Review: Carved Satellite Phone Case

I recently gave an account of my one, only, and probably last Kickstarter experience, the Rite Press. That was a fine example of the potential pitfalls of engineering-led companies: Myopic focus on product capabilities without proper consideration to customer experience, getting product out the door on-schedule, and adhering to budget. Poor planning didn't help either, although that part had nothing to do with being engineering-led.

Although it's not a crowd-funded product, here's an example of doing it right: The Carved Satellite phone case. I'm going to review the case, but I'll also write a lot about the user experience of the product which, as a product marketer, I think is a great case study.

So here's the product concept: Mobile phones are a ubiquitous, utilitarian tool, manufactured on an assembly line in a faceless factory, each one identical to millions of others. The Carved Satellite transforms your unremarkable phone into a singular object of art, unique among all others. It is a remarkably beautiful and attention-grabbing phone case with a difference: No two are exactly alike.

As a product marketing professional, I'm really impressed with the thought that Carved put into the entire user experience for this product. Everything about the experience reinforces the idea that you're buying a one-of-a-kind product.

For example, when you purchase, you choose from a selection of actual photographs of the panel that will be used to create your case. Since each panel is a slice from a block of highly-figured wood set in a marble-textured resin, each panel is unique. The panels are individually named (mine is called "Shelley"), reinforcing the impression of uniqueness. When a case is sold, a new panel replaces the sold one on the web site, never to be seen again. And panels don't last very long on the site.

So when you see a panel you really love, the experience creates a tick-tock urgency to buy it before somebody else gets it. (As a marketer, tears of joy form in my eyes a little on that.) On the other hand, it makes you not want to buy too quickly, lest you see a panel you like a lot better later on. People with option anxiety will probably not enjoy this.

After you've completed your order, you get a very nice thank you e-mail from the CEO. It's a form letter, but it's well-written in a very warm, sincere, and conversational tone. And it is beautifully designed and laid out. I can't remember ever getting that nice of a thank you note for buying something like a phone case.

They built and shipped my case in one business day, which surprised me. But when I think about it, maybe it shouldn't be surprising. All they have to do is cut the mostly-complete panel to fit the type of case you ordered; do the final finishing; and glue the finished panel onto the case. But the perception of "unique and handmade" is so strong that it's surprising how quickly they turn it around unless you've thought it through.

The receiving experience is also well thought out. Along with the case, my shipment included:
  • A nice carrying bag with a topographical map pattern
  • A nifty playing card with a short bio on the back of the person who built my case
  • A Carved logo sticker
  • Another nicely written thank you note, hand-signed
  • A card telling me, nicely, that the product is made from wood and that I should expect some variations and "imperfections" because of, well, nature
  • A card asking me to post something to social media if I like the product, and telling me how to contact customer support if I don't
All of these items are well-designed and artfully laid out. This is the sort of information that most companies would just print on a sheet of plain paper. But with Carved, it's all part of a very thoughtfully designed experience, reinforcing a feeling of "unique and special" at every interaction with the customer. 

And the product itself, how does that stand out?

Well, as you can see from my photos, the case is beautiful. It actually exceeded expectations. It looks better in person than the mock-ups on the Carved's web site, and the mock-ups were lust-inspiring enough to get me to buy. I'm not sure what kind of wood mine is made from, but I believe it's Buckeye Burl. In any case, it's wonderfully figured and burnished. It is exquisite and that's not an exaggeration. I love the juxtaposition of warm wood tone with the slash of swirly blue resin, which gives it a wonderful pop of color. The shade of blue and the color texturing of the resin are lovely. It really does evoke the look of a satellite image of a river cutting a path through an ancient desert landscape. Wonderful.

Aesthetically, I do have mixed feelings about the matte finish. On the positive side, it won't scratch nearly as easily as gloss. But I think gloss would look even better. When you combine the matte finish with the almost-too-perfect-to-be-real figuring, it almost looks like a particularly well-done formica countertop, which is decidedly not what you want with a blingy product like this.

The case itself is more about style than protection. It's thin to preserve the sleekness of the phone, which is nice. But it's not waterproof or shockproof. A drop onto concrete could very well damage your phone, and there's no protection at all for the screen other than a slightly raised lip around the perimeter. That's not to say it's a crappy case – it's not. The case is on-par with most other screen-less, "normal use" cases. But compared to ruggedized, protection-oriented cases, like the Lifeproof cases that I've used for the last several years, well, there really isn't a comparison. Let's just say that I'll be keeping my Lifeproof for camping, kayaking, and fishing trips.

Functionally, the Carved case works quite well. It has a textured rubber perimeter that provides good grip, and the button covers prevent dust from getting in the button holes while not hindering their action. The Lightning port is still readily accessible. 

So from the standpoint of a product review, I obviously like the case a lot. It delivers everything it promises. Count me a very satisfied customer.

But as a case study in user experience, Carved knocks it out of the park. They've taken something as dull and commonplace as a phone case and crafted a very compelling user experience around it. That is remarkable! I'm reminded of what Starbucks did for coffee in the late '80s and early '90s. Now, Starbucks started with something that was even more of a commodity and built an even more transformational experience around it. But the analogy holds. Color me mightily impressed.


  1. Great review! Your insights into the marketing and uniqueness of it where fascinating!


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