Review: Griffin Technology iVault for iPod shuffle
Pros: A highly attractive aluminum enclosure for the iPod shuffle that gives the cheap plastic player a professional-looking, solid metal exoskeleton. Full access to iPod shuffle’s controls, lights, and ports, with syncing via an included USB cable. Great price.
Cons: Some assembly required - a small screwdriver is necessary to put it together, and once it’s on, you’ll need to unscrew four screws to remove it. USB cable required for all synchronization; no coverage of the bottom port when cable’s not attached. Doesn’t scratch-protect shuffle as much as top silicone rubber cases.
Look familiar? If you recognize Griffin Technology’s machined aluminum iPod shuffle case iVault ($19.99), you probably saw it first in our Discussion Forums, where iLounger Greg Gutierrez (“helixipod”) debuted the design in February. Many months and a number of design changes later, the custom-made enclosure is finally hitting store shelves at a mass-market price.
iVault is a nice iPod shuffle case, with some assembly required. Once it’s attached, your iPod shuffle visually metamorphoses from the equivalent of a cheap plastic iBook into a solid metal PowerBook, brushed aluminum on all sides and solid as a brick. You even have your choice of colors: iVault is shipping now in silver and red, with blue, purple, and green versions soon to follow.
Each iVault consists of four parts: machined aluminum front and rear shells, a bag of 5 screws, and a USB extension cable. The idea is actually different from most iPod cases: you put the left and right sides together around your shuffle - minus its USB cap - insert four screws into iVault’s back corners, and then use a small Phillips head screwdriver to seal the case together. The fifth included screw is an extra.
Once it’s attached, iVault can be removed, but it’s not meant to be - you’re supposed to keep your shuffle inside for daily use, syncing, and charging. A hole in its bottom provides direct access to its USB plug, but requires you to use the USB cable for computer connections. When we say “requires,” we mean it: unless you carry a small screwdriver around, there’s no way to connect the shuffle for recharging or data transfers without the cable. Compounding this design choice, no USB cover is included, so your shuffle’s plug is always exposed to the elements, albeit a few millimeters beneath iVault’s surface. This is our biggest single issue with the iVault, but if you can get around it, you’ll love it.
It’s worth noting at this point that iVault is not the first metal case to be released for the iPod shuffle: ironically, a company called Exopod “borrowed” iVault’s design, improved upon it in some ways, and released a machined aluminum case called the Aluminum Magnetic Case (iLounge rating: B+) months ago.
Both of these aluminum cases expose the shuffle’s front and rear controls, its status lights, and its headphone port. In iVault’s case, these holes are attractively and softly beveled - better polished than the Exopod’s by a mile, and not a risk to either fingers or the shuffle, though also not as visually angular. Griffin even uses a rubber pad around the inside back hole as a way to avoid scuffing the shuffle, a smart touch, and one missing from Exopod. Finally, there’s enough room in iVault around the headphone port to let you use some large headphone plugs, including the L-shaped ones often found on car cassette adapters.
Combined with the included USB cable, the iVault is very usable, and it’s certainly attractive. Though not as sharp as the initial concept designs in a few ways, it’s still more polished than Exopod’s in all of the visual particulars, and looks more like a professional-grade product. You also don’t need to pull off the case to sync or recharge your shuffle, as is necessary with Exopod.
However, iVault is not the most practical or protective case we’ve seen. Its lack of a hole for a keychain or lanyard limits its use to pocketability, and its holes expose a lot of the shuffle to potential harm, especially if you keep keys in the same pocket and they come near the USB plug. Similarly, its use of screws rather than Exopod’s magnets to stay closed creates two related issues; you’ll need a screwdriver to assemble it, as well as to remove it. This is a fine design for someone who likes to keep the shuffle covered at all times, but not for people who are frequently pulling cases on and off, or those not able to maintain access to the USB cable.
After several days of testing, we wrestled with B+ and B ratings - mostly because of the exposed USB port - ultimately settling on a B+ because of iVault’s highly attractive looks. It’s undeniably the best looking metal case yet released for the iPod shuffle, and reasonably priced, but as with most B-rated products it requires some compromises that some users may be unwilling to accept. Because of the shuffle’s long battery life, we don’t think that most people will mind using the included cable for occasional recharges, but the lack of a USB cap on the bottom and the various other holes make iVault a less protective case than it could be. Its inability to be used with a lanyard or keychain is especially unfortunate, as it begs to be shown off rather than tossed into a pocket. Griffin has a super-cool design on its hands, and one that deserves to be evolved even further.
[Editor’s Note, July 1, 2005: Immediately before the release of iVault, Griffin surprisingly lowered its price from $29.99 to $19.99, a fact now reflected above. Though this fact doesn’t change our rating, the iVault is now an even better value than we originally felt that it was.]