Company: A-1 Quality Products
Model: Nano iKeychain
Price: $39.95 and up
Compatible: iPod nano
A-1 Quality Products Nano iKeychain Case
Pros: An attractive metal case for the iPod nano - the first of its type - with a smart magnetic design that permits easy opening and closing without latches, snaps, or screws. Includes small keychain ring, appropriately sized headphone port hole, and protection for almost all of the iPod nano’s body.
Cons: Exposes nano’s screen and Click Wheel at all times. Pricey for such a small case.
Funny name aside, A-1 Quality Products has demonstrated precisely why the iPod shuffle was a good thing for owners of other iPods: it taught attentive companies how to design smarter, smaller cases. Based upon an iPod shuffle case by the same name, the new Nano iKeychain ($39.95 and up) evolves a good shuffle design into the first third-party nano case actually shipping to consumers.
Each Nano iKeychain includes two pieces: a metal back plate, a metal front plate, and a tiny keychain ring at the bottom. For the standard price, you’ll get matching anodized front and back plates in one of four colors - maroon red, blue, gold, or black. For $45.95, you can choose between alternating black anodized metal or a chrome-polished plate for the front and back plate colors, and the company also sells artistic blue, purple, and red multi-colored anodized versions for $65.95 a piece. An engraving service for up to 15 characters is available for $15 extra per case.
Using iKeychain is incredibly simple. You gently drop your nano into the back plate, then seal the two halves together with three magnets that are built into the top (two) and bottom (one) of the case. Thanks to these magnets, you can toss the case into a pocket without fear that it will come apart. Pulling the case open is similarly easy, with two little tabs in the top surface; if the keychain ring is inserted into the case’s bottom, the halves dangle together.
We liked iKeychain’s looks quite a bit, though our sample was the nano’s visual reverse with chrome on front and black on back. The top plate was nicely mirror polished on its front surface, preserving the nano’s fingerprint/smudge-ready issue, but less finished on its sides, showing vertical etching marks on all of its edges. If you buy the black front instead, you’ll note that the anodized aluminum has no gloss or lines and shows no fingerprints - something we think many people will prefer in a nano case.
Other than the case’s looks and build quality, we liked two other features of A-1’s design: the fact that it covers the iPod nano’s small top Hold switch instead of trying to awkwardly expose it, and the fact that it fully and properly exposes the nano’s bottom headphone port while covering the Dock Connector port. If you need access, just pull the case open and your nano out - much smarter for a metal case than leaving both exposed at all times. Conversely, the headphone port hole is just large enough for even the oversized headphone plugs used with premium headphones, a fact which will make many of our readers quite happy. A-1 has also sized its screen and Click Wheel holes just a little generously, providing nice framing of the nano’s front elements with just a little black or white nano body.
There are only a few issues with this case, most notably that there’s no screen or control protection. The latter omission is more forgivable on an iPod shuffle than an iPod nano, and one that could have been addressed with protective stickers such as Power Support’s Crystal Film for iPod nano (iLounge rating: B+). Given that A-1 claims that you can run iKeychain over with a truck and still have it survive with “little or no damage to the case,” we’d prefer to see something precluding the rest of the nano from showing tire marks (or the other things that can happen under less extreme circumstances), too. We wouldn’t actually attach keys to this case unless there was a way to prevent them from scratching the nano, which there presently isn’t. There’s also no padding inside the case, a factor that would have bothered us more if our nano had been scratched at all by the case, but it wasn’t.
Additionally, at a quarter the cost of a 2GB iPod nano, A-1’s price is higher than some people will want to pay for such a small case. While we realize that machined aluminum cases can be expensive to manufacture - especially with nice polished or anodized finishes - some companies (such as Griffin) have pulled it off in the shuffle market at lower prices. Our suspicion - one not strongly reflected in our rating, given that iKeychain presently has no competition in the nano metal case business - is that less expensive metal cases will appear for the nano in the near future.
A-1’s response to the question of price is simple, and stated on its web site: “you get what you pay for.” Today, in the case of iKeychain, what you get is a sturdy, attractive case that does an excellent job of protecting your entire iPod nano save its Click Wheel and screen. Regardless of what may come out over the next few months, we think that many people will be very happy to pay the premium for this solid option today.