Pong Soft Touch case for iPhone 4/4S review

Pong Research’s aesthetically limited iPhone cases, such as the Soft Touch for iPhone 4 and 4S, are designed to alleviate potentially harmful radiation and improve signal strength.

Do mobile phones cause cancer? The jury is technically still out – for the simple reason that mobiles have been in widespread regular use for only a couple of decades, so there is little information on risks beyond the first 15 years after initial exposure. But the numerous studies published so far have not found conclusive evidence that they do.*

If those two little words 'so far' are enough to cause you palpitations, however, what can you do about it? One option is the Soft Touch case for iPhone 4 and 4S, which maker Pong Research claims can significantly reduce the radiation exposure of your head and body, while also optimising your signal.

The idea is that an antenna built into the case redirects the radiation away from your head when making a phone call (a company spokesperson conceded that this would increase the exposure of your hand, although that's obviously less of a concern) and, in an unintended bonus effect, allows more radiation communication with the cellular tower. (Which in turn improves battery life, Pong claims, since the phone has to spend less time searching for the mast.)

Pong Soft Touch iPhone 4 & 4S case

We can't guarantee that you’ll enjoy any noticeable difference in signal strength, however, based on our anecdotal tests: three editors compared phone use in multiple locations with their usual cases, with the Pong case and with no case at all, and saw no appreciable difference in the number of bars displayed on screen, in the quality of calls or the frequency of dropped calls, and in battery life. We tested in both low- and high-signal areas and saw no noticeable benefits. However, Pong has suggested that we might have seen better results in rural settings. Your mileage may vary.

The flagship selling point, of course, is the health benefits of reducing radiation exposure, and sadly the iPad & iPhone User labs - and indeed its staff - are not equipped to give an informed verdict on such matters. We certainly don't dispute that the case reduces your brain's radiation exposure; Pong has had its wares tested by independent labs, and there is clearly a change in the radiation pattern. What we would humbly reiterate is that widespread testing has yet to find a clear link between mobile use and cancer, regardless of what kind of case you use.

And in other respects this is a tough case to recommend: scarcely attractive in the first place – indeed, the spokesperson positively boasted that aesthetics are not a priority for the company – our baby-blue model had acquired a grimy appearance on each edge after a few weeks of use, while the soft-feel finish had started peeling off the underlying plastic of another sample.

The antenna and its plastic enclosure, meanwhile, make it slightly thicker and heavier (24g, compared to the 12g of this reviewer's usual Giant Sparrows custom job) than many alternative iPhone cases.

Next page: Macworld buying advice >>

Pong Soft Touch iPhone 4 & 4S case

* In April the Health Protection Agency published a comprehensive review of the relevant studies, which "concluded that there is still no convincing evidence that mobile phone technologies cause adverse effects on human health". The study noted that "A large number of studies have now been published on cancer risks in relation to mobile phone use. Overall, the results of studies have not demonstrated that the use of mobile phones causes brain tumours or any other type of cancer."

While acknowledging that there is little information on risks beyond 15 years from first exposure, and that it is therefore important to monitor the evidence, including that from national brain tumour trends, the study added that "these have so far given no indication of any risk".

It's worth checking out some other studies by reputable scientific organisations, however, since there is some variation, and some research is cautious about concluding with certainty that mobile phone radiation is not harmful.

Cancer Research UK offers some information on the topic. It states that: "There is currently no firm evidence that using a mobile phone will increase your risk of developing a brain tumour or any other type of cancer."

On the subject of young mobile phone users, the site says:

"The chairman of the Government's advisory group, Sir William Stewart, says that children should only use mobile phones in an emergency. There is no evidence that mobile phones are damaging to children either. But if mobile phone use does turn out to have health risks, children would be more at risk because they are young, their nervous systems are still developing and their skulls are thinner. The government recommends that children shouldn't use mobiles regularly if they are under 16."

Last summer the World Health Organisation published a report in which it said mobile phone radiation was "possibly carcinogenic to humans". This was interpreted in some quarters as a warning for users. However, this report too did not find a definitive causal relationship.

"Because many cancers are not detectable until many years after the interactions that led to the tumour, and since mobile phones were not widely used until the early 1990s, epidemiological studies at present can only assess those cancers that become evident within shorter time periods. However, results of animal studies consistently show no increased cancer risk for long-term exposure to radiofrequency fields," the report says.

"The international pooled analysis of data gathered from 13 participating countries found no increased risk of glioma or meningioma with mobile phone use of more than 10 years. There are some indications of an increased risk of glioma for those who reported the highest 10% of cumulative hours of cell phone use, although there was no consistent trend of increasing risk with greater duration of use. The researchers concluded that biases and errors limit the strength of these conclusions and prevent a causal interpretation. Based largely on these data, IARC has classified radiofrequency electromagnetic fields as possibly carcinogenic to humans (Group 2B), a category used when a causal association is considered credible, but when chance, bias or confounding cannot be ruled out with reasonable confidence."

This Telegraph blog has more on the WHO report. We strongly advise further research - numerous studies are easily found online - if the individual reader is concerned about mobile phone radiation.

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OUR VERDICT

The Pong case is expensive and quite thick (if pleasingly robust), didn’t appear to affect signal strength in our anecdotal tests, proved susceptible to peeling and dulling after a few weeks’ use, and was rather ugly to start off with. On the other hand, it might – might – save you from brain cancer. So how do you give a product like that a score out of five? Ultimately the radiation issue is something you need to consider for yourself. It’s possible that regular mobile phone use increases your chances of a tumour, but studies so far – and there have been lots of them – cautiously suggest otherwise; certainly for anything up to a couple of decades’ use, and most likely beyond. If you don’t want to risk it, however, Pong’s cases become an entirely respectable option, alongside hands-free kits, and using your iPhone on speakerphone mode.

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