Review: Speck Products nano iGuy, Cloud & Grass FunSkins
Pros: Three soft plastic case designs that look like no other cases made for iPod nano - original in concept and generally good in execution, they’re charming, and likely to start conversations wherever you take them. Screen protectors are included across the line, and Speck’s plastic feels substantial and well-made.
Cons: All three cases are very expensive by iPod nano rubber/plastic case standards. No Click Wheel protection on any of the cases, and very limited top and bottom protection on the two FunSkins. iGuy does a better job on top and bottom protection, but is incompatible with many types of headphones because he routes your cable through one of his legs.
Our mouths were collectively hanging open when Speck announced its lineup of new iPod nano cases: the company went way above and beyond just covering the nano in rubber-like plastic, and instead came up with a huge range of eye-catching, unique designs. Given the company’s recent history - particularly with cases like iPod mini ToughSkin (iLounge rating: A) - we were expecting to be blown away by the final products. But, like other iPod case makers, Speck cut a few corners in its rush to get new products out, and also stuck high pricetags on what have turned out to be its smallest and simplest cases ever. This is especially an issue now that Apple has entered the market with less expensive and at least equally protective silicone cases called iPod nano Tubes (iLounge rating: B+). As a result, Speck’s otherwise novel Cloud FunSkin, Grass FunSkin, and iGuy case options for iPod nano fall short of the high ratings they might otherwise have received.
Our new capsule reviews are designed to spotlight six critical factors in each case’s design: appearance, build quality, ease of use, special features/innovation, protectiveness, and value for the dollar. We look at three fun cases in this review, with several more serious cases in another review.
nano Cloud FunSkin
Appearance: As the first in a planned series of whimsical case designs called FunSkins, Cloud ($34.95) is a puffy, Michelin Man-like iPod holder for the iPod nano. Made from the same Kraton plastic as its earlier cases, the texture is plasticy rather than puffy, but the design looks pillow-like. You insert nano into its bottom or through its screen hole, put an included hard plastic screen protector (with rubber edge coating) onto nano’s face, and either leave in or take out a clear plastic belt nub. Then you attach or leave behind the included clear hard plastic belt clip, which is the same sturdy design that Speck has previously included with iPod mini cases.
Build Quality: Like virtually all of Speck’s other cases, Cloud feels well made and has no significant body imperfections. The included screen protector is solid, and thanks to rubber piping is unlikely to scratch your nano’s body.
Ease of Use: Because of a decision by Speck not to fully mold the case’s top or bottom to cover nano’s body, the Hold switch, Dock Connector and headphone ports are very easy to use, as is the open Click Wheel. While the screen protector does create a slight moire effect on nano’s screen, we’d classify it as unobjectionable.
Special Features/Innovation: As the first released FunSkin, Cloud has a distinctive look that’s more casual and playful than the typical silicone rubber or other iPod case. While it’s not as exciting in person as in the pictures - it lacks the plushness you might expect from a cloud - Cloud still earns its “fun” name.
Protectiveness and Value: These are the two areas where Cloud comes up shortest. Rather than mostly covering nano’s top or bottom, both of which could have been accomplished easily (as with Speck’s most recent iPod mini ToughSkin, as just one example), the company left both of them entirely open. The Click Wheel is also totally exposed at all times - not good if you plan to toss this case in your pocket. We’d expect more from a rubber-like case, particularly for $34.95, which is in our opinion too high of a price for such a simple piece of plastic. This is a good design that we know from experience Speck could have made even better, and more affordable besides. It merits only our limited recommendation.
nano Grass FunSkin
Appearance: The second FunSkin from Speck is called Grass ($34.95) - another novel design, but better executed than Cloud. A green version of Grass looks a bit like old Astroturf - the entire case is covered in soft, rounded-off rubber spikes that wrap around every iPod nano surface except its top and bottom. It’s a surprisingly cool texture for an iPod case, adding little except anti-slip grip in the way of functionality. We actually preferred the black version of Grass, which looks tougher on a black iPod nano, but either of these cases is a conversation starter. A frosted clear detachable belt clip and clear detachable belt nub are included with each Grass case.
Build Quality: With the exception of slight and unobjectionable roughness around a small part of the bottom edges of each of our test cases, both versions of Grass have the same durable, well-made look and feel we’ve come to expect from Speck’s cases.
Ease of Use: As with Cloud, Speck’s decision not to cover the nano’s top or bottom with plastic makes the Hold switch, Dock Connector and headphone ports very easy to use; so is the uncovered Click Wheel. While the screen protector does create a slight moire effect on nano’s screen, we’d again classify it as unobjectionable.
Special Features/Innovation: As you can no doubt tell from the pictures, Grass looks different from any iPod case that’s been released before - it’s tactile and interesting in the hand, plus more interesting to the eye. Speck deserves special commendation for taking a risk on this one and executing it pretty well.
Protectiveness and Value: Just like Cloud, Grass falls short on scratch protectiveness: it covers the nano’s screen with the same hard clear protector, but leaves nano’s top and bottom open, along with its Click Wheel. This is a case we’d use more if it wasn’t for this set of omissions, because we really like how it looks. That said, it’s a bit more drop protective than the average iPod nano case, and even Cloud for that matter, because of its better-cushioned surfaces. Try the Grass case if you’re a klutz, but not if you keep a lot of stuff in your pocket with your iPod.
Will you actually want to try it, given the $34.95 asking price? Yes. The price is too steep given how simple this little case is, but its look and feel earn the dollars more in our judgment than Cloud, which looked better than it felt. This case isn’t right for everyone, but it’s one we would definitely recommend you see for yourself in person - you might be surprised at how much you like it.
Appearance: We’ve previously rated both versions of Speck’s iGuy with equivalent B+ grades - by turning an iPod into a posable character, the company properly exploited a great idea. nano iGuy is the third iteration of the same concept, and looks virtually identical from all angles: the same hard clear plastic covered face, white soft plastic body, legs, and posable arms. The only obvious differences are in his proportions, which have changed to meet the taller, thinner nano. If you liked the way the old iGuys looked, you’ll like the nano version.
Build Quality: nano iGuy is made pretty well - the only imperfections in his plastic molding are at the point where his body splits open in the back - this opening allows all iGuys to sit, toilet-like, on an Apple Dock. The seams there are unpolished, but most people won’t care, as the rest of his body looks good. As with the FunSkins, Speck’s hard plastic screen protector for iGuy is solid and well-made, tipped with rubber to avoid scratching nano’s face.
Ease of Use: Using your nano with iGuy on is a mixed affair - the primary reason for this version’s lower rating. As with the prior versions, iGuy’s body is better suited to use as a stand than as a “carry me everywhere” case, but he’s sold as both or either. Because of the way his arms and legs stick out, we think he’s better as a stand than a case - less convenient to travel with than the typical nano holder. There’s also an oddity with his leg design. If you’re using Apple’s or similarly tiny earbud cabling, you’ll be fine - mostly. But because Apple put the nano’s headphone port on its bottom, Speck routes your headphone cable through iGuy’s right leg and out its back. Consequently, bigger and L-shaped headphone plugs just won’t work with this case at all. On the bright side, it’s easy to dock your nano when inside iGuy, and a properly sculpted small hole for nano’s Hold switch is also fully usable. Take note, nano case makers: if you have to cut a hole for the Hold switch, this is the way to do it.
Special Features/Innovation: iGuy is the only posable character case for iPod nano - a fact which may justify its high price to some people. Though the concept’s months old at this point, it’s still the best such design we’ve seen.
Protectiveness and Value: nano iGuy is identical in protectiveness to its predecessors: there’s no Click Wheel protection or Hold switch protection, but everything else is covered when the iPod’s in use. When not, the headphone port is behind so much rubber that only a thin pencil could get into it. A Click Wheel cover is the only thing that could improve this design substantially from that standpoint. But in value, it’s amazing that no matter how small the iPods get and how much less material they require for covering, Speck’s prices still stay the same. This case has even fewer pieces than before, too, as Speck no longer uses a piece of hard clear plastic inside as a backing for your iPod. Having said that, we think that if you don’t care about the headphone port limitations and the price, both of which are issues for us given our headphones and concern over rubber nano cases sold for more than $20 a piece, you won’t find any other iPod nano case like it.