Review: PDO TopSkin for iPod nano 4G + iPod touch 2G
Silicone rubber cases were all but commoditized years ago, and it has become harder for new versions to stand out from the pack. Today, we're reviewing nine different rubber cases for three different Apple devices: the fourth-generation iPod nano, second-generation iPod touch, and iPhone 3G. This comparative review looks at DLO's Jam Jacket Rugged ($20), PDO's TopSkin ($15), and SwitchEasy's Colors ($13) cases for the fourth-generation nano, then DLO's Jam Jacket Rugged ($20) and Jam Jacket with MultiClip ($20), Marware's Sport Grip Extreme ($25), and PDO's TopSkin ($20) for the second-generation iPod touch.
As with virtually all of the nano cases we’ve tested, the three nano cases here have a lot in common. They all cover the entire back and sides of the nano, with at least partial top and front coverage, and initially minimal bottom coverage; by default, they all leave the nano’s bottom almost entirely open for connection to accessories, and also expose the screen and Click Wheel.
However, packed-in items compensate for some of these omissions: DLO includes film to cover the nano’s screen, PDO includes screen and Click Wheel film, plus an inexpensive-looking wrist strap, and SwitchEasy goes further, with both film and hard plastic screen covers, film Click Wheel covers, a cleaning cloth for application, and a rubber Dock Connector port protector. What’s notable about these pack-ins is that they’re offered in increasing disproportion to the prices of these cases: SwitchEasy’s Colors is the cheapest but most protective, while TopSkin is in the middle of the pack, and Jam Jacket is the most expensive with the least coverage.
Each case has a little something to offer that’s different from its competitors. Jam Jacket Rugged is a grippy black rubber case with seven ribs on each of its sides, and depressions in its back, thickening the nano while removing its dull knife-like sides. It’s the thickest of the bunch, and arguably the easiest to hold. TopSkin by contrast is a more plain design, and thinner, but has nice microtextured rear stripes of dots for added grip, and comes in four colors. It’s the only case to cover the nano’s top Hold switch while leaving it usable—a feature we really like—though it’s offset by two little holes in the rear bottom left for the included handstrap.
Colors is the most interesting case of the nano bunch, not because of its highly plain design—Click Wheel tapering is its only design feature—but because of the sheer variety of colors offered by SwitchEasy. There are 10 regular cases called SwitchEasy Colors, and one called Colors Stealth, the latter black with a smoke black screen protector, and the rest white, clear, or colored with clear screen protectors. The colors either match or approach the color of the nano’s body, save for Apple’s silver, which isn’t offered, and a brown case, which doesn’t match any nano model.
Though it’s hard to go wrong with any of the nano cases, it’s easiest to go right with Colors or Colors Stealth. SwitchEasy’s price is the lowest out there, and this case design offers more protection than any of its peers, as well as the widest array of color options. Though it doesn’t include as many frills as the company’s hard plastic CapsuleThins, it’s less expensive, and equally deserving of our high recommendation. By comparison, PDO’s TopSkin comes in fewer colors, but offers similarly excellent protection at a very close price, adding a wrist strap that doesn’t appeal to us but might appeal to some users. Finally, DLO’s Jam Jacket Rugged is the most expensive of the bunch, with the least surface coverage, but the thickest skin and most grip. We’d rate it a step or so below the others, but it’s still a good case.
As with the iPod nano rubber cases we’ve tested, all four of the iPod touch cases have a lot in common. They all cover the touch’s sides, top, and back completely, with at least partial front coverage, and varying degrees of bottom coverage. They’re also all sold in opaque black, though some also come in additional colors.
Though they’re only made in black, the most distinctively shaped cases are DLO’s. While the Jam Jacket Rugged case continues the look of the nano version, possessing the same seven side ribs to make the case grippy, they’ve been enlarged, and have wider depressions to match the larger iPod touch body. By comparison, the MultiClip version has none of these grips, but features a prominent and unique rubber-coated rear clip that can serve as a stand, cord manager, or belt clip depending on how it’s flexed and rotated. It’s the sequel to an earlier, same-named product for the first iPod touch. Both cases come with clear film screen protectors; only the Rugged version leaves the touch’s Home button exposed. They differ in bottom openings, with MultiClip offering an almost completely open, fully accessory-compatible bottom, and Rugged opting for a more protective approach that only barely exposes touch’s bottom holes. Those using oversized headphone or Dock Connector plugs will find Rugged’s bottom a little too hard to make connections with; this case is also, unlike MultiClip, impossible to use with Universal Docks.
By comparison, Sport Grip Extreme and TopSkin are more conventional, physically, but they do have their charms—notably, in coloration. Marware’s design, like earlier Belkin Sonic Wave Silicone Sleeves, uses two different rubber colors in a wavy back pattern—red accents on the black case, gray accents on the white case—with an extremely subtle added microdot texture on the accent colors. The only detractor from its looks is a headphone port hole that was a little ragged in our samples. TopSkin uses more noticeable microdots to edge all four of its sides, running the dots onto the edges of the case’s front and back; it comes in four single-colored versions, each with a plain wriststrap. Both of these cases come with screen protectors and integrated Home button protection, while Extreme includes a cleaning cloth, as well. Neither includes a belt clip, differing from the prior iPod touch version of TopSkin. This omission may be a disappointment for some, but didn’t bother us; it slims the case and improves its back.
New and interesting in Sport Grip Extreme is its approach to bottom coverage. Due to the V-shaped cutout, the headphone port is always exposed, but the Dock Connector port is covered by a slit that opens to reveal the port when necessary. We were able to dock Extreme in a Universal Dock without much effort; the slit just opened when aligned with the Dock’s Connector. TopSkin by comparison uses flip-open port covers for both the Dock Connector and headphone port, making it the only case of the bunch to provide 100% protection for the iPod touch’s body. It takes a little extra effort to open the covers for use with accessories, but not enough to bother most users, and the case works with virtually anything you might want to connect.
While all four of these cases deserve commendation for protecting so much of the iPod touch—they’re literally amongst the most protective we’ve ever reviewed for an iPod model—you’ll need to decide for yourself whether the features justify the asking prices. In our view, PDO’s TopSkin is the strongest offering of this bunch, with highly impressive protection and a design that’s only a wee bit too generic for our tastes, while DLO’s Jam Jacket with MultiClip offers solid protection and the most versatile clipping and stand functionality for a reasonable price. Marware’s Sport Grip Extreme strikes us as a little too expensive given what it offers for the price, but questionably scores high on protection, while Jam Jacket Rugged is the weakest link due to its bottom port hole design, yet still a good option. As with the iPod nano versions of these cases, it’s hard to go wrong with any of these picks, but our highly recommended options are the easiest to love for their prices.