Review: Speck Products ToughSkin for iPod nano and 5G
Pros: Resilient soft plastic iPod 5G and nano cases with edgy, tough design that resembles - especially in black color - a tire tread. Each case includes a good hard plastic screen protector, frosted detachable belt clip, and matchin detachable belt clip nub. 5G version protects virtually every part of the 5G iPod properly, save its front Click Wheel, while allowing use of almost all headphones and cabled Dock Connecting accessories. Rubber spacer inside 5G version softly enables case to fit 30GB and 60GB iPods.
Cons: iPod nano version exposes entire top of nano, and both versions expose entire Click Wheel. While both versions look good, asking price is high versus comparably protective silicone rubber cases, and very high in the case of the iPod nano version.
Priced identically but differing from both each other and their predecessors, the separate releases of ToughSkin for iPod nano and 5G ($35) have inspired mixed feelings at iLounge. On one hand, we wanted to give Speck Products a lot of credit for being bold in the face of opportunities to repeat itself. The new ToughSkins’ uniquely ruggedized enclosures deviate significantly - and positively - from both the company’s castle-like iPod mini Case of the Year (iLounge rating: A), and its 4G iPod predecessor (iLounge rating: A-), both of which we really liked, and praised for their combinations of good looks, originality, and protectiveness. But they have also compromised on protectiveness - one of the key reasons we so liked their predecessors - and preserved the higher-than-normal prices which we pointed out as question marks last round. Are the new ToughSkins worth your money?
In our view, the answer is “yes” on the 5G version, but only “maybe” on the nano version. On both cases, Speck has kept the unusual bumper-like corner and edge protection of the past models, which makes your iPod all but impervious to cosmetic drop damage. The major change is looks: now each case’s face looks almost like a tire tread rather than the front of a castle. This aesthetic is edgier, and in our view generally better than before.
Gone are the color choices previously available to iPod and mini owners: orange, pink, blue, and green versions are MIA, but the best choices (clear and black) are still available. (The milky white 5G case depicted in some of our photos is a rare version accidentally manufactured instead of clear, and not intended to be available for sale; the “clear” one will really be clear.) This lack of colors doesn’t bother us much: ToughSkin was always best in tough tones, and with this tire-like design, say nothing of the recent surge in black iPod interest, we tend to prefer the black case anyway. It enables us to avoid buying a scratch-showing black iPod, while still getting all the benefit of the color.
Speck has also generally kept the hard screen protectors it included with past ToughSkins: the new ones are flat-cornered, clear, and use rubber to stick passively to the iPods’ faces. There are reasons to like both designs, but these new ones are very good, and only slightly distort (prismatic effect) on-screen imagery. They hold in place without a problem, and we think they’re some of the best ones we’ve seen as of the date of this review. There’s also a detachable clear frosted belt clip on each case, with a nub better than the ones on Speck’s 4G cases, and though ToughSkin 5G remains a “one-size-fits-all” design, the company’s now using soft rubber spacers rather than hard plastic ones to accommodate 30GB iPods. The new spacers work well, and we were glad to see this change.
The only problems are these: neither case has the clear pop-open and detachable Click Wheel protector Speck used to include on its ToughSkins, which made them one of the most protective cases we’d seen. This omission drops the ToughSkins into the far more common category of cases that can’t be trusted to protect your iPod under all circumstances - a real bummer given the nano’s scratchable face, depicted in the top picture above. There’s also a major difference in the tops and bottoms of the cases: like all of Speck’s other nano cases, the nano ToughSkin leaves big holes on its top and bottom rather than covering as much of the iPod as it could. The 5G version of ToughSkin is different and better, properly covering everything but the 5G’s Hold switch and headphone port (with an appropriately sized hole), and the Dock Connector port at the bottom. Both cases should have been as protective as the 5G version, but then, both cases should also have been as protective as the superior iPod mini version.
Then there’s the issue of price and value. As we said at the time of our iPod mini review, “[a]t $34.95, it’s not the cheapest iPod mini case we’ve seen, and though we’ve not been thrilled to see Speck selling its smaller cases at full-sized iPod prices, we’re willing to make an exception for ToughSkin because it’s so polished and well-made in all regards.” This isn’t the case with the iPod nano version of ToughSkin, which is equally expensive, yet smaller than the nano version, and not as well-polished or protective. In truth, it is wimpy by comparison with last year’s model in the places where the added protection would really count. Speck’s 5G ToughSkin is better than its predecessor on the less important top, not as good on the more important front, and nicer-looking. That makes it basically a tie overall.
Though both cases are still recommendable, and we like the 5G version enough to use it until something decidedly better comes along, there is more to our feelings on these cases than our ratings can indicate. We do like the updated look of these cases a lot, but we strongly preferred the protectiveness found in the prior versions of the ToughSkins, and thought they’d done a great job of carving out a niche as thoroughly protective soft plastic alternatives to the hard cases we’d tested. Now, in our view, ToughSkins are just different-looking versions of other Speck cases, at the same prices. Our admiration for Speck’s designers turns partially on the fact that they managed with the iPod mini and 4G to differentiate what were once commodity-like cases into different excellent categories; we strongly hope that they continue down that path in the future.