Review: Contour Design Showcase nano V3
Of the thousands of cases that have appeared for iPods over the past six years, few have the potential offered by hard plastics. If you love Apple's designs, these sorts of cases tend to show them off much better than any of their peers except for clear full-body film, and almost always offer superior anti-drop protection. But they differ in scratch protection, frills, and a number of other ways, so today we're looking at 11 total new hard plastic offerings from major case makers Agent 18, Belkin, and Contour Design.
The two Contour Design cases we’re reviewing today are from the company’s famous Showcase family, which is known for several consistent design traits: clear front and back shells are accented with rubberized black plastic sides that latch together to form an almost entirely protective enclosure, which can be used with or without an included belt clip. Their good looks almost invariably enhance the designs of the iPods inside, and though their prices are on the high end for plastic cases, Contour generally evolves each generation of Showcase to include new innovations in protection.
Showcase nano V3 ($30) and Showcase touch ($35) are, as their names suggest, classical Showcase designs for the video-ready iPod nano and the iPod touch. The iPod touch version is arguably the cooler of the designs, as its black and clear surfaces compliment the same colors on the touch, and its front surface is tapered to accentuate touch’s slimness. Both cases feature flip-open rubber bottom-of-iPod protectors which work perfectly for part-time protection, but make use of some accessories a challenge: the iPod nano case works fine with bottom-attaching add-ons, including Universal Docks, if you can keep the protector flipped out, but the iPod touch one doesn’t work with Universal Docks and makes some other add-ons incompatible. Headphone plugs, even oversized ones, thankfully work without a problem.
There are certain things we like a lot about these new Showcases. Both use a single side latch rather than a double-latch to hold the cases closed, and they still switch from closed to open without as much fidgeting as other plastic cases we’ve tested. The iPod touch version actually covers touch’s Sleep/Wake button with a play-through rubber cover rather than exposing the controls—an improvement on the iPhone version of this case—and the iPod nano case’s fully rubber bottom and included clear rubber Click Wheel protector make the case virtually 100% protective without compromising control access.
Our biggest concerns are focused on the cases’ backs. Both Showcases come with the same black and metal detachable belt clip, which is right-sized for the iPod touch but looks a bit too large for the iPod nano, and can be locked into your choice of four positions on the case’s rear. When the clip’s not in use, a black plastic insert covers four medium-sized holes in each Showcase’s clear back, though the inserts have an unfortunate tendency to fall off rather than stay in.
Where the Showcases diverge the most in our view is in protectiveness for the dollar. Our general rule of thumb is that we’d be willing to pay more—the top end of our iPod-specific value scale—for models with the right combination of protection, looks, and features. Showcase nano V3 comes very close to our flat A rating, thanks to its great protection, very good looks, and more reasonable pricing than last year’s version; its only issues are in the case’s rear design. It is still highly recommendable and a more impressive execution of its features than the company’s slightly less expensive iSee nano V3. By comparison, though it does a little better than the iPhone case on protection, Showcase touch continues to entirely omit face coverage, and loses the video stand functionality of the iPhone design. Based on the belt clip and insert issues we noticed, our guess is that Contour’s still working out the right back-of-iPod coverage and feature balance, and hopefully will have it solved in future versions. Nevertheless, Showcase touch is worthy of our strong general recommendation, and we hope only that 2008 models find a way to enhance their protection even further.