Review: eXopod Aluminum Magnetic Case for iPod shuffle
Pros: Techno-lustworthy machined aluminum case with smart magnet design to let you hold together or release its two halves; included ball-bearing keychain; full access to all shuffle controls and lights.
Cons: Not fully protective of the shuffle’s front, back, or top; a few rough inside edges and imperfections; headphone port hole is only sized for Apple’s official plugs; keychain hole isn’t sized or oriented to accommodate common necklace or other attachments.
It’s not the first machined aluminum iPod shuffle case we’ve seen, but it’s the first one we’ve received for review. Exopod’s new Aluminum Magnetic Case for iPod shuffle ($35.00) uses a design similar to the one innovated by iLounge reader HelixiPod, but changes up a few features with interesting results. Two versions will be available: the one reviewed here is a standard aluminum case that can be engraved for an additional charge of $7, while Exopod will also sell a Black Anodized Aluminum version for the same $35 base price.
Made from two pieces of aluminum that have been mostly precision-cut to match the controls of the iPod shuffle, the Exopod case is just plain smart and cool, if not the most protective hard shuffle case we’ve seen. Its front plate includes four holes: one that’s impressively beveled to attractively expose the shuffle’s Control Pad, a tiny one that exposes the shuffle’s front two status lights, a bottom hole that just fits a ball-bearing keychain, and half of a headphone port hole. The back plate includes two holes: a beveled one that fully exposes the shuffle’s power switch and battery indicator button, and the other half of the headphone port hole. You remove the USB cap from your shuffle, put it inside one of the halves, and snap the halves together.
Exopod’s critically smart design decision is its use of four tiny magnets to hold the front and right plates together: mounted in the case’s corners, they make it incredibly easy to assemble or disassemble the two halves at any time. More than occasionally, the ball-bearing keychain will be magnetically drawn in and get the way when you try to attach the sides, but it’s easy to pull out and snap the case together. The magnets don’t affect the shuffle’s performance, and work really well.
Unfortunately, the machine cutting and polishing on the review cases we received wasn’t entirely perfect. The rear hole’s tolerance is very tight, so depending on how you insert your shuffle, the iPod shuffle’s power switch might not entirely move back to “off” while in the case - but if you check to make sure the shuffle’s in there perfectly, this won’t happen. The status light holes on our samples were also a tiny bit jagged on the cases we received, and polishing of the cases was also a bit uneven, with rounded cross-hatching evident on all sides. It’s vaguely noticeable from a distance, and while not unattractive, not quite ideal either. All of the case’s inside edges also have an industrial sharpness that isn’t dangerous, but isn’t as smooth as we’d prefer for something that comes into contact with skin and glossy plastic. We’d call these small growing pains for a new case manufacturer, and ones we’d expect will be remedied in future production runs.
The major advantage of the Exopod case is its look: it’s pretty cool up close and from a distance, and mostly turns your iBookish all-plastic iPod into the PowerPod equivalent of an Apple PowerBook. Secondarily, thanks to its magnets and keychain, it’s easy to carry around, and doesn’t require separate detachable USB caps. If you want to connect the shuffle to a computer, just pop open the case’s magnets and remove the shuffle. Unlike some competing (but not yet released) aluminum shuffle cases, there are no screws to remove, and no hole that exposes the shuffle’s USB plug to the elements.
Its only wearability disadvantages are the small size of its keychain hole, which isn’t large enough for a lanyard cable, or oriented to the shuffe’s left and right sides for easy neck wear. You can attach it to a belt loop or keys, but not much else. And like many (but not all) iPod shuffle cases, it’s designed to fit the plug of Apple’s packed-in earbuds, not third-party headphones, so you’ll need an extension cable such as the one Apple includes with its iPod shuffle Sport Case if you want to use bigger-plugged ‘phones.
Overall, the Exopod case is a good first entry in the aluminum hard case category. It needs a bit more polish both figuratively and literally before it reaches physical perfection, and protectiveness will be an issue for some people, but we think that those looking for high techno style will be more than willing to accept its compromises for the generally reasonable price. We’re looking forward to seeing what Exopod and its competitors can do with aluminum designs in the near future.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.