Company: Pacific Rim Technologies
Model: Gel Shield
Price: $10.99 (single), $24.99 (3-pack)
Compatible: iPod shuffle
Pacific Rim Technologies iPod shuffle Gel Shield
Pros: Thin and scratch-protective silicone rubber iPod shuffle cases available in five colors, with pretty good Control Pad and rear switch access.
Cons: Simple, no frills execution without lanyard cap or hole for handstrap/keychain, icons on front Control Pad are tough to align.
And so it begins. Though we’ve received prototypes from other companies, Pacific Rim Technologies surprised the entire iLounge staff by delivering the first final, reviewable silicone rubber case for the iPod shuffle. It’s called the Gel Shield, and it’s available as a single case for $10.99, or triple-packs for $24.99. You can mix and match colors in the triple-packs, choosing between translucent lime, charcoal, pink, blue, and frosted clear/white versions; we received and reviewed the pink and white ones. Each Shield comes in two pieces, one for the main shuffle body, and one a small USB cap cover. No lanyard cap cover is included.
So long as they fit properly, slip on and off easily, and cover virtually all of the shuffle’s body, each of which the Gel Shield does, shuffle cases are substantially easier to review than their full-sized iPod and iPod mini equivalents. Without a screen or touch-sensitive Click Wheel to consider exposing, shuffle case makers are free to cover the iPod’s entire plastic surface save for its small headphone hole and the USB opening at its bottom. There are only four challenges facing the sophisticated shuffle case maker: how thick the case should be, how big to make the headphone hole, how to permit easy access to the shuffle’s rear power switch and various lights, and what to do about the unit’s front controls.
Pacific Rim’s case is the thinnest we’ve seen so far, with roughly a millimeter and a half of silicone used to create a body that barely supports its own weight when nothing’s inside. It’s strong enough not to tear or permit serious shuffle harm under normal use, but not as tough as prototypes we’ve seen from other companies. However, pulling too hard on its edges may cause tears; in yanking the case off, one iLounge editor caused a very tiny corner seam rip that didn’t effect protectiveness. So exercise mild caution.
The benefit of the case’s thinness is its headphone hole. In two of the prototypes we’ve seen, the rubber is thick and close enough at the hole to preclude the use of certain oversized third-party headphone plugs, but that’s not the case with the Gel Shield. It worked without incident using Shure’s E5c plug, for example, one of the biggest plugs we’ve seen. There’s a tiny exposed area around the headphone port - the only such area on the shuffle’s surface - and we think that this was a wise design move.
We felt fine about the Gel Shield’s power switch access technique. Though we’ve seen better in one of the prototypes we’ve tested, Pacific Rim includes an even thinner rubber window on the back of each Shield that lets you push the switch up and down without much of a problem. You can also easily see and press the power indicator light on the shuffle’s rear, though it’s not part of the window, and the shuffle’s front lights are easily visible through the Shield’s rubber fronts.
Apple’s shuffle control pad presents the only other major issue for case designers: do you create a perfect replica of it in rubber, make a more generic circle, or ignore it and let the case bend around the shapes? Pacific Rim’s solution is a perfect replica, complete with elevated icon marks for each of the five controls. We tend to think that the icon marks aren’t a great idea, because they tend not to align properly with the shuffle’s own labels. A more generic circle actually works and looks better.
It’s also worth noting that the Gel Shield is bare on expandability by comparison with prototypes we’ve seen: there’s no hole for a wrist strap or keychain, which we don’t think will bother most people, and there’s also no lanyard cap for necklace use of the full Shield. These are relatively trivial factors, but ones we note for comparative purposes.
Judged in totality, the Gel Shield protects pretty well and looks good - particularly in its clear white coloration, which doesn’t have the Control Pad icon overlap issues that the pink-colored sample did. It’s a good start to what’s certain to be an ever-expanding market for simple iPod shuffle cases, and definitely a recommendable case, particularly for people who use third-party headphones. That factor is the one that tilted us most towards a B+ rating, though the case is otherwise a flat B on its other features and pricing. A $10.99 price is steep for such a simple case, but we’ll see whether and how increased competition changes that over time.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.