Company: Agent 18
Price: $24.95, $19.95 respectively
Compatible: iPod 4G, iPod mini, iPod photo
Agent 18 Shield Case for iPod mini
Pros: Nicely designed frosted/translucent clear hard plastic iPod protection in a two-piece shell form, custom tailored to sizes of iPods and iPod minis.
Cons: Scratch protection of iPod controls isn’t as strong as competing options, tops and bottoms of iPods are left relatively more open.
Two-piece clear iPod shells were Power Support’s idea, but now the company’s Crystal Jackets for iPod mini and 4G iPods have plenty of competition. Agent 18 is amongst the latest to offer alternatives: its Click Shield ($24.95) is now available in three sizes for 20, 40, and 60GB full-sized iPods and iPod photos, while the Mini Shield ($19.95) is specific to the iPod mini.
As with the Crystal Jackets, Agent 18’s concept is simple: snap two interlocking pieces of hard clear plastic onto the front and back of an iPod, and voila, your iPod’s protected. Mostly, at least. Agent 18’s cases leave sizeable rounded rectangular holes at their tops and bottoms, as well as a smooth beveled circular hole for the iPod’s Click Wheel controls. The full-sized Click Shields also leave a millimeter or more of the iPod’s front surface exposed around the Click Wheel, while the Mini Shield does not – a visual touch that looks quite nice on the full-sized iPod but exposes it to the risk of additional scratch damage.
The Crystal Jackets and Shields also differ in polish. Whereas Power Support’s Crystal Jackets are entirely glossy clear plastic, the Shields are partially frosted: other than polished transparent areas surrounding the iPod’s front screen and rear iPod logo, the Shields feature a translucent matte clear finish. Whether you prefer Agent 18’s choice visually will depend on your needs: the Crystal Jackets better show off the iPods inside, but the Shields are less prone to fingerprints and surface scratching. We’re inclined to prefer the Shields, but for the factors below.
Between the mini cases, a couple of differences tilt more decidedly in Power Support’s favor: unlike the Crystal Jacket mini, the Mini Shield doesn’t include full lips on its top and bottom. As a result, the top and bottom of the iPod mini are a bit more vulnerable to top or bottom damage if dropped in the Mini Shield, though admittedly neither case is close to ideal in this regard. Additionally, the Crystal Jacket includes an adhesive iPod mini Click Wheel protector, which means that only Power Support’s option provides anti-scratch coverage for the entirety of the iPod mini’s face (save its central Action button). The Mini Shield doesn’t protect the Click Wheel at all.
Other than those differences, the company’s mini cases are virtually the same. Both pop off in two pieces, the front capable of remaining on the iPod mini even when it’s used with Apple’s Arm Band or packed-in Belt Clip accessories. They’re equally handsome, both providing nice hard protection for most of the iPod mini against drops and scratches; Agent 18’s features two company logos (one on each piece), whereas Power Support’s has no logos, but uses a single row of distinctive half-globe bubbles on the rear of each case.
In the full-sized cases, each company’s offering has an additional strength and a weakness worth noting: Agent 18’s Click Shield uses a rubber-reinforced locking system to hold its two pieces together, while Power Support relies on a plastic-on-plastic connection. In locking terms, the two designs are basically a draw, but Agent 18’s design looks better. Power Support’s case, however, is more protective of the iPod 4G/photo’s bottom, with a Dock Connector port hole that’s reasonably sized rather than the unnecessarily entirely exposed bottom on the Click Shield case.
Overall, Agent 18’s clear Shields are almost the peers of Power Support’s earlier cases in functionality, and at least a draw if not better in style. While each case lacks Power Support’s protective Wheel Film and exposes a bit more of its respective iPod to potential damage, therefore constituting a bit less of a dollar value proposition, they also are less fingerprint- and scratch-attractive.
Priced the same as the Crystal Jacket mini, the Mini Shield is only a hair less recommendable from our standpoint because of the lack of Click Wheel protection. Since the Click Shield is both more expensive and less protective than Power Support’s version, we also have to knock it down to a rating a bit below the 4G Crystal Jacket. All things considered, Contour Design still owns the price-to-performance equation for now with its 4G iSee, and the overall hard plastic category with the Showcase. Neither of Agent 18’s offerings is a bad product, but their recommendability varies with the strengths of their competitors.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.