A few days ago, one of our readers emailed us to ask, "Is this a photo of the Verizon iPhone, or a Chinese knockoff?" It only took me a couple seconds to realize it was neither; it was a voBack replacement iPhone 4 rear panel from Fixxed, a company based out of Christchurch, New Zealand. I'd seen a review of the voBack panel on iPhonewzealand, and based on that review and the images on voBack's site, I decided to give one of them a try.
I've always thought that Apple's decision to make the rear plate of the iPhone 4 out of glass was a bit odd, especially since the antennas are on the outside of the iPhone and shouldn't have experienced any interference from a more robust material, like metal. Considering that people drop their mobile phones all the time, it seemed like a recipe for disaster. "Use a case" is the usual answer, but aside from Apple's own bumper case (which does nothing to protect the rear glass), I haven't found a case that looks anywhere near as good as a caseless iPhone.
Fortunately, Apple designed the iPhone 4 in a way that makes it atypically easy to dismantle. In the video below, you'll see that even though I fumbled around a bit with the Philips #00 screwdriver I used, it only took about three and a half minutes for me to swap the iPhone 4's standard glass plate with the metal replacement from voBack. (Note that newer iPhone 4 units have five-point Torx screws, a much rarer screw type that's more difficult to remove.) Because I chose a black replacement, from a distance my iPhone looks almost no different than it did before, but I've got more peace of mind now that the backside is made out of something more durable than glass.
About the only complaint I have about the voBack panel is it holds onto smudges a lot more readily than the standard oleophobic glass. Other than that minor issue, I'm quite pleased with it. The best part is that, unlike most cases, the voBack plate doesn't change the shape of the iPhone 4 at all, so anything that would have fit a standard-issue iPhone will still fit. My bumper case slid right on with no issues, and my camera, LED flash and wireless reception haven't been affected at all. Worried about voiding your warranty by swapping out the rear plate? voBack itself isn't sure if this procedure will void your warranty or not, but if you keep the original backside in a safe place, you can always swap it back in later. If you've already broken the rear glass on your iPhone 4 anyway, you've really got nothing to lose by replacing it.
There are plenty of different colors, styles and materials to choose from on voBack's site, and the prices range from US$24 to $29. Shipping to the US from New Zealand is very reasonable too, though Fixxed says it's looking for international distributors for the voBack panels. Check out a gallery of the voBack panel below, and I've also made a video showing how easy it is for even a clumsy guy like me to swap out the iPhone's rear casing.