Review: Matias iPod Armor 4G
Pros: Seriously resilient aluminum protection for all generations of iPods, particularly 4G and photo models. Excellent build quality.
Cons: Still no screen or control access; one-size-fits-all top design leaves hole at top left of 3G/4G/photo iPods; adhesive nub; high end of the hard case price bracket.
The dean of metal iPod cases is back. Having innovated metal iPod protection with its early aircraft-grade aluminum iPod Armor cases for first- and second-generation iPods, Matias followed up with 3G and mini iPod Armor versions, and now has returned with a new version for iPods in the 4G and photo families ($49.95).
For the unfamiliar, earlier iPod Armor cases (iLounge rating: B+) have one major advantage and two smaller disadvantages over their competitors: almost two years after we reviewed the first iPod Armor case, Matias’ offerings are still the most protective cases released for their respective iPods, capable of shielding against drop damage and other accidents in a way other cases cannot. They may be the only cases we’ve seen that would remain intact if a car (or tank) ran them over.
As a consequence of that level of protection, you have very limited full-time access to the iPod’s controls. iPod Armor seals your iPod inside a two-piece metal shell without screen visibility or a hole for Click Wheel access, locking into place with a plastic lip at its top. Once closed, the case won’t open unless you want it open, and the only exposed portions of your iPod are its headphone port and Hold switch. iPod Armor is thus most ideally suited for those who want to use their iPods either with Apple’s Remote control or without frequent user interaction. A rubber Dock Connector cover stays in if you want it there, or is easily removed - unlike the company’s mini Armor cases, this cover doesn’t latch into the case’s bottom.
You also pay a pretty penny - $49.95 - for the protection you’re getting. Even with competing metal cases offered at lower prices, Matias fairly characterizes itself as a “you get what you pay for” manufacturer that hasn’t cut corners on the quality of its materials or designs. The company also notes with some chagrin that at least one knock-off manufacturer has stolen the iPod Armor’s design and attempted to flood the market (and eBay) with a cheaply made alternative - a knock-off that is indeed brazen, noticeably thinner and less resilient, made with squeaky hinges and cheaper top plastic, and not including the real thing’s rubber Dock Connector cover.
Interestingly, the 4G knock-off actually emerged before Matias released its own update, and the reason the two cases are so close in appearance is that iPod Armor has changed so little over the years. The only major difference is a new front plate with extruded shapes that match the Click Wheel designs of currently shipping iPods rather than showing the 3G iPod’s separate four buttons or the 1G/2G’s ring of buttons design - a change that the knock-off maker anticipated. But let there be no mistake: the knock-off is not the equal of the real thing, and won’t provide the same durability.
As before, the newest Armor is touted as a one-size-fits-all offering, working with every full-sized iPod model from the first-generation version to those on store shelves today. And in fact it does work as promised, though its quality black foam rubber interior padding is an intentionally tight fit on most models, requiring a fair bit of pressure from the top to extricate the iPod inside. Matias even includes an extra foam insert to properly space the case’s top and bottom holes for thinner iPods. We found the tougher removal an acceptable compromise given the case’s additional protection.
There’s only one consequence of the one-size-fits-all design: Matias has left exposed both the left and right top portions of the iPod Armor case, so as to permit access to older iPods’ top-mounted FireWire ports. On recent iPods, however, this just leaves a portion of polished metal exposed. It’s the only under-protective characteristic of an otherwise impervious case; legacy iPod owners may appreciate it, but the owners of most iPods sold have no need for the extra exposure.
Every iPod Armor case also includes Armor Clip, an adhesive metal and white plastic rear belt clip nub that attaches to the iPod Armor’s flat aluminum back, and a significant, sturdy black plastic belt clip that locks firmly on to the nub. A second Armor Clip can be purchased with iPod Armor at a $10 premium over the regular price, and three replacement bottom port covers are available for $5. Both the use of adhesive and the entirely detachable Dock Connector cover have pros and cons - they both work well, but aren’t as permanent as competitors’ screw-on belt clips or flip-open bottom covers. On balance, we like them because we don’t use belt clips, but clip fans may not.
The 4G/Photo version of iPod Armor is a product made for a very specific audience - those who need resilient and almost complete iPod protection, and don’t mind compromising control and screen access to get it. For that audience, it does its job better than any other product yet released. Though there are other cases - such as Speck’s FlipStand - that protect at least as much of the iPod with more versatile control and screen access, only iPod Armor will resist tank and car tire treads. If you need that sort of protection, there’s only one really good option, and you’ll no doubt be impressed by it.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.