Review: Apple Computer iPod nano Tubes
Pros: A set of five well-made silicone rubber cases for the iPod nano, offering precision-contoured lines, edges, and curves that match nano’s, while adding just the right amount of rubber at each point. Smart Hold switch protection. You’ll probably like at least two of the colors in the package, maybe more. A good value for the dollar, especially if you can trade away the cases you don’t want.
Cons: No screen protection - a major minus for nano - and a completely open bottom with no Dock Connector protection. Can’t buy the cases individually, so you may wind up with colors you don’t like.
Judging by our readers’ comments, there’s never been an iPod that needed a protective case as much as the new iPod nano, and Apple’s first-announced entry has taken a surprisingly long time to arrive. Forum members and a few retailers began to receive their iPod nano Tubes ($29.00) a couple of weeks ago, but the Apple retail stores we’ve contacted claim not to have received any, and Apple’s online store still shows a backlog. Is it really that hard to manufacture a few million silicone rubber cases?
When they’re well made, it’s easier to say that the answer is yes, and now that we’ve had some time to test the Tubes, we can almost understand the wait. Why? As with other nano cases we’ve recently reviewed, our new capsule review format spotlights six critical factors in the Tubes’ design: appearance, build quality, ease of use, special features/innovation, protectiveness, and value for the dollar.
Appearance: With the exception of novelty cases like Speck’s new FunSkins and truly innovative protectors such as iSkin’s Shuffle Duo for iPod shuffle, silicone cases have become commodities - predictable and cheap. Apple’s Tubes aren’t a major deviation from the norm, but they benefit from a slightly nicer feel and greater attention to detail than Pods Plus’ iPod Nano Skins (iLounge rating: B): like the nano, the front face of each Tube is squared off at the corners, and there’s a precision-cut replica of the Click Wheel in the center: the icons and the Action button are even extruded perfectly from the case’s face. Similarly, there are subtly embossed Apple and iPod icons on the back. At the top, a completely covered replica of the Hold switch makes it easy to use the real thing underneath, all without exposing any of the top surface. But other than these small touches, which you mightn’t even notice, each Tube is very plain. You get five in a package: frosted clear, blue, purple, pink, and green, and their collective rainbow is the only lively thing about the box.
Build Quality: All five of our review Tubes looked and felt precision made. Apple has picked the right thicknesses of rubber to coat the nano’s various components, and none of the cases’ edges were rough. By rubber case standards, these are impressive, though austere.
Ease of Use: The Tubes make use of nano’s controls effortless: the Click Wheel is perfectly responsive under the thinner silicone surface, and the screen is easy to see because… well, because Apple hasn’t covered it at all. Similarly, the Dock Connector and Headphone port are entirely exposed at all times, which we also didn’t like.
Special Features/Innovation: Apple’s only innovative touch with nano tubes is its mix of five colored cases in the same box. We’ve seen similar types of bundles before, but not five good cases at this price.
Protectiveness and Value: pricing: Like last year’s iPod Socks, Apple wants $29 for a bunch of cases in the same package, but unlike the Socks, the company earns its money here with a design that’s thoughtful, iPod-contoured and more convenient for daily use. While the overall price point isn’t low, the per-case price is, making this a very good package to split with friends who like the different colors.
There’s only one problem: nano Tubes aren’t protective enough. The iPod nano screen attracts scratches, and as mentioned above, Apple’s made no effort to cover it up. Similarly, the nano’s entire bottom is open - Dock Connector and headphone port alike. Companies such as Belkin and Tunewear have started to add free protective film to their iPod nano case packages, and made varying efforts to cover as much of nano’s bottom as possible, while Speck has used clear plastic screen protectors instead. Either option, preferably Tunewear’s approach, would have worked better here. We are still highly partial to the flip-open bottom design that companies such as Speck and iSkin have used in the past; here it would only need a small notch for nano’s bottom-mounted headphone port.
Mostly because of its approach to protectiveness, Apple’s Tubes rate lower than they otherwise would have. We were strongly inclined to give them a high recommendation solely on the basis of their low per-case pricing and great build quality, but when we considered the total package - specifically that we liked only two of the five colors - and nano’s scratchability, we couldn’t ignore the absence of screen film, either. We’d have been willing to pay just as much for three good case colors and matching screen protectors, and of course would have preferred to get one perfect case (a la Shuffle Duo) for a lower price. Overall, this is a much better offering overall than Apple’s earlier iPod Socks, but not up to snuff with its superb iPod shuffle Sport Case.