Company: Better Energy Systems Ltd.
Compatible: iPod nano
Better Energy Systems Tread Flip Recycled Rubber Case for iPod nano
Pros: The first commercially available, environmentally-friendly recycled rubber case for an iPod, made both tough and sharp-looking through the use of truck tires as materials. PDA-style design protects the majority of the nano inside. Includes an iPod earbud manager on its front flap. Very reasonable pricing.
Cons: Open sides make the case far less than ideal if you’re going to pocket your iPod with keys or other sharp objects; flip front limits access unless you open the snap. No included or optional ability to wear the case as a necklace or on a belt.
It’s hard to believe that it was April of last year when we first took an in-depth look at Tread, the world’s first recycled case for iPods. Better Energy Systems - maker of the solar iPod charger Solio - had an idea that was equally intelligent and noble: instead of creating cases from new rubber, why not collect used rubber tires in an underdeveloped country such as Colombia, and employ local people to reprocess them into fashionable iPod holders, selling the environmentally-friendly, recycled cases at a reasonable price? It was a great plan, but from what we heard, it hit a snag: customs officials assumed the cases were being used to hide drugs, and slashed the shipments open searching for contraband. Perhaps it’s true: no good deed goes unpunished.
Many months have passed since then, and the iPods that fit the original Tread cases were discontinued. So now Better Energy has developed two new Tread cases for iPod nano ($25), one of which we review today, with the other soon to come. Today’s version, Tread Flip, has a front flap to protect nano’s face, and lacks for only one thing - side protection. The other Tread case has an open face that provides screen and control access. You’ll also notice that our photos below show off a third Tread, which is made specifically for the company’s Solio solar charger for iPods; it is not rated below.
Despite the fact that it’s made from recycled tires, Tread Flip’s build quality is beyond reproach: the stitching and detailing of its body are impressive, bolstered by fabric edge and side piping. Sort of like the “distressed leather” cases, any imperfections in the case’s rubber are more or less appropriate based on the material it comes from, and in fact, some of the best Treads we’ve seen - they’re all different - have obvious tire company markings on their surfaces. Flip looks and feels well-made, with tire-quality toughness. A sturdy metal snap holds the case closed.
PDA-style cases with flip-open front panels aren’t the easiest for iPod owners to use, and Tread Flip is no exception. While the case is closed, you can only access one of the iPod’s key access points - its headphone port hole, which is large enough for even oversized headphones. However, popping open the lid yields access to the nano’s Hold switch, screen, and Click Wheel; the only thing you can’t use without removing the iPod from Tread is the Dock Connector port, which is always covered.
There are two major innovations in Tread Flip: its unique body material, which actually varies from case to case based entirely on the tire that’s being cut up to create each body, and a special colored patch of material on the case’s front. This patch differs between cases in color - we’ve seen at least three colors (blue, red, black) so far, some slightly metallic - and has two diagonal holes in its center. This is Better Energy’s take on a good iPod earbud holder, and though it’s simple, we actually like how it works and looks. These innovations combined rate four points here; no belt clip, lanyard, or other items are included in the package, nor is there a D-ring or other rear attachment for such items to be used.
Though we’d prefer to say this in the positive (“6 out of 10 is pretty good”) way, Tread Flip’s omission in protectivness is a surprise by PDA-style case design standards: it exposes more than half of each of the nano’s sides, and since its front flap doesn’t seal completely flat against its face - only close enough for most people - this is by no means a case we’d toss into a pocket with keys. Not only could they scratch the nano’s sides, but they could also pass and rake over the nano’s screen or Click Wheel. Our rating of 6 here is a little touchy-feely because the case’s front flap protects almost everything well against objects coming from the front, but the holes in the sides leave your nano especially vulnerable. The case scores one extra point for the strength of its medium thickness rubber body.
(We’ll note that the company’s Tread for Solio provides 100% protection for the Solio inside, thanks to a double zipper that lets you run cables and power to your iPod or to the Solio’s internal battery even while it’s in use. We also liked this Tread’s back, which uses a simple X made from elastic to aid in carrying or belt-mounting the case, and the front’s green eyelet, which lets you see Solio’s status without opening the zipper.)
Tread Flip scores really well in the value department. We liked it initially because it was what we were looking for - a tough black case for the popular black iPod nano. But when you also consider its interesting and unique background story - namely, that it’s one of (if not the) only recycled iPod cases you’re going to find - and that it’s priced at the highly reasonable price of $25, it’s pretty close to a “must try” case in our view for both environmentally-conscious iPod owners, and even mainstream metropolitan users. If not for its open sides, it would have rated considerably higher, but as-is, it’s memorably very good.
A Note From the Editors of iLounge: Though all products and services reviewed by iLounge are "final," many companies now make changes to their offerings after publication of our reviews, which may or may not be reflected above. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.