Review: DLO UrbanShell for iPod classic
Over the last couple of months, DLO has released some of its best iPod cases in years: we've been especially impressed by its Action Jacket armband, VideoShell, and HybridShell for iPod touch. But even a hitmaker can have misses, and that was the case with one of the company's two new $20 iPod classic cases: while its VideoShell and UrbanShell both offer the option of a pop-out stand for easy iPod video viewing, VideoShell proved well-built, if otherwise imperfectly designed, and UrbanShell fell apart.
It’s obvious that DLO is trying to find innovative ways to protect and make iPod classics easier to use. Both VideoShell and UrbanShell start from the premise that it’s not just enough to cover an iPod and made it safer to toss into your pocket—you’ll also want to actually prop it up and watch videos on its screen. We seriously agree with this premise: integrated video stands are one of the best features we’ve seen in the latest crop of iPod cases, and DLO’s VideoShell for iPod touch pulls off the feature better than most: it slides in and out of the case’s back without adding any appreciable thickness to the clear hard plastic shell, and lets you mount touch horizontally or vertically as you prefer.
Since the iPod classic’s screen only displays videos in one position, the classic’s similarly all-clear version of VideoShell doesn’t have as much to do, but it also doesn’t take as impressive of an approach. First, rather than tailoring separate versions of the case to fit thinner 80GB iPods and bigger 160GB iPods, the case is sold in a one-size-fits-all larger version with a removable plastic plate inside. Pop its side pegs out and the case is ready for 160GB models; leave them in and the case fits the 80GB model with interior space to spare. This is a carry-over from the prior version of VideoShell, which was released for the fifth-generation iPod late last year.
Then there’s the video stand: it’s the top half of the case, popped out to become a Y-shaped bridge. It’s like Pacific Rim Technologies’ 5G Quartz Case, only exposing the iPod’s top rather than its bottom. The other holes are also a bit odd. DLO’s design unusually has no integrated screen protector, its headphone port hole is big, but not big enough for the largest oversized headphone plugs, and its Hold switch hole is small enough to be unusable. These are problems we pointed out in last year’s review, but they haven’t been fixed. Pull the video stand part out and you can get unfettered access to both top parts, but that’s not really convenient.
UrbanShell feels like the work of a different designer. Rather than have you slide the iPod classic inside, the top face comes off, again revealing a clear plastic insert that resizes the 160GB-sized body for 80GB iPods. There’s a pop-out chrome rear stand that looks good, and works as well as VideoShell’s, without compromising iPod protection in the process. And the case’s outer surfaces are coated with a soft-touch rubber that looks and feels good, though it has a tendency to show dust, just as the black iPod classic’s face easily shows smudges.
In UrbanShell, the headphone port is big enough to fit anything, and the Hold switch hole is the right size for easy finger access. Both cases have bottom Dock Connector holes that are large enough for virtually any bottom-connecting accessory, and properly fit Universal iPod Docks. They also both come with iPod classic-sized screen protectors rather than having clear ones built in.
Building screen protection in would have been a good idea for a couple of reasons: it would have been a natural for the entirely clear VideoShell—DLO left it out of the 5G version because it also made colored VideoShells—and for UrbanShell, it would have thickened up the front of the case. UrbanShell bombed in our testing because the front shell is so thin that it actually snapped the first time we touched it, something that hasn’t happened with any other plastic case we’ve tested over the past several years. It is otherwise a nice, and hugely worthwhile design.
One flaw common to both cases is their lack of Click Wheel protection. Because of the classic’s originally insensitive touch surface, and tweaks Apple has made to its sensitivity, some developers have felt unsure of whether or how to cover it. As with 5G cases, we still think film coverage should be included at a minimum, and prefer cases that do so. It’s worth noting that DLO actually included a Click Wheel cover in last year’s VideoShell, but left it out for unknown reasons in this year’s version.
Under different circumstances, both VideoShell and UrbanShell would merit at least our general recommendation, as their $20 prices and designs are very attractive, even if they lack a little for protection and aren’t offered in separate 80GB and 160GB sizes. The video stand features they possess are ones we really like, and UrbanShell’s implementation is amongst the best we’ve seen from any case, save perhaps DLO’s superior offering for the iPod touch. However, VideoShell’s continued top issues and UrbanShell’s serious front shell problem took away from what would otherwise have been stronger ratings. Both cases could learn a lot about protection and functionality from the iPod touch version of VideoShell.