Review: Lajo 4G iPod Cases
See individual reviews for product ratings and Pros and Cons summaries.
Back when the third-generation iPod was Apple’s bread and butter, there was no question in our minds that one silicone rubber case manufacturer was at the top of the hill: a small China-based manufacturer named Lajo. Strongly inspired by products sold by iSkin and Speck Products, Lajo’s cases in some cases managed to surpass the originals: though derivative, we thought its eXoflp 3G case in particular was a nearly perfect melding of the best features developed by its competitors.
Lajo’s other strong suit has been its variety of silicone dyes. Whereas competitors tend to max out at seven or eight color variations, it’s not unusual for a single Lajo case to be advertised in thirty different colors, including transparents and translucents, metallics and pearlescents, solids and glow-in-the darks. There’s no doubt even today that Lajo offers at least one case color that will appeal to any possible customer.
But the tables turned for large and small silicone case companies alike when Apple unexpectedly introduced the fourth-generation iPod some months ago. Every company with a rubber 3G case tripped over itself to get an updated 4G version on the market, while new players such as Tunewear came up with fresh, highly detailed, and professional looking designs. What was once a battle primarily between Lajo’s eXo cases and iSkin’s eVo cases quickly evolved into something much bigger.
Retrofitting: A Familiar Problem, to Consumers’ Chagrin
Third-generation iPod case manufacturers began to rework their products within hours of Apple’s 4G iPod announcement, and with ten or more different 3G cases (in multiple sizes) on the market, Lajo had far more to change than its competitors. By comparison, iSkin had only two sizes of one case to retrofit, relatively new U.S. vendors such as Power Support and Tunewear similarly had two, and Speck had only one.
In a competitive and time-pressured marketplace, trying to produce even one new case - say nothing of twenty - is no easy feat. We have seen plenty of evidence that many case makers felt too rushed to properly size and polish the little details of their new cases. Our original review of an aluminum case from Innopocket, for example, noted that its Click Wheel hole was improperly sized and cut with a rough, finger-unfriendly edge. Similarly, the first silicone rubber 4G case from Speck was marketed as fully 4G iPod-compatible, but didn’t properly fit the thicker 40GB iPod. There are plenty of other examples, too.
Though there are exceptions in the batch, a number of the 4G Lajo cases we received and tested exhibit similar “rush to market” issues - ones that make the cases look more amateurish in person than their 3G siblings. As examples, some of their holes, edges, and sides have small splinters or flecks of rubber hanging off, and all of the cases now feature a conspicuous rear logo that looks to have been handwritten. They also continue to exhibit an unpleasant chemical smell when you first get them, which the company has previously suggested will go away if you wash them with soap - it actually took us several soapy washes. While the 4G cases weren’t as nauseatingly strong-smelling as their 3G predecessors, they remain the only cases that arrive carrying a smell.
Additionally, the market has matured a bit since last we looked at 3G iPod cases. Some competitors have made little usability tweaks to their old designs, such as increasing the sizes of their top and bottom connecting holes, or adding extra anti-shock rubber ribs to certain high-impact or sensitive edges (such as the iPod’s sides or screen). Lajo’s 4G cases haven’t changed much since the last generation - save for one feature we discuss below. All of the cases’ bottom holes (save the eXoflp 4G series) continue to be aggravatingly small, fitting only Apple’s stock cables without requiring you to pull and tug at the cases.
Therefore, in appearance and little details, what used to be a fit and finish difference tilting slightly in favor of Lajo’s cases now leans more heavily towards iSkin’s, Power Support’s, Speck’s, and Tunewear’s products. Even DLO’s Jam Jackets are looking competitive. Each of these companies’ products may have its own issues, but none of their cases look quite as rough around the edges as Lajo’s do at this point.
Granted, some people won’t mind these differences, primarily because the color variety offered by Lajo’s 4G cases remains so spectacular, but they’re disconcerting to us nonetheless. There was a point at which we felt that we could recommend almost any Lajo rubber case without reservation, but we don’t feel quite so strongly about the 4G versions we’ve received.
Other Common Threads in Lajo Cases
As a mild counterbalance to the cases’ rough edges, Lajo has lifted iSkin’s innovation of a thinner top case surface that - unlike the exposed tops of Power Support, Tunewear and DLO cases - protects the top of the iPod while still permitting the use of top-mounting accessories such as Griffin’s iTrip and iTalk. All of Lajo’s thicker cases now incorporate this feature, and his thinner cases achieve the same effect without differential top thicknesses.
Following in the footsteps of the prior generation, none of Lajo’s cases come with screen protectors or belt clips - they’re options if you want them. We’ll discuss the belt clips below, particularly how you’ll need to pick the right Lajo case to fit a specific type of optional belt clip, which range in price from $3.00 (bclip) to $4.50 (bungee) to $6.50/$7.50 (SWVclip) and $14.75 for the rotating TwistClip. Lajo also sells $1.50 chrome zipStubs that are required to use several of his clips.
Lajo’s hard rubber iShades screen protectors are now available in eight different colors (clear, two greens, three blues, one yellow and one pink), each at the reasonable price of $3.50. We received and really liked all of the iShades, though they produce a slick “wet” look on the iPod’s screen that iSkin has done away with in its similarly named competing product, iSkin Shades (available in a five-pack of purple, blue, pink, green, and orange for $14.99 when sold alone (or $7.50 when purchased with a case, and bundled in clear for free with every eVo 2 case). As between the two, Lajo’s stick better, are individually cheaper, and come in more colors, but don’t look as good on the iPod’s screen as iSkin’s, which have been improving with each generation of iSkin cases. As between the two, we now prefer iSkin’s Shades over Lajo’s iShades unless there’s a color that only Lajo offers.
And now, a Brief Note on Customer Service and Web Issues
Most of the time, a company’s customer service and web site issues aren’t of special concern to us, but we do address those topics if we receive enough questions or complaints from our readers. On a positive note, we’re pleased to report that the performance of Lajo’s web site has improved dramatically since our last round-up of the company’s cases, alleviating most of the unusually strong concerns voiced by iLounge readers as to problems with the site’s usability and ordering. Additionally, Lajo now sells his products through a variety of international resellers who apparently take responsibility for order fulfillment and customer care, reducing customers’ need to directly contact the manufacturer itself in China.
However, we do remain concerned about the company’s human-level customer service, which has been the source of numerous complaints from iLounge readers. Some readers have noted that they were shipped the wrong products, while others have said that they could not get their pre-ordering questions answered. In response to our own comment that we had not received responses to our messages to the company, a reseller noted that the manufacturer stopped reading e-mails when its backlog grew to around 5,000 messages, with hundreds more arriving each day.
For this reason, we feel compelled to advise readers to seek out a responsible local (or international) reseller rather than ordering these cases direct from China, just in case there’s a customer service problem that needs to be expeditiously resolved. While messages we sent to one other such reseller similarly bounced because “the recipient’s mailbox is full,” there are probably others out there who can adequately handle their customers’ needs.
If nothing else, Lajo continues to possess a staggering variety of cases, so many in fact that we’ve tried to create a decoding system so that you know what they are. As you’ll see in the individual sections below, there are “fb” (flat-backed) and non-fb (belt clip-friendly) cases, an “o” case for open Click Wheel, and more.
eXo 4g ($17.50)
eXofb 4g ($15.00)
iPodArt 4g ($25.00 to $60.00)
From a body standpoint, these three cases are virtually identical to one another, and derive from Lajo’s original eXo design. Directly comparable to iSkin’s eVo 2 case ($29.99), these cases leave holes for the iPod’s screen, Click Wheel, headphone port and hold switch, as well as an unprotected hole at the Dock Connector port. iSkin’s eVo 2, by comparison, includes a pop-off protective flap of rubber for the Dock Connector. In both iSkin and Lajo cases, in order to accommodate top-mounting accessories, the top of the case is a little thinner than the majority of its two millimeter-thick body.
The standard eXo also has an attractive starburst of heat dispersion holes on its back, plus an integrated metal post for the company’s optional screw-mounting belt clip accessories. Lajo’s “fb” version - and this is consistent throughout all of his cases - has a no frills flat back compatible with a separate set of non-screw, hard plastic belt clips called TwistClips (see below), but can also be used without any clip at all. Though it uses the same thickness of rubber as the standard version case, an “fb” case is slightly thinner in total because of the absence of the metal post and surrounding protective rubber.
In the third iPod generation of Lajo cases, we were almost inclined to prefer the thinner “fb” case versions to the standard ones, but since Lajo switched its cases from a more professional xSkn logo to the handwritten Lajo one, we strongly prefer the distraction offered by the standard version’s heat dispersion holes. Those holes are a professional looking touch that counterbalances the oversized Lajo logo.
Measured in raw iPod surface area left exposed, these cases are the least protective of Lajo’s cases, but they’re also some of the cheapest - except for the iPodArt version, which is identical to a eXofb save for Lajo’s use of several mixed and swirled colors to create an “artistic” case sold at a higher price. iPodArt 4G is presently available in six versions - BlackonWhite, Blue Ice, Inferno, Phosphorus, RedWhiteBlue and Spring.
Though we were already familiar with (and quite liked) the BlackonWhite ($23.50) and Inferno ($35.50) 3G cases, we were sent only the RedWhiteBlue ($60.00) version for 4G review. To be charitable, we will say that we still have not seen any silicone rubber case that would be worth $60.00, and the RedWhiteBlue iPodArt case - a swirled version of the U.S. flag - is no exception. On a positive note, the company’s choice to use a translucent dark blue plastic for the star background makes the case look a bit better than we’d expected, but with awkward swirls and uneven edges, we weren’t blown away by the look of the case overall.
From a design standpoint, the eXo was looking a bit dated by the time Lajo introduced his later 3G iPod cases, and increased competition hasn’t helped these cases much. While iSkin, Tunewear and DLO have added textured grips and other contours to their cases’ bodies, Lajo’s eXos remain relatively flat and uninspired - especially the fb versions. This generation’s lack of beveled holes and occasionally splintered edges didn’t impress us tremendously, either. However, assuming you get one of the good cases - particularly one of the transparent or iPodArt ones - it’s still a good enough case to just rate a B from us, like its 3G predecessor. Mark it down a notch for the one in two or three possibility your case might have some edges you’ll need to polish yourself.
If we had to pick favorites from the bunch, we’d take the standard eXo over the fb, and the BlackonWhite ($23.50) iPodArt case as the best value of that collection. If you need added screen and Click Wheel protection, these cases can be helped considerably by Lajo’s iShades and Power Support’s Wheel Film.
Pros: Simple iPod body protection available in numerous colors.
Cons: Possibility of rough edges, no Click Wheel, screen protection, or packed-in belt clip.
eXo2 4g ($20.00)
eXo2fb 4g ($17.50)
At the time of its release, eXo2 for the 3G iPod was revolutionary: the first iPod silicone rubber case to mold different thicknesses of rubber to cover (yet permit use of) the 3G’s touch-sensitive controls. Otherwise identical to the original eXo, the eXo2 4g ($20.00) remains one of the most protective silicone rubber iPod cases on the market, and still strongly recommendable. Its fb version is just like that of the original eXo - flat backed.
From an aesthetic standpoint, it’s not incredibly attractive. The eXo2 4g’s transition between the thicker rubber used on the iPod’s casing and the thinner Click Wheel rubber looks okay, but could be better. And like the eXo, the eXo2 lacks the textured rubber grips and polish of its modern competitors.
Additionally, Lajo has since come up with the even better eXoflp design, which is just like the eXo2 but with a flip-open bottom panel. We continue to prefer the eXoflp over the eXo2, and while we acknowledge that some people may prefer not to have a pop-open bottom, we’ve found it useful in too many situations to put aside as “just another option” - it renders the eXo2 comparatively less useful. The eXo2 variants are therefore a step above the eXos on our scale but a step below the eXoflps - solidly protective cases, but not quite as useful. Your mileage may vary.
Pros: Quality iPod case with integrated Click Wheel protection, available in numerous colors.
Cons: No screen protection or belt clip in package, may be rough around the edges.
eXo3 4g ($9.50)
eXo3x 4g ($12.50)
If Lajo’s collection of cases wasn’t confusing enough before, the eXo3x and eXo3xo 4g have taken two more steps down that road. We mention the eXo3xo though we did not receive one for review - here we look only at the eXo3, and its brand-new follow-up, the eXo3x.
For reference, the eXo3 ($9.50) is Lajo’s thinnest and cheapest case, at 0.7 millimeters only modestly thicker than a plastic bag, though admittedly a fair bit more resilient. Though the price was attractive, we were on the fine edge of an “okay” rating for its 3G iPod incarnation. At 1.2mm, the eXo3x and eXo3xo ($12.50) are a half millimeter thicker than the eXo3, and the eXo3x we tested felt substantially better as a result. Whereas the eXo3 feels soft and tearable, malleable to the point that it collapses upon itself when not on an iPod, the eXo3x remains thin but seems far less fragile, nicely holding its shape and looking good all the while. The eXo3xo is the same as the eXo3x, but “open,” with no Click Wheel protection.
None of these cases is available in a metal belt clip-friendly version; they’re all flat backed, and intended to give you very low-profile protection for your iPod. Between the three, our top choice is the eXo3x, which provides the most substantial iPod protection and looks pretty good, though it has two annoying flaws common to the other two cases: its Dock Connector port hole is unacceptably small, and it isn’t compatible with Lajo’s iShades.
The latter omission is a critical one. When we rated the eXo3 before, we were told to expect a thinner screen protector from Lajo specific to that case, and assigned a rating under the assumption the company would follow through and release one. To the best of our knowledge, it still hasn’t materialized, and our rating now drops commensurately. Because standard iShades won’t hold in place on either the eXo3 and eXo3x cases, you’ll need to leave your iPod’s screen exposed or purchase a separate screen guard from a company such as Power Support.
We like the eXo3 series cases’ prices more than their protectiveness, but if you need something thin and don’t mind risking scratches to your iPod’s screen, the eXo3x version is a better option. Especially given the eXo3x’s smarter, compromise design, the original eXo3 is only an okay product.
Pros: Super-thin iPod case with Click Wheel protection.
Cons: Feels flimsy, baggy and disposable, incompatible with screen protectors sold by Lajo.
Pros:Very thin iPod case with Click Wheel protection, amongst thinnest profile available.
Cons: Incompatible with Lajo’s screen protectors, very small Dock Connector hole.
eXoflp 4g ($21.50)
eXoflpfb 4g ($19.50)
Of all of Lajo’s cases, the eXoflp series is the one we were expecting to herald as the king of all 4G iPod silicone rubber products, but we can’t. Though all of the ingredients of a stellar product are there, the eXoflp 4g’s ($21.50) execution just wasn’t quite as slick as we had hoped it would be, given all of the competing products now available.
There are some strong positives that weigh in favor of our highly recommended rating. First and foremost, the eXoflp 4g is wonderfully protective and versatile. It has the dual-thickness Click Wheel protection of the eXo2 cases, the dual-thickness top for top-mounting accessory use lifted from iSkin, and a flip-open bottom panel for Dock Connector port access lifted from Speck Products. It’s also reasonably priced: a flat-backed version is only $19.50, around $10 less than iSkin’s eVo 2, though lacking packed-in accessories. If cloning competitors could make a company an all-star, Lajo’s eXoflp would be the love child of Roger Clemens and Barry Bonds - maybe not so attractive, but plenty good at anything you need it to do.
But that “not so attractive” part is what weighs the eXoflp 4g cases down a bit. When the previous generation versions were released, they didn’t look like plain Janes, but given the competition these days, these two cases really do. Plus, they’re rough around the edges. Lajo cloned Speck’s flip-open bottom, but the eXoflp’s rubber flap isn’t cut or smoothed off as professionally as Speck’s. In the cases we received, it looks like a cheaper imitation, which of course it is. It just doesn’t need to look that way.
The other elements of the eXoflps are now looking comparatively plain, as well. Lacking textured grips or other design elements, they come precariously close to resembling some cheapie Chinese iPod cases that we have received and opted not to review. With companies such as Tunewear developing considerably more sophisticated looking silicone cases (Icewear) and others such as iSkin and DLO (Jam Jacket) constantly striving for greater polish, Lajo risks being left out in the cold as its competitors continue to improve. We strongly like what the eXoflp 4g cases let us do with our iPods, but we’re not as enamored with how they look doing it.
While we acknowledge that releasing ten or a dozen different case designs is a viable “something for everyone” market strategy, we hope that Lajo will next time consider focusing on or at least polishing the eXoflp series to make it the A-caliber case it could be. It is so close to ideal from a practicality standpoint that we wish we could rate it higher, but the little details count, too.
Pros: Among the most versatile 4G iPod cases available, with top and bottom accessory access, Click Wheel protection, and compatibility with Lajo screen protectors (sold separately).
Cons: Rough edges common on cases, not as attractive as current competing options, must buy screen protector/belt clip separately.
Most of the time, belt clips are given away for free with the purchase of iPod cases, and we’d hazard a guess that they’re as often discarded or forgotten as actually used. Lajo’s strategy with belt clips has been different and generally smarter: rather than forcing you to purchase a case with accessories you don’t need, he sells them separately. The only disadvantage is that you might pay more for Lajo’s complete solution than a competitor’s, assuming you buy the same types of accessories from both companies.
TwistClips ($14.75) are the newest belt clips we’ve seen from Lajo, and they’re a pretty good idea. Made from hard plastic, each TwistClip pops onto an encased 4G iPod by firmly gripping its sides, and provides a rotating, ratcheting belt clip that can hold the iPod in 16 different orientations on a pair of pants. In order to guarantee belt clip firmness, Lajo markets different versions for 20GB and 40GB iPods, as well as a third version for iPod minis. The belt clip component feels substantial and secure, too, though it differs cosmetically from the photographs shown on Lajo’s web site.
Available in four colors (pink, snow white, asphalt black and indigo purple), a TwistClip fits most easily onto the back of any flat backed (fb model) Lajo case, but also works with the standard metal stubbed ones, as well as competing cases of comparable thickness. While not a beautiful product, it’s one of the more useful clips we’ve seen for the iPod - assuming you need a belt clip.
Obviously, the only issue we have with the TwistClips are their prices. Initially, we note that Lajo’s other clips are comparatively cheap ($3.50 and up), and that its competitors’ parts are typically free. Though it’s hard to put a precise value on a TwistClip because of its ratcheting ability - which incidentally is very similar to the free multi-position clips included with every iSkin case - $14.75 strikes us as steep for a clip that fits only one iPod, given that you can buy Battery Technology’s complete set of three iPod and iPod mini clips together with a neck strap for $15.00 total.
With the exception of the company’s iPodArt cases, it’s very rare for us to think that a Lajo product is too highly priced, but TwistClips fit that bill. Though the rotating idea is nice, for our needs, the standard clip or no clip at all is a perfectly good option.
Pros: Ratcheting iPod belt clips allow multi-position mounting of iPod on your belt.
Cons: Very expensive given features, limited selection of colors.
zip4g b ($13.50)
The least innovative Lajo cases we’ve seen (and previously passed on reviewing) are the zip series, currently available for the 4G iPod as the “zip4g b” ($13.50). Lajo’s “b” designation refers to the fact that the zip4g case - a clear soft plastic bag that uses a white and chrome dual-zipper system to hold an iPod inside - has had a flat piece of additional plastic heatgrafted onto its back, creating a sort of belt loop. It’s a cheap-looking but not terrible concept.
On a positive note, the zip4g really shows off the 4G iPod’s natural state, and provides a full view of the screen with uninhibited (through protected) access to the Click Wheel’s controls. But it is so simple of a concept that it’s almost amazing to see sold as a $13.50 accessory; iSkin gives these zipper bags away for free with the purchase of every eVo2 they sell, for example, and they’re low-tech to say the least.
We found the zip4g b 40GB version to be too snug fitting - tight almost to the point of discomfort - and the case’s zipper quickly snagged on its inner protective plastic lining as a result. After a bit of playing around, we fixed the snag, but know from experience that all it takes is several such experiences to screw up a zipper permanently.
While different, a zipper isn’t the world’s best feature in an iPod case. If you want Dock Connector access and headphone port access at the same time, you basically open up the entire case, so it’s really only a product for those who only use one or the other port at a given time. Zip4g is not great, for example, if you’re going to use your iPod Remote and a power charger in your car.
These are easy cases to crank out without customization, so we can see why Lajo offers them - and so early - whenever a new iPod comes out. The company produces versions in a variety of sizes, even including ones that can hold an eXo-encased iPod inside. But we find them hard to recommend for most practical purposes, and except for the nice $4.50 “zipe” version that’s made only to fit headphones, still haven’t found a need for the ones we received and passed on reviewing years ago. At best, the larger zip cases, like iSkin’s versions, are useful to hold all the pack-in accessories we’re not actively using, and we don’t really need a special bag for that, let alone one for $13.50.
Pros: Clear zip-up iPod protectors that are fairly resilient, nice to display iPod inside.
Cons: By comparison with silicone cases, are impractical for some purposes; overly tight-fitting, and zippers can easily snag on interior lining and become stuck.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.