Company: Speck Products
Model: Connect & Protect
Compatible: iPod shuffle
Speck Connect & Protect for iPod shuffle
Pros: Highly attractive transparent soft plastic iPod shuffle case with a set of good matching replacement USB caps that attach to clothes and bags.
Cons: Case and belt clip aren’t the best we’ve seen; no way to use shuffle with Apple’s standard USB cap when inside the case; price may deter some buyers.
Though complete case solutions are the norm for carrying iPods around, we’ve seen the release of so many dedicated iPod shuffle hooks and clips over the last month that we created a separate category for them. Now Speck has bridged the two product categories with Connect & Protect for iPod shuffle ($29.95), a combination of a single frosted white transparent case with four different clip-style replacement USB caps. Speck’s package avoids two of the traps common to other offerings in each of the categories: its case and caps are all compatible with each other, and the total price of entry is under a third the price of a $99 shuffle.
The heart of Connect & Protect is a standard Speck SkinTight (iLounge rating: B+) case, a frosted clear iPod shuffle jacket made from rubber-like Kraton plastic. Our full review of SkinTight is available from the link here, but suffice to say that it’s a solid case that covers all of your shuffle save its rear power switch, which isn’t an issue unless you’re pocketing the shuffle or carrying it with keys. Connect & Protect’s packed-in SkinTight varies from the individually packaged one in only one way: it doesn’t include a standard USB cap or cover for the one that comes with the iPod shuffle.
Instead, Speck includes four different replacement white USB “connector” caps of its own, each with a case-matching Kraton plastic cover. Their front sides have the words “Speck Products” subtly engraved, and their rears are bare. Three of the caps use chrome components: there’s a lightweight aluminum caribineer hook, a keychain ring, and a chrome and transparent plastic lanyard necklace. Finally, there’s a simple and small one-piece white plastic clip.
The most significant common feature of all four caps is that their sides are specially sculpted with buttons. Unlike every other USB cap to date, Speck’s lock into place on the shuffle’s USB plug, and you press the buttons to release them. When locked, the caps are modestly tighter on the shuffle than standard caps, but can still be removed with a tug. Repeated tugs without the buttons appear to loosen the caps’ grip, so use the buttons if you’re using the caps.
While none of the caps comes across as expensive or “premium,” each one does what it’s supposed to do. The keychain ring cap is the best of them, using a solid, large metal ring that’s substantially more durable than some of the cheap ones we’ve seen. Like the other two chrome caps, there’s a rotating joint between the ring and the cap that permits the shuffle or the keyring to spin independently of the other; just be aware that keys may scratch the shuffle’s unprotected rear power switch. The caribineer clip is strong enough to attach the shuffle to a bag or belt loop, and the lanyard’s as long as Apple’s, only plastic, flat, and a bit less conspicuous.
The weakest of the caps is the plastic belt clip, which isn’t as complex or large as most of the clips we’ve seen sold separately, but still does the trick. It’s best for attaching to a shirt or pants pocket, but can go on a belt if necessary, and won’t break unless you try to make it do so.
Given the variety of items you get for the $29.95 price, the Connect & Protect set is a pretty good value for the dollar. As compared with lower-priced caribineer clip options such as Marware’s $8.95 Sport Grip (iLounge rating: B) and XtremeMac’s $19.95 SuperHook (iLounge rating: B-), you get a lot more protection and the versatility of other attachments. We’d frankly prefer to have both protection and at least one attachment than just one or the other, though price is still a legitimate factor worth considering, too.
Our only issues with the set were these: a standard USB cap/cover would have been appropriate to include for the price, the belt clip’s not bad but not incredible, there’s no power switch protection on the SkinTight, and the $30 entry price may deter price-conscious shuffle owners. Each of these issues brings Connect & Protect into our B+ (recommended) category overall - those who need the add-ons, have the cash, and are willing to look past the issues will find it a no-brainer value for the dollar, but those looking for just a case or just clips may find other, less expensive options better suited to their needs. This is a good starter set for those who aren’t looking for perfection from any of the add-ons, and don’t mind spending the cash for all of them at once.