Review: Matias Clear iPod Armor mini
Pros: Looks pretty good, is thinner than many options, protects the iPod mini against most types of scratch and impact-related physical damage.
Cons: No top protection, front scratches easily, some users may prefer full-time Click Wheel access, price-to-features ratio not as strong as recent competitors.
We’ve previously reviewed and liked several generations of Matias’ iPod Armor metal case products, including the iPod Armor mini case, which deviated from the company’s traditions by relying on a composite plastic and metal shell. At the time we reviewed that case, it was unquestionably the best hard case for the iPod mini, but since then a number of competitors have emerged with lower prices and in some cases superior design elements.
Perhaps in response, Matias has recently made a couple of interesting changes to the iPod Armor mini case design, resulting in a second and more competitively priced product that offers an all-plastic front rather than a metal one. However, unlike cases that we recommend for all audiences, individual preference will be a strong determinant of whether this new clear iPod Armor mini case is right for your needs.
Metal was unquestionably the key selling point of the original iPod Armor line. Matias’ first two iPod Armor cases used a two-piece hard aluminum shell to enclose full-sized iPods and render them impervious to almost any sort of external damage - scratch, shock, impact, or otherwise. To offer such comprehensive protection, these cases blocked access to the iPod’s screen and controls, a decision which matched some users’ requirements and preferences, but deterred others, as changing songs required the potentially inconvenient step of flipping open the case.
In partial response to this design limitation, Matias shifted the previous iPod Armor mini case away from an all-metal design, using mostly aluminum plating on the outside of a hard plastic shell. The front of that case left a hole in the metal for a hard plastic screen protector, exposed the entire top of the iPod mini, and sealed the bottom with plastic and a snug rubber Dock Connector protector. These changes compromised the case’s traditions of comprehensive hard protection, but improved its utility for average everyday use. Inside, the iPod mini was protected against scratching by a thin layer of velvet fabric, which we’ve never had any problems with.
The new clear version of the iPod Armor case uses the same velvet interior and hard plastic, metal-plated back half, which covers the iPod mini’s sides and back with a thin piece of aluminum, leaving a white hard plastic bottom exposed with the rubber Dock Connector guard. What’s changed is the front shell - gone is the metal and plastic hybrid part, replaced by a fully transparent plastic panel, and also gone is Matias’ distinctively extruded iPod control circle - the front of the new case is just a single flush and unadulterated piece of clear plastic. Like the prior Armor mini case, users still cannot access the iPod mini’s controls without flipping the front panel open, and the top of the iPod is again left exposed.
This change makes it easier to show off the color of your iPod, but otherwise does not change the product’s protectiveness dramatically in any affirmative way. Rather than risking aluminum and plastic scratches while protecting your iPod, you now risk only plastic scratches, and the lack of the thin metal plating again makes some difference in the case front’s resilience. (It took a more major step down just by its prior shift to plastic.) Now you can expect surface scratches on the face, like the ones ours now has after taking the case on a brief trip inside a bag to Las Vegas. (For reference, we’d rate the clear iPod Armor mini’s scratchability higher than what we expected.) On the bright side, at least the iPod mini wasn’t scratched, which many people feel is the point of these cases anyway.
The more important difference in the two Matias mini products is their prices. By shifting away from the more elaborately manufactured metal front, Matias has dropped this version’s price by $15 to a comparatively more reasonable $34.95. On one hand, this represents a better value for the consumer that is hard to dismiss, but on the other hand, the price is only now competitive with other hard case products that have subsequently emerged since the release of the metal iPod Armor mini, including Speck’s FlipStand (under $30) and Innopocket/Rhino-Skin’s metal case (under $35), plus potentially Power Support’s Crystal Jacket (under $20).
But this new competition raises another important point: feature distinctions. Unlike the FlipStand and Crystal Jacket, which are simple plastic cases that offer easier access to the iPod mini’s Click Wheel and varying degrees of access to its other components, and unlike the Innopocket/Rhino-Skin case, which is an actual metal case resilient to stronger impacts and scratches, the clear iPod Armor mini is now situated a bit awkwardly between its competitors. On a positive note, it’s guaranteed to be the most protective of the iPod mini’s face under most conditions, but it’s also the hardest case from which to access the iPod mini’s controls, and it’s not as protective of the mini’s top as the FlipStand. And some users may prefer Power Support’s smart combination of soft and hard iPod mini front protection, while others may like the FlipStand’s pop-off Click Wheel protector, and others Innopocket’s stronger metal shell minus any Click Wheel covering at all. And then, of course, there’s the original iPod Armor mini case, which won’t scratch as easily, but is more expensive than any of these options.
There’s another difference between these options that may or may not matter to you: unlike its metal predecessor, the clear Armor case doesn’t include one of Matias’ Armor Clips, which were an adhesive nub and a detachable belt clip that we thought were okay. It’s not missed in this package, but if you want to belt clip your clear Armor, you’ll need to add an extra $10 to the product’s asking price. For reference, the similarly priced FlipStand and Innopocket cases both include belt clipping features (if less attractive ones from a thinness standpoint), and the cheaper Crystal Jacket has a creative solution for users in need, as well.
Because of its visible front scratchability, lack of a belt clip and fairly high price by comparison with the Crystal Jacket and FlipStand cases we’ve especially liked recently, we rate the new clear iPod Armor mini a bit below these options. Competition has changed the landscape of iPod mini hard cases, which is great for consumers, who now have more options, but tougher for manufacturers, who now have more considerations to take into account before releasing an “A” product. You’ll have to decide for yourself which case fits your needs, but we get the feeling that the battle between these various options is likely to be close to a draw. Each of the cases offers something that the others do not, and none is an entirely ideal option, but if you want an iPod mini case that protects everything but your iPod’s top, is relatively thin, and looks pretty good, the clear iPod Armor mini option is a solid middle-of-the-road option.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.