Review: PDair Aluminum Metal Cases for iPod touch
With the holidays rapidly approaching, a number of companies have rushed to release new cases for the iPod touch, and not surprisingly, there are a lot of similarities between the latest options. Today, we're looking at eight new iPod touch cases, four made from transparent hard plastic, two from softer silicone rubber, and two from metal.
All eight cases start from the same place: they all cover the majority of the iPod touch’s sides and back, almost all of its face aside from its screen and Home button, and part of its top. Each one leaves part of touch’s bottom open, and provides some direct access for light to reach its brightness sensor. And they all try aggressively to complement the iPod touch’s thinness rather than radically thickening it with additional material. Consequently, none of these cases would accurately be described as “bulky.”
Metal iPod shells have a long history, dating back to Matias’ early iPod Armor, an aircraft-grade aluminum box that covered literally all of the iPod’s body except for its top ports. Since then, there have been dozens of similar variants, virtually all improving upon iPod Armor in one way: rather than precluding access to the iPod’s screen and controls, they found smart ways to protect them while covering them. PDair’s new Aluminum Metal Case for iPod touch ($28) is sold in two versions—one “with screen cover protection,” one without; neither is as well-conceived as the original iPod Armor or its successors.
There are a number of reasons to be concerned about covering an iPod touch, or iPhone for that matter, entirely in metal. The most significant is the fact that complete metal coverage can diminish or completely preclude use of the devices’ wireless antennas, which users can see that Apple has covered in plastic rather than metal on the rear of each product. Another reason is that these devices, even more so than earlier iPods, are hugely reliant on their screens and controls. Apple hasn’t released fully-featured remote controls for either device, so if you can’t use the screens, the user experience is significantly diminished.
PDair’s approach isn’t as bad or as great as it might have been. Both of its cases—made from silver or black aluminum, padded internally with neoprene—sensibly cover everything except the iPod touch’s top and part of its bottom surface, which are exposed to provide access to its Dock Connector and headphone ports, Sleep/Wake switch and Wi-Fi antenna. But their front and rear pieces are unusual. The back has long slits running from top left to top right, apparently designed to give the iPod touch’s antenna some room to breathe. As a consequence, signal strength isn’t noticeably affected, but the slits run longer than they really need to for aesthetic reasons, exposing more of touch’s back than the typical plastic or rubber case.
Our major issue is with each case’s front. PDair uses a hinge that opens the front half of the case towards the right, like a book, which is just fine—this prevents the hinge from interfering with touch’s bottom, and enables you to sort of use the case inside of Universal iPod Docks; because of the case’s open, under-reinforced top surface, you’ll have to hold touch’s top steady as you insert it into a dock. You can also use any headphones, oversized or otherwise, with the headphone port on touch’s bottom. In other words, the problem’s not with the top or bottom holes, or the hinge; it’s in the rest of the case’s front half.
There’s a hole for iPod touch’s brightness sensor, which makes sense, and an oval-shaped hole for the Home button, which works better than it looks. In the version “with screen cover protection,” the screen is completely covered with an integrated hard plastic screen protector, which prevents you from using the iPod touch at all with the case’s front flap closed—except to go back to the main menu with the Home button, or deactivate the screen with the top Sleep/Wake button. On the version without a screen protector, the screen is entirely exposed, and no film is provided to protect it. Both designs strike us as misguided; a single, smarter version of the case could have offered control-sensitive screen protection and pass-through Home button coverage, or completely covered touch’s controls; instead, the two options here each take half-steps, leaving you to open and close the lid with the “protection” version, or substantially sacrifice protection without the integrated protector. There are now at least a half dozen iPod touch cases with a smarter approach to iPod touch coverage, and of course, more are coming.
As is typical of many OEM case designs, each Aluminum Metal Case also includes a simple black cloth, detachable black plastic belt clip, and silver lanyard necklace. The generic belt clip isn’t designed to ratchet or do anything special, and attaches with a simple screw-in plastic nub to the back of the case; when turned properly, it does prop the case up for widescreen video viewing. PDair’s lanyard necklace is the requisite “toss it in” piece we find in hundreds of hastily assembled iPod case packages; we doubt that many people would want to wear the metal-clad touch around their necks with the lanyard, but it’s there if you want it.
The good news about the Aluminum Metal Cases is that if you’re willing to accept their idiosyncracies, specifically each version’s different tradeoff of protection for access, you’ll find that they’re better than decent cases—they don’t screw up iPod touch’s Wi-Fi, interfere with its accessory compatibility, or dramatically increase its size, all major pros for an early metal case. But given the variety of plastic and rubber cases we’ve seen that do all the same things better, particularly without the need to pick between protection and full-time control access, in many cases less expensively, both versions of the Aluminum Metal Case strike us as worthy only of our limited recommendation. Consider them if you really like metal coverage and aren’t willing to wait for sleeker, better-designed alternatives.