With the price of consumer electronics ever inflating, smartphones have become a much longer-term investments. However, phones are concurrently growing slimmer and their bezels smaller; they are arguably more scratch and shatter-prone than ever before. Simultaneously, design has been an ongoing focus for manufacturers as each struggle to differentiate their product from the fierce competition. So while protecting these devices has become essential, the naked smartphone almost becoming a sentiment of the past, retaining the manufacturer’s design intent is considered to be just as important.
I’ve been a customer of Phantomskinz for years, my first encounter dating back to the 3rd generation iPod Touch in 2013. Since then, I’ve found a comfortable place with HTC’s smartphones whose hallmark feature is design. While many brands offer textured skins for their phones, even those covered up the gorgeous brushed finish of my M8 and the pearlescent sheen of my new U11. Phantomskinz are one of the few companies that still support HTC’s smartphones and offer full body transparent skins. Moreover, the option to go with a matte texture mimics the finish of HTC’s metalwork and wholly redeems the fingerprint magnet that is the high-gloss U11. With that said, I reached out for a cooperation to see whether Phantomskinz products are worth a buy.
I would like to thank Jacob from Phantomskinz very much for his quick communication and for providing me with two skin kits for the purpose of review. All words are my own and there is no monetary incentive for a positive review. Despite receiving the skins free of cost, I will attempt to be as objective as possible in my evaluation.
Each skin is packaged within its own hard box that presents professionally and prevent kinks or bends during shipping. Inside, users will find the skins themselves and some accompanying accessories to aid a flawless install.
In addition, Phantomskinz provide some relatively in-depth instructions as their transparent skins are wet-install units requiring a few additional considerations than typical vinyl. In that vein, application solution, a microfiber cloth and a card to ease install are all included as is a gloss screen protector with every full body skin.
I would like to have seen a rubber squeegee included as well, but the card works well enough. The skin also shipped quickly, taking exactly 14 days arrive in Australia from the order date.
Where wet-install protectors have always carried a certain risk in the past, the recent influx of water-resistant smartphones has vanquished that almost entirely. As such, these flexible vinyls offer far more comprehensive coverage than regular rigid protectors, especially considering that the majority of modern phones employ curved glass of some kind. Without the worry of water damage, install is fairly straight forward and Phantomskinz do provide an in-depth video tutorial on their website.
That said, I found a few techniques to work a little better than those outlined. Before starting, it’s best to power off the phone to avoid accidentally waking the screen during install. It is also important to ensure that both your hands and the phone are absolutely spotless; use an alcohol swab to cut through hidden oils then clean off the residue using the included microfiber cloth. A very dust free environment also simplifies install, most recommend installing in a bathroom where the added humidity traps dust particles.
With everything setup, just apply a few sprays of the application fluid to your hands and the vinyl then align the cut outs with the corresponding features on the phone. On the body skin, this is imperative as the rear skin also wraps around the sides that will also be offset if the rear is incorrectly applied. Luckily, being a wet install skin, it takes about 10minutes to “set” onto the phone, during which it is able to be repositioned.
Once positioned ideally, apply pressure to the middle of the skin and begin guiding the application fluid to the edges, allowing the adhesive to settle onto the phone. In the past, I’ve always struggled with this part of the install, creating rainbow and bubbles that never seemed to resolve even when the solution evaporated away. I found that it is best to apply as much solution as possible and use a card covered in a microfiber cloth to squeegee the fluid out. The cloth is vital as any friction on the skin before it sets can mark the vinyl, cause it to stretch or slide it into an offset position.
After the rear is adhered, wait 10-15minutes for the solution to dry off and fold the edges up to encompass the whole body of the phone. A hairdryer can also be used to evacuate any last remnants of fluid but be sure not to blow dust onto the adhesive side. At the front, the screen protector is similar but, bearing a glossy surface, has an added plastic cover on top. The plastic prevents stretching during install as the protector is very flexible, enabling it to conform over the contours of curved screen phones. Using these techniques, both the front and back installed flawlessly and easily, and Phantomskinz’s particular vinyl is some of the easiest I’ve handled.
Though the aforementioned comments extend to all of Phantomskinz’ transparent skins, the U11 skin is probably most outstanding since there are so few options available for this device. Ironically, the U11 requires covering the most, its exceptionally glossy, slippery back being among the most drop and fingerprint prone I’ve experienced. The Phantomskinz matte U11 skin is certainly my personal favourite option out there; resisting fingerprints incredibly well and adding some much needed tactility to the phone without the tackiness usually associated with wet-install protectors.
Better yet, the rear retains its pearlescent quality, one of the defining features of the U11. As such, the phone still changes colour under different lighting but with a frosted texture on top; it’s not quite as flashy as stock but delivers a more refined aesthetic. The cut outs are also spot on and the skin reaches right to every edge and extremity, maximising protection and visual coherence. Edge sense still functions perfectly and the phone doesn’t feel quite as unrelenting on the fingers and palm when squeezed. And, though the skin doesn’t protect like a case, I no longer worry about scratches and its flexible nature provides some shock absorption from smaller drops that regular 3M vinyls lack.
But despite its matte finish, the skin isn’t impervious to markings, still picking up oil marks, but it is magnitudes ahead of the stock glass. And what differentiates this skin from other solutions I’ve used, like the Skinomi Tech Skin line, is that the rear skin integrates the sides into a single piece. As such, it feels far smoother than multi-piece skins like the Skinomi that employ a rear skin and separate side skins. I also feel more confident that the sides won’t peel over time. The skin leaves the buttons exposed with a decent border to retain travel and delineation. Of note, the following photos were taken just after install, the air gaps around the edges have since sealed down onto the phone.
A key question that surfaces with these protectors is long-term wear and tear since they are so thin and rely on adhesive. I’ve been using my U11 daily the matte skin for over a month and the skin is no worse for wear than when first installed. The matte texture has remained uniform with no scuffs or dents and the edges have remained perfectly adhered without picking up unsightly pocket lint. I have had some slight dust catch near the buttons but it hasn’t caused the skin to peel.
My phone also suffered from a small drop that impacted the bottom corner, the skin sustained a small nick but protected the phone from damage. My previous Phantomskinz vinyls have also lasted incredibly well. For instance, my original HTC M8 skin has been going strong for almost 2 years with just some slight peeling due to drops here and there. They aren’t impermeable to damage of course, but if installed correctly they can be used long-term.
Each skin also comes with a clear screen protector that is similarly well cut and designed but not as outstanding in usability. What impressed me the most was the cut of the Phantomskinz screen protector which offers coverage of the entire front face to its metal perimeter, despite every corner being rounded.
When installed correctly, no rainbowing could be observed nor buckling or marking as Phantomskinz apply a stretch guard for easy install that is later removed. However, as with most wet-install protectors, some orange peel is present unser harsh lighting, and though the texture is smooth under the finger, the gloss skin picks up a lot of fingerprints that are a lot harder to remove than the stock glass.
That said, the skin is no more reflective under the sun than the stock glass but my top pick is still the Brotect Airglass that offers less coverage but superior transparency and fingerprint resistance.
The lustrous yet slick design of the U11 puts users in a strange position. Of the limited options available, few retain the original design and charm of the phone while simultaneously offering full coverage and protection. Phantomskinz’ offering isn’t perfect, but it is the best solution I’ve personally had experience with. The matte body skin, in particular, is outstanding, offering a tactile finish, well integrated side wrap and thoughtful cut outs that retain button tactility.
Moreover, the skin augments the pearlescent nature of the phone’s rear, heightening its aesthetic intrigue. And, though the included screen protector isn’t quite as flawless, it too offers almost perfect coverage and high-quality relative to the rest of the wet-install options on the market. This is a great option for every smartphone owner wanting to retain their phone’s sleek design while offering increased tactility and protection. On the flipside, it is probably the only full-coverage, one-piece skin for HTC U11 owners and it has vastly improved my user experience over the past month of use.
Phantomskinz full-body U11 skin can be purchased from their website here for $24.95 USD. I am not affiliated with Phantomskinz and receive no earnings from purchases through this link.