model had better features. Yes, the camera was much better. Yes, I could take more pictures without constantly having to delete old ones to free some space.
But what are all these features good for when you can easily destroy the phone while carrying it or what’s even worse, loose it altogether? But on the other hand, it had better features, the camera was much better and I could have more storage space. So, what was I to do?
My decision in favour of upgrading to iPhone 6 came when I got hold of Thule Atmos X3 iPhone 6 case (provided for free by Thule), which resolved most of the issues that I had with the new design.
To begin with, this snap-on case, while still being very thin (only 1 cm), offers that extra bulk that I missed so much. It does come at a cost of extra 30 gram (the weight of the case), which, in my opinion, is a very small price to be paid for the solid feel it gives.
In addition, when you hold the phone, Atmos X3 fits very nicely on the palm of my hand (I have big hands though) and it feels that I have a good grip. And it is not my feeling alone. Just a few days ago I was talking about my phone to a friend of mine.
When I took it out of the case to show it better, she was surprised how flimsy it felt in her hand in comparison to when it was in Atmos X3.
This solid feel is the result of the combination of two different types of materials or what Thule call a “Bi-Component Armor”. The main body of the case is made of Polycarbonate, the material that has high impact resistance, which is maintained over a wide temperature range (as a matter of fact, the company gives 25 years of warranty on Atmos X3 – I really hope that I will not be using, by then, my ancient iPhone).
Thanks to these properties, the case can provide the stability and protection, especially around the corners where the phone is especially vulnerable. There Thule uses something they call Shock-Stop Corner design, which, according to their website, can protect the phone against a drop of up to 2 meters. I have to say that I did not replicate their experiment, but I did (unintentionally) drop my phone twice from over a meter height and it is still working fine, no scratches or any other visible damages.
Unlike the material of the main body, the inlay material, which also extends to the sides and the back of the case, is significantly softer and allows for a better grip. It is also slip resistant: when placed on the table or any other flat surface, it stops the phone from sliding easily. When placed facedown, the case protects the screen from scratches thanks to its raised bezel.
The softer inlay material also facilitates the ease with which it is possible to snap the case onto the phone. It literary takes just a second to do that.
Taking it off, on the other hand, is not that easy. Once in place, the case sits around the phone very tightly making it difficult to take it out again (every time I try to do it I am actually afraid that I will damage my iPhone). This does not mean, however, that it is difficult to operate the buttons or reach the charging port.
On the contrary, Atmos X3 has special buttons and slots integrated in its design, which allow all necessity ‘interaction’ with the phone.
But the case has its limitations as well. As it is open, it does not provide any protection against elements, which is especially important when on the water.
I have already had an incident with my old iPhone 4s which, while packrafting, I dropped into the water. Luckily for me, it was in a waterproof case and, when I retrieved it from the bottom of the lake the next day, it survived the ordeal unscathed. And even last week, during my bike-raft-sailing trip, I used it as my main navigation tool and camera, whereas the iPhone 6 was safely hidden in my drysuit.
This all may change very soon as I have heard that Thule is planning to release a waterproof version of Atmos mobile case, which would be definitely something I will be interested in once it is available on the market.
It would definitely be nice to enjoy the solid feel of the present case, while resting assured that no harm can be done to the phone in case it gets into the water.
And I also hope that the new case would also have some kind of attachment point that I could use to fasten a lanyard or a strap. What the incident with my old phone has taught me is that it is not enough to keep your phone waterproof. It is also necessary to keep your phone. Full stop.
My verdict – even though Thule Atmos X3 has its limitations (especially when dealing with it on the water – check the the new Thule X5 if you need a waterproof solution), it is definitely something that I would recommend. Eventually it was one of the main reasons why I made up my mind to upgrade to iPhone 6.