Company: Agent 18
Model: Shield 4 Shuffle
Price: $29.95 (3-pack)
Compatible: iPod shuffle
Agent 18 Shield 4 Shuffle Packs
Pros: Mostly smart iPod shuffle hard case design with included detachable necklace, belt clip and USB cap; good value for three-packs in multiple colors, especially by comparison with Apple’s offering.
Cons: Not as protective and elegant as Apple’s comparable Sport Case; not as protective overall as some of the less expensive rubber cases we’ve tested.
Has the iPod shuffle hard case field been pre-empted by Apple’s superb iPod shuffle Sport Case (iLounge rating: A)? Not necessarily. Though it will be hard to top Apple’s case on protectiveness and elegance, there are still ways - including pricing and creative features - that third-parties can compete.
Enter Agent 18, maker of good clear hard plastic cases for full-sized and mini iPods (iLounge ratings: B+ and C+), with the new Shield 4 Shuffle. Agent 18 is offering three hard cases in one box for almost the same price ($29.95) as Apple’s selling one $29.00 Sport Case, and has included a couple of other goodies in its box, besides: a detachable lanyard necklace and a detachable belt clip, neither of which Apple includes with the Sport Case.
All of Agent 18’s Shields work in generally the same way. Two half-shells snap together to form a protective layer around the iPod save its controls and ports, which are exposed to the elements. Your iPod gets a sturdy reinforcement against most bangs and scratches, and if you need to pull the case off, you just pop open its sides.
The new Shield 4 Shuffle cases mostly follow in that tradition, though they’ve been updated with smart third and fourth add-on pieces that iPod shuffle owners will generally like. You still get the two-piece main shell, which in this case snaps onto the uncapped body of an iPod shuffle and holds firmly in place regardless of whether any other pieces are attached or detached. This shell covers all of the shuffle’s sides and most of its back and front, but leaves exposed its entire bottom portion, almost its entire top, a surprisingly large amount of its back, and just enough of its front for its controls and status lights.
Now a wisely designed replacement USB cap integrates with the Shield 4 Shuffle’s body, sliding up and down in two grooves cut into the case’s plastic. In the “up” position, the cap locks into both the case and the iPod shuffle’s USB plug, providing full protection for the shuffle’s bottom. In the “down” position, the cap locks into the case and rotates around a bit more than 180 total degrees, giving you full access to the shuffle’s USB plug for computer docking purposes. There’s also a pass-through hole in the cap that lets you use an included metal neck chain or your choice of other companies’ lanyards, turning the case into a full necklace.
We really liked Agent 18’s USB cap design because of its flexibility: unlike Apple’s Sport Case, you don’t need to pull the shuffle out of the case to plug it in to a computer, and the detachable lanyard gives you the option to wear or pocket the case as you like. Agent 18 also includes its fourth part, one small detachable clear plastic belt clip, with each set of three cases. While simple in design, the clip does hold well enough to the case and your pants or shirt to adequately serve its intended purpose. For those taking notes, Agent 18’s belt clip does hold the shuffle upside down, just like the lanyard on the standard shuffle, so your headphone cord will always be pointing down rather than up.
The single way in which the Shield 4 Shuffle suffers by comparison with Apple’s case is protectiveness. Apple managed to cover every part of the shuffle while letting its important parts be seen and used; Agent 18 nicely tapers most of its case’s holes, but they’re still holes, and for the moment some of them seem unnecessarily large. Clear cases don’t need a status light hole, in our view, especially when the lights remain entirely visible even through the darkest (black) translucent version of the case. And though we would almost prefer the shuffle’s rear and top be as close to covered as possible in hard cases, we can live with switch and button exposure so long as it’s not any more open than necessary. Here, the top’s just wide open and there’s exposed space even below the shuffle’s battery light button.
You could view these holes more charitably: there’s no chance you’ll have a problem plugging in your headphones, using any of the shuffle’s controls, or seeing its status lights. But then, these weren’t really problems in Apple’s Sport Case, either, and it looked every bit as good - albeit for those who prefer sophisticated iPod shuffle “enhancement” to bolder color customization, which the Shield 4 Shuffle unquestionably does more to accomplish.
The real selling point of the Shield 4 Shuffle is its value: three hard plastic cases in your choice of colors for under $30. Compared with some of the other shuffle offerings we’ve seen, that’s a pretty good deal. One of Agent 18’s packs (“Pack A”) includes the clear, black, and red cases, one metal chain, and one clear belt clip, while the other (“Pack B”) includes the blue, green, and pink cases, one chain, and one clear clip. All of the colors looked good, and though we preferred the clear, black, and red colors, the iPod mini-esque colors in the other package will probably attract at least as many people.
Overall, the Shield 4 Shuffle is a solid iPod shuffle hard case design that’s limited only by its protectiveness. It looks good, doesn’t compromise your shuffle’s wearability or utility in any way, and even enhances it with its simple belt clip and lanyard accessibility. If you’re not expecting to scratch-proof your iPod, you’ll like its design and appreciate its pricing.