Review: Griffin FlexGrip Action for iPod touch 4G
With few exceptions, case manufacturers are constantly striving for thinner and less obtrusive ways to protect Apple's devices. Griffin and Incipio have taken a different approach with their gaming cases for the iPod touch 4G, FlexGrip Action ($30) from the former and Incipio Hive ($20) from the latter. The general concept for both cases is the same: they're both silicone rubber cases shaped like bones, providing extra grip and comfort for landscape orientation games. While the cases are conceptually similar, they vary in execution, and each has distinct advantages over the other.
FlexGrip Action offers the most device coverage. Completely covering the back and sides of the iPod touch, it also extends to cover the bezel above and below the glass display. All of the buttons—Sleep/Wake, volume up/down, and Home—are covered but still click very easily. Precisely cut openings leave the front and rear cameras exposed, as well as the speaker, Dock Connector, and headphone port on the bottom. One downside to this extended protection is that the Ambient Light Sensor is covered. This means that the screen’s backlight brightness is automatically reduced if the Auto-Brightness setting is on. While changing the option is easy enough to do, such an oversight is surprising from Griffin and should not be required. The thick bottom of the case also precludes it from fitting properly in a Universal Dock. Included with the case is a wrist strap that can be strung through holes on the backside.
In terms of physical feel, Griffin’s case is very similar to other silicone rubber options. Along the edges, it is smooth, while the middle two-thirds is texturized with a series of small squares. This finish comes around to the front so that in landscape orientation, your thumbs rest on the more grippy finish, as do the index fingers around the back. Also on the back are two side bulges, which index fingers fit right around. It’s quite comfortable.
While Hive utilizes the same material build, the overall design is a bit different. The back and sides are covered in the same way, including openings for the camera and bottom ports. However, rather than covering so much of the front of the iPod touch, Hive only comes a portion of the way up the bezel. This leaves the Home Button, camera, and notably, the Ambient Light Sensor exposed. Extra rubber on the top and bottom actually extend the height of the iPod by about a quarter of an inch relative to the FlexGrip Action design. Hive’s added material makes the covering over the Sleep/Wake button slide around a little bit when being pressed, which we didn’t like, though the button does work. As with Griffin’s case, Hive cannot be docked in Universal Docks. On the plus side, the case does come with a “Vanity Kit” consisting of two protective screen films, an applicator card, and a microfiber cleaning cloth.
Where Incipio’s case differs most from FlexGrip Action is the pattern of the silicone. Unlike the small raised squares, Hive lives up to its name with a honeycomb grid along the back. This pattern feels distinctly different and makes the case considerably thicker. In addition, less rubber covering the front means that your thumbs rest half on, half off the material. The ridges for the index fingers are just about the same size as those on FlexGrip Action, but do not feel quite as tall due to the extended length of the case.
Between the two cases, we much preferred the feel of Griffin’s FlexGrip Action: the slightly elevated texture struck the right compromise between grip and depth. Hive’s honeycomb pattern did not feel nearly as comfortable to us by comparison, adding considerable depth that fingers tended to slip into rather than balancing against. We also liked that the finger bumps on the back of FlexGrip Action felt like the most substantial portions of an otherwise slender case. Either model is equally difficult to get in and out of a pocket, a problem common to most silicone cases.
Again, both of these cases have their own strengths and weaknesses. While we preferred the feel and size of FlexGrip Action, its unintentional tripping of the ambient light sensor is an issue that should not exist, and its omission of screen protection for the $30 asking price is also a miss. On the other hand, Hive’s feel wasn’t quite as pleasing, and it adds even more height and thickness, but does not block any sensors and has more pack-ins at a considerably lower price—one that’s as aggressive as some comparatively plain silicone rubber cases. If you’re a gamer looking for a grippy case, you may find that the added bulk is not as much of an issue as it might be for other usage models. If all things were equal, we would prefer FlexGrip Action by a small margin, but since Hive is a better bargain with superior protection, both cases earn the same B rating. If you are specifically looking for a case to enhance your gaming, either one might be worth considering, depending on your budget. Speck’s CandyShell Grip, which is more expensive but also considerably more accessory-friendly and slender, should also be on your radar as a particularly strong alternative.