Review: Speck Products HandSkin
Company: Speck Products
Compatible: iPod 4G, iPod photo
Pros: A rugged, modern-looking rubberized case with hard plastic screen and Click Wheel protection, as well as a detachable hand strap that makes the case close to ideal for runners and joggers.
Cons: Top hole will let sweat in and is on the large side; Dock Connector hole is too small for some third-party cables; Click Wheel protector can come open during vigorous use.
After years of releasing interesting but famliar iPod cases, Speck Products has emerged over the last three months as the clear leader in iPod case innovation. Though the cases have varied in execution and utility, they’ve all been smart ideas: ToughSkin (iLounge rating: A-), iGuy (iLounge rating: B+), and Connect & Protect (iLounge rating: B+) have each gone beyond existing offerings to address the needs of specific types of iPod owners.
Now Speck has unveiled two more innovative cases - HandSkin and PortfolioSkin ($34.95 each) - which like their predecessors are targeted at specific audiences: HandSkin is the first rubberized jogging case we’ve seen, while PortfolioSkin is the first rubberized fashion case, and is reviewed separately here.
If you’re familiar with Speck’s ToughSkin, HandSkin is all but literally cut from the same mold: both cases use the same Kraton plastic and provide thick, rubber-like protection for any thickness of fourth-generation or photo iPod. Two colors of HandSkin are available - black or blue - and each comes with a gray hand strap, a hard clear plastic screen protector, a matching pop-open Click Wheel protector, and a plastic internal sizer for different-sized iPods. The latter three parts are derived from the ToughSkin, and essentially work the same: quite well.
Even without the screen and Wheel protectors, HandSkin is a very protective case. Its sides and corners are especially thick, with thinner rectangular grooves cut around the iPod’s top and bottom ports. It’s also more stylish than ToughSkin, which was designed with a rugged, brick-like look that matches the look of recent construction site-friendly electronic devices; HandSkin’s body has fairly masculine, modern grooves on its sides, and actually bulges slightly around the iPod’s Click Wheel - a good-looking, smart idea that makes the iPod even easier to hold.
Holding the iPod is the point of the HandSkin design - it’s marketed as “perfect for jogging, walking and other activities,” and does indeed make a full-sized iPod a much better exercise companion. The bulk of larger iPods has made them less comfortable to wear with armbands than the iPod mini and iPod shuffle, though there have been somewhat successful attempts such as Speck’s 4G SkinTight Armband (iLounge rating: B+/B-). Moving the iPod off the arm and into your hand has been tried once before, too, in Marware’s Runabout wristband for the iPod mini (iLounge rating: C+), a design we didn’t particularly care for.
Speck’s HandSkin takes full-sized iPods off the arm or wrist, and instead gives users an adjustable soft hand strap that starts at the case’s rear top and locks twice in place at its rear bottom. While the strap is easy to pull off if you just want to use the case like a ToughSkin, it’s difficult to remove from the case accidentally while you’re walking or jogging. It features a single hard plastic piece - a silver Speck logo that locks into the internal rear iPod sizer and secures the parts together. Otherwise, it’s comfortable against your skin, and is easy to resize at the bottom for different sizes of hands and tightness preferences.
Our only issues with HandSkin are small ones - the top and bottom holes are a little too large and too small, respectively, needlessly exposing the top left of an iPod while using a Dock Connector port hole that’s not easy to use with third-party accessories other than Apple’s. These were issues in the ToughSkin case too, amongst others, and we wish Speck would get around to fixing them already. Given that any exercise case is intended for use by people who are sweating, an open top - particularly in a hand-held case - is virtually guaranteed to let some sweat in.
Additionally, though we welcome the HandSkin’s detachable Cick Wheel protector and found that it generally did a good job of staying open or closed as we preferred during light activity and walking, it did pop open when we were really shaking it during running. Holding your thumb over the protector will prevent this from happening, but it still may be an annoyance to some users. On the flip side, literally, it’s easy to open with one finger for iPod control access while you’re on the go.
Overall, we were tempted to say that the HandSkin is both a better value for the dollar and better design overall than ToughSkin: it offers similarly impressive iPod protectiveness - everywhere except the top and bottom holes - with a more appealing physical design and a fully detachable hand strap, for the same $34.95 price. However, they’re different products: as a non-exercise case, HandSkin can’t be belt clipped, and when its strap is off, there’s a hole in the top rear where your iPod can be scratched. It’s also not a perfect execution of its exercise-friendly concept, because of its slightly too loose Click Wheel protector and a top hole that will let sweat in. Trying to make a case that’s right for both exercise use and non-exercise use has its challenges, and while Speck’s done a pretty good job with the compromises, they’re not perfect solutions.
These issues aside, HandSkin is at least as good an option as Speck’s prior Armband for joggers and runners with heavier 4G iPods and iPod photos, and better for users of 40GB iPods and iPod photos - assuming you’re willing to hand-hold your iPod while you’re moving. It comes very close to a high recommendation, but as-is, it’s a strong B+.