Review: Griffin FlexGrip + FlexScreen for iPod nano + iPod touch
There are times when Griffin Technology is innovative, and times when it is obviously "borrowing" or "inspired by" other companies' ideas. It was obvious from moment one that two new iPod cases, FlexGrip ($15) and FlexScreen ($15), belonged to the latter category: they are substantially similar to XtremeMac's earlier TuffWrap and TuffWrap Plus cases, respectively, but they're also a little different. And that difference -- a back texture -- is borrowed from DLO's HybridShell cases. The results are two silicone rubber case designs that feel like they've been done before, even though they haven't really been. FlexGrip is currently available for both the third-generation iPod nano and iPod touch; FlexScreen is available only for the iPod nano.
Two-toned silicone rubber iPod and iPhone cases have appeared on occasion over the past year, starting with iSkin’s Revo and continuing with XtremeMac’s aforementioned TuffWrap. What made TuffWrap so interesting was that it kept the front of the iPod mostly black, then wrapped the sides and back in a grip-molded gray—a really nice color combination that also made the iPod feel more secure in your hand. Griffin’s coloration is exactly the same, but rather than directly cloning XtremeMac’s linear grips and awkward rear holes, FlexGrip’s back and sides are covered in dots, varying slightly in size to form a pattern of small-large-small on one vertical line, then small-small-small on the next, and so on. These dots seem to have been inspired by the larger ones on DLO’s HybridShell, but that case is made from hard plastic, and the dots look different.
FlexGrip is also very similar to these other cases in protection and pack-ins. The iPod nano version comes with film-style screen and Click Wheel protectors that, together with the case, leave only the nano’s central Action button and bottom exposed. There’s also a black cleaning cloth to remove dust and smudges from the screen before you apply the film. The iPod touch version also includes a full-face screen protector, which covers everything except for the Home button—a part the case itself covers completely. All that’s exposed on the touch is its bottom surface. Both cases are highly accessory-compatible, working with Universal Docks and anything else you might want to plug in.
No matter what its inspirations may have been, there are reasons to prefer FlexGrip over the alternatives. Though we like the colors as-is, Griffin isn’t limiting FlexGrip to just the black and gray version shown here: a clear and black version is forthcoming, as is a black and red version; they’ll be sold in two-packs. On the flip side, though their exterior molding is great, and we liked their looks and dotted grips, both cases could have used slight internal tweaking, as they bulge a little at the face. The iPod touch version’s bulging is more noticeable than the nano’s, making the case less than ideal for people concerned about dust intrusion.
FlexScreen is, by comparison, a similar-looking but differently designed case. Just like TuffWrap Plus was to TuffWrap, FlexScreen drops FlexGrip’s two-toned rubber in favor of a single color—frosted clear—and replaces the film-style screen protector with a snap-on hard plastic cover that shields the entire face save for the Click Wheel. The cases offer virtually identical dotted back designs, iPod body coverage, and pricing. Preferring one over the other is mostly a question of cosmetics and whether you need something really hard to cover the nano’s screen.
“Mostly,” in that the FlexScreen we reviewed didn’t come with a Click Wheel cover, though Griffin’s web page at press time suggests that one would be included, and just like TuffWrap Plus, the bottom of the hard plastic front shell interferes with certain oversized accessories. Though FlexScreen lets your nano plug into Universal Docks and most headphones without issues, the bottom molding could have been smoother and friendlier to oversized headphone plugs. It also has visible mold lines at its corners—a tiny cosmetic issue we haven’t seen in other Griffin clear cases. You can’t see the lines unless you look for them, but they’re there.
If these cases were more expensive, such issues might be of greater concern, but Griffin has taken an aggressive pricing posture on both FlexGrip and FlexScreen: the individual cases sell for $15 each, which is $5 less than XtremeMac’s TuffWrap pricing and $10 less than TuffWrap Plus. Griffin’s two-packs of FlexGrips are priced at $20, bringing the cost of each case down to $10. In either case, these are great prices for iPod cases, and more reasonable than 80-90% of the options we’ve previously reviewed, especially given the quality of Griffin’s various included parts. iPod nano owners will lose out on one thing buying the FlexGrip or FlexScreen over XtremeMac’s alternatives—an optional carabiner hook attachment. That part’s definitely not worth the $10 premium charged for TuffWrap Plus, which is why FlexScreen rates higher; it’s your call as to whether it’s worth the $5 premium charged for the standard TuffWrap. Similarities to earlier cases and slight bulge issues aside, these are otherwise impressive offerings for the iPod nano and iPod touch. We’d like to see Griffin fix their small rough edges, but for their current form and pricing, they’re highly recommended.