Glass-backed devices like the Nexus 4 look great. But a glass back, like any design decision, is a compromise. Glass -- even reinforced glass like Corning's Gorilla Glass 2 -- is less durable than metal or plastics. And besides, not everyone is fond of the look and feel of a glass-backed smartphone. Hence the arrival of protective skins like Dbrand's that not only cover up the vulnerable glass, but come in a variety of colors and textures.
Made from 3M vinyl, Dbrand's Nexus 4 skins are precision-cut to match the back of the device, including the stylized "Nexus" lettering under the camera assembly. Dbrand provided us with a selection of skins for review, and each one of them was an exact match for the back of the Nexus 4 -- no rough edges, no overlap -- pretty impressive for a mass-produced skin.
The attachment process can be tricky at first, and Dbrand provides newbies with a link to their official application guide. This suggests lining up the camera lens and flash first, then aligning the left edge so the skin is flush with the edge of the glass. If you screw up on your first try, it's easy enough to remove and readjust. After a few attempts, though, we were able to get things matching up correctly in just a couple of minutes.
Dbrand's range of textures includes titanium, carbon and leather, and the latter comes in a wide range of colors. We tried out all three textures and settled on carbon as a favorite, closely followed by leather. The black color fits in nicely with the Nexus's existing look, while white makes for a striking contrast to the phone's dark exterior.
On the whole, we couldn't argue with the quality of the product. The skins grip the back of the Nexus 4 firmly, so there's be no risk of slippage. All of Dbrand's skins are grippier than the glass they cover -- particularly the carbon texture -- making the Nexus 4 easier to hold. And equally importantly, they look great and don't upset the phone's design -- these could easily be an official Nexus accessory.
A word of warning, though...
Once a Dbrand skin is attached it can be tricky to remove, especially if you've followed the instructions correctly and not left yourself any loose edges. This was the case with one of mine, and so after a little searching I decided to pick at the inner edge near the speaker. Only, turns out it wasn't just the vinyl skin I was picking away at it, but the glass itself. The result was a small chip in the weakest area of the glass, between the speaker and the right edge, that splintered outwards, cracking the entire back panel.
Now, this probably wasn't the skin's fault -- there's no telling what underlying weaknesses there might've been in the glass itself -- but it's something to be aware of in the removal process. Glass is glass, and if you pry at the weakest part of it, it's going to end badly.
My newly-shattered Nexus 4 did give me an opportunity to use one of the remaining skins to cover up, though. And after scraping away some of the loose glass, those skins let me hide this shameful, jagged mess. So if you've got a cracked Nexus 4, a skin like this might be something to consider.
Despite our glass-related mishap, we'd still recommend Dbrand's Nexus 4 vinyl skins for those who want to protect the back of the device, or simply personalize the the phone. At $9 each they're not especially cheap, but the price is justified by the quality of materials and the closeness of the fit.
Dbrand's skins for Nexus 4 (and other devices) are available directly from the manufacturer's website.