Designed by M’s AL13 Aluminum Bumper Is For The iPhone 5 Purist

| Quick Look Review

Designed by M started the development of the AL13 aluminum bumper case as a Kickstarter project asking for US$20,000. Within one week US$86,250 had been pledged. The iPhone 5 purists who wanted to protect their phones without adding a clunky case were obviously interested. I asked Lester Mapp, the creator of this product, what prompted the development. I doubted that he could have foreseen so much interest prior to putting it out on Kickstarter. Mr. Mapp responded:

"Before we developed AL13, we were all pretty anti-case when it came to our own iPhones. We just hadn’t found anything out there that we thought complimented the phone. We wanted to make something that could offer some level of protection but still wouldn’t change the look of the phone. The whole point of having an having an iPhone...not something that used to look like an iPhone before you put a case on it. Apple spent lots of time and money making the iPhone thinner and lighter, so why would you want to cover it up with something that would add bulk and weight? AL13 is slim, extremely lightweight and built to blend in with the look of the iPhone."

AL-13 Bumper iPhone 5 case

The bumper is made from lightweight aerospace aluminum. It has an anodized finish and chamfered (symmetrical sloping) edges that matches the look of the iPhone 5. It is lined on the inside to protect the phone and weighs only 14 grams.

Side view of bumper compared to iPhone 5


The case is composed of two pieces, the bumper itself, and a sliding cover that glides on and locks in place. Once locked in place, it is somewhat difficult to remove. The product includes a protective film for the back and an anti-scratch, anti-fingerprint and anti-glare polyurethane screen protector.

Sliding cover and bumper


Back view of bumper and sliding cover locked in place

The bumper is available in gun metal, slate black, blue, silver, and red. The black bumper on the black phone is virtually invisible.

The Packaging

This product has very unusual packaging. It is striking and very attractive. It arrives nestled in a metal box with a sliding lid.

Package - partially opened

I complimented Mr. Mapp on the packaging, but asked what effect it has on the price of the product. His response was interesting:

"AL13 is a premium product and we felt that the packaging should reflect that. Other bumpers of a similar quality retail for almost $150... and you don’t get that kind of packaging. AL13 is priced at $79. For that price you get not only a high quality product made with great craftsmanship and extreme attention to detail, you get a cool reusable metal case that you can store cables and headphones in when you travel, or just use as additional desk storage. We really wanted to give our customers a “wow” experience, so that they feel they have gotten value for the money they spent."

He is correct that the box, which measures 4 x 6 x 1.5-inches (10.2 x 15.2 x 3.8 cm) can be used in numerous ways.

Using the Product

The design of this case makes it extremely easy to install. You just gently lay the phone in the bumper, lining up the holes appropriately, and then slide on the cover until it clicks in place. The cover is basically invisible to the point that I did not even realize there were two parts when I first picked it up.

When I had to remove the case, which I have to do because of my job, it was hard to do without scratching my phone, but I assume the normal user will not face this problem.

Once the case was in place, it was quite difficult to tell that a bumper was being used unless I looked on the back of the iPhone where there is a slight overlap. Of course, had I been testing a red one, it would have been more noticeable.

Do I Recommend it?

I do. If iPhone 5 purity is part of your consciousness, then I believe you will know you have found your solution, and it is certainly well designed and well made. You will not have to worry about the bumper coming off, and it offers good corner protection.

Product: AL13 iPhone 5 Bumper Case

Company: Designed by M

List Price: US$79.00



Case provides basic protection for iPhone 5 without interferring with its aesthetics.


Once installed, the case is difficult to remove. Potential to scratch the iPhone.

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Three concerns:
1) I want the edges to have something non-slippery, like a bit of rubber, since part of why I want a case is so I can set the phone down without worry. (The cheap plastic bumper I have now, which is falling apart, has rubber on the top and bottom and plastic between. It’s the plastic that breaks.)
2) Too expensive. The iPhone is only $200 (on contract, obviously). I don’t want to pay something that seems to be half the price of the phone itself. I will most likely have to buy a new case/bumper for whatever phone I get next which will likely be 2 yrs after I got the iPhone 5.
3) Easy removal matters if you have peripherals that don’t fit through the case. E.g. something that plugs into the headphone jack but is a bit thicker than a normal headphone.

I don’t want a premium case, I just want one that actually works (for my use case/preferences). So, a thin bumper that has raised edges made of rubber to keep the phone surfaces off table surfaces but not let it slide, and that is sturdy enough to not break.

This looks close, minus the three points above. (When I saw the article brief I wanted to buy one, which makes it disappointing.)


Yeah I need something that can protect my phone since I drop it all the time.

John Dingler, artist

Hi webjprgm,
If you were to flatten out an empty roll of toilet paper, squaring off the edges, and cut out the necessary access holes, by golly, you might satisfy yourself with a cool piece of protective gear that will slide less on a slick surface!

But, if you split the tube, simply tape it together to give you that grungy look that some rubber cases would never be able to achieve.


@John Dingler - I can’t decide if I’m being made fun of or if this is a serious tip. If serious, I at least don’t know how to do that such that a toilet paper roll case would be sufficiently sturdy.

I would point out two flaws in the toilet paper roll case:
1) Looks pretty pathetic, especially next to something as well designed as an iPhone
2) Vulnerable to water, and much less resistant to wear and tear than either plastic, rubber, or aluminum cases.

Maybe if an artist could mold the cardboard just right and spray it with some kind of laminate to make it water proof and tougher, then it could work.

Note that I usually go straight to pointing out the flaws of any product. I focus on the flaws that would make me, as a consumer, not want to buy it. This is in part a plea to have someone make something more suited to my preferences and is also part of the balancing of alternatives to see if the advantages outweigh the flaws. Hopefully nobody took this as just senseless whining.

John Dingler, artist

Hi webjprgm,
Oh, I see that your new concern is watertightness. Yes, a case made out of an empty roll of toilet paper would put the iPhone at risk, but I suggest enclosing it in a zipper bag normally used for food storage. The 6.5” x 3.25” should do, and a whole box is available for ninety-nine cents at the 99¢ Store. The material is thin enough that it should not impede with operation. Tape the sealed opening to assure that no water can seep in, and I suggest that you rotate it to the rear to keep the front of the iPhone as aesthetically clean as possible because, you know, we Apple lovers want to honor the iPhone’s clean, minimalist lines. Add four self-sticking half-round bumpers to the front and back and this, along with the plastic would decrease its slidability across slick surfaces even further.

So now you have a beautiful device intelligently protected, not only from accidental bumps and drops, but also from inclement weather conditions and from dunking it accidentally in dishwater, for example. For those who want to take calls from concerned spouses when away from them, it can safely be taken scuba diving to a depth of about 15 feet, for another example. Those who promised the spouse to keep the iPhone close by but want to avoid receiving calls, I recommend a deeper dive.


Rarely high price and I believe I read a review that commented that the aluminum could diminish reception.

birju shukla

good case


Did you notice any drop in reception whilst using this case?

Nancy Gravley

I use Sprint as the carrier for my iPhone service and get good reception as a routine in and around Austin TX where I live. I did not notice any change in that reception while testing the AL13.

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