I like my iPhones in wood. Part of it’s to satisfy my Danish mid-century pretensions, but as I’ve said before, there’s something perfect about making a smartphone after wood. Wood implies an intimacy that metal or plastic doesn’t — that it was hand-crafted with you in mind — which makes it a natural (but not practical) material for a smartphone, which is the gadget with which most of us have our most personal relationships.
Back when I had an iPhone 4S, I replaced the glass back of my device with a replacement teak back by Monolith and never looked back. Not only was it more practical and more unique than the iPhone 4S’s easily shattered glass back, but it felt just sublime in the hand.
When the iPhone 5 came out, I was eager to know from Monolith whether they’d be doing replacement wood backs for Apple’s latest handsets. The response I got was a disappointment: while it was possible to replace the back of the iPhone 4/4S by just popping out two screws, it was impossible to replace the iPhone 5 ‘s back plate in the same way. The best Monolith could do, they said, was adhesives. My heart sank. Surely, wood stickers you slap on the back of your iPhone 5 would just suck.
They don’t. Defying both my expectations and experiences with similar products, Monolith’s wood iPhone 5 skins are every bit as amazing as their wood iPhone 4 backs. They’re beautifully made, wonderfully packaged, easy to apply, feel rich and luscious to the touch and are so thin as to make you have a hard time believing they can shave a tree this thin.
To be blunt, I didn’t expect much from Monolith’s iPhone 5 wood skins. I’ve tried similar skins before, and I’ve always found them to feel cheap, difficult to stick on evenly, add an unpleasant amount of additional thickness to the device, and leave a gross, difficult-to-remove residue on the back of the iPhone when removed. As much as I loved Monolith’s wood iPhone 4S backs — a world-class product, through and through — I was skeptical they could do anything more than any other purveyor in glue-sided, iPhone-shaped tree bark could do.
I should have had more trust in Monolith.
First of all, let’s talk about the wood. Monolith gets wood. Unlike their competitors, they’re not just taking the scraps, but using high-quality maple, etimoe, teak, walnut,wenge and zebrawood and then shaving them down to paper-thinness. Where as other wood iPhone 5 skins I’ve tested have been thicker, they have felt cheaper. The secret, I suspect, isn’t just in Monolith’s choice of woods, but in their finishing process, which guarantees that all of their products are hand-finished with a non-toxic and eco-friendly oil that feels just great to the touch and lends all of their woods a robust deepening of color and grain.
One of the things I have always liked about Monolith’s products is their beautiful minimalist packaging. This time around, Monolith is shipping each iPhone 5 skin in a box that doubles as a fantastically easy way to install your skin in perfect alignment with your device. Each skin comes in a corrugated cardboard cut-out slipped into a colorful outer sleeve. The clever trick here is that when you take the skin out of the cut-out, you can then perfectly fit your iPhone 5 into it, with just a little depth left over to lay your new skin on top and firmly press it down. The result is a foolproof installation of every Monolith skin each and every time, with no chance of misalignment.
And once your iPhone 5 skin is on? You’d barely know it was there. The thickness increase is there, but it’s almost imperceptible. In fact, even with the Monolith skin on, we were still able to fit our iPhone 5 into most of the cases we tried.
When we set out to review Monolith’s series of iPhone 5 skins, we were prepared to be disappointed in the product compared to their incredible replacement wood backs for the iPhone 4S. Not only were we not disappointed, finding the same incredible craftsmanship and design in the new skins as we found in the old backs, but we think the skins are even easier to recommend: they only cost $20 a pop, compared to the replacement backs’ $60 price tag.
If you have any interest in making your iPhone 5 feel a little warmer in your hand or look a little more chic by supplementing its sleek glass-and-aluminum appearance with some natural wood, Monolith’s the only company you should be thinking about right now. Short of Jonny Ive deciding to embrace a late 70s wood-panel aesthetic after a mid-life crisis, if you want an iPhone 5 made out of wood, this is as close as you’re going to get.