Review: Contour Design iSee 4G
Pros: A simple transparent hard case that protects most of your fourth-generation iPod from scratch and drop damage. Compatible with top-mounting iPod accessories. Fair price.
Cons: No protection for the iPod’s controls and very limited protection at its top, contrasting with other hard case offerings that are more protective. Clear plastic housing is easy to scratch.
Though Speck Products began to sell its sophisticated transparent FlipStand in late 2003, it wasn’t until 2004 that the clear shell-as-iPod-protector concept really took off. Unlike the FlipStand, which includes a number of impressive articulating hatches that permit occasional access to the iPod’s ports while generally limiting scratches to the iPod inside, the most recent clear hard plastic cases have been considerably simpler.
While not the barest of such designs, Contour Design’s iSee ($19.95) is close. As a thinner and simpler version of the company’s award-winning Showcase (iLounge rating: A-), iSee is available now in two sizes - one for the 20GB fourth-generation iPod (the iSee-20), and one for the 40GB fourth-generation iPod (the iSee-40). Unlike the Showcase, the iSee cases are precision-sized to fit their respective iPods. Neither case works with the iPod photo.
Each iSee consists of three pieces. The first is a substantial piece of hard transparent plastic that covers the iPod’s back, sides, and front with the exception of one hole for the Click Wheel, and one thin slit in the center of each side. This hard plastic piece leaves a single, fairly large hole at the top of the iPod - substantially larger than that in the Showcase - and a thin lip covers only the iPod’s top edge from corner to corner. Unlike the Showcase, iSee lets you use any top-mounting iPod accessory with ease, at the cost of exposing more of its top surface.
iPod insertion is easy. The iSee leaves an even larger hole at the bottom of the clear plastic housing, and you pop your iPod inside without any resistance or scratch potential. Thankfully, Contour’s second piece is a small and flexible frosted translucent white plastic cap that plugs this hole at the iSee’s bottom, sealing the iPod inside. Two strong plastic tabs hold the cap firmly on iSee’s body, and a generally well-designed but simple plastic latch at the bottom of the cap shields the iPod’s Dock Connector port unless you pop it open. We would have liked a bigger Dock Connector port opening, but the iSee’s isn’t terrible.
When the cap is on the iSee, you have transparent visibility of 95% of the iPod inside, and perhaps 90% protection. Only a small portion of the iPod is covered in frosted plastic, making iSee a really great case to show off your favorite toy. However, unless you purchase a Wheel protector of some sort, your iPod’s controls will be completely exposed - albeit with a beautifully beveled hard plastic edge - and the iPod’s top from left to right similarly remains scratchable. All things considered, we would have preferred the detachable plastic cap with pop-open latch to be at iSee’s top for this purpose - it would have offered better protection.
Contour bills iSee only as “impact-resistant,” which is accurate, but it bears mention that the iSee itself is fairly easy to scratch, and displayed some tarnish after only light use. Most people won’t mind this much, particularly for iSee’s price and given that it’s mostly designed to protect the iPod, but it’s an issue worth mentioning.
The iSee’s third piece is a detachable but quality white plastic belt clip highly similar to the ones we liked in the Showcase. Using a spring-loaded mechanism (rather than a nub or adhesive) to attach itself to iSee, the clip plugs the two holes in iSee’s sides, belt-mounting your iPod horizontally. It’s a better clip design than has been employed in numerous other iPod hard cases, only leaving those without belt clip needs with thin case holes.
It’s hard to knock iSee for the $19.95 price - especially given that some stores are selling it for even less than that. Comparable in functionality to Power Support’s Crystal Jacket for the 4G iPod, iSee is amongst the least expensive hard plastic cases you’ll find, and does a fairly good job of protecting the iPod inside. Click Wheel, top protection, and more Dock Connector access would have been nice, but we’d recommend iSee to budget-conscious iPod owners without much reservation.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.