Price: $20 (MicroShield), $25 (IceFrame)
Compatible: iPod nano
XtremeMac IceFrame and MicroShield Clear Cases for iPod nano
Pros: Two cases with clear hard protection for an iPod nano, each covering nano’s entire face, back, and sides, with your choice of an integrated belt clip (MicroShield) or detachable wrist strap (IceFrame). IceFrame offers color customization and a thick, display case-quality shell that also covers nano’s entire top, while MicroShield is simpler, more sculpted to nano’s body, and more compatible with iPod accessories.
Cons: Neither case scratch-proofs the nano’s Click Wheel controller or bottom connectors; MicroShield exposes the nano’s entire top, as well. IceFrame is incompatible with oversized headphone plugs and some bottom-mounting iPod accessories. Because of MicroShield’s integrated belt clip and IceFrame’s lack of any belt clip, you’ll need both cases to achieve the same functionality as similarly-priced competitors with detachable belt clips.
Clear hard cases for the iPod have historically come in two flavors: ones intended to be integrated with a belt clip - like the one included with iPod minis - and worn on a belt, and ones that aren’t. The best clear cases we’ve seen for the iPod nano use a detachable belt clip to offer both choices to the user. XtremeMac’s new IceFrame ($25) and MicroShield ($20) for iPod nano are separate cases that cater to the non-belt clip and belt clip crowds, but use substantially different designs in the process. Read on for the details.
If you’ve been looking for a way to encase your iPod nano in an ice-like block of clear plastic, the surprisingly original IceFrame is the case for you. XtremeMac ships each two-piece case with a set of 32 colored pegs and four Click Wheel-sized rings, all made of plastic, as well as a fabric wrist strap. The idea is simple - place your nano into the rear half of the case, insert four male pegs into holes in that half’s corners, drop the top half of the case on top of them, and insert four female pegs in the top half’s corners to seal the case closed. Pick any of the four rings to match or accent the pegs, and insert it into the case on top of the otherwise exposed Click Wheel. Voila - the case is closed, configured, and ready to use.
Of course, you can make it more complex if you like. Xtreme’s pegs and rings come in four colors - black, white, red, and blue - which can be mixed for a patriotic effect or matched for a neutral, iPod nano-matching color scheme. You can also pull one corner’s set of pegs out and replace them with the fabric wrist strap to make the case easier to carry - there’s no belt clip or other way to carry the case other than in your hand or pocket.
There are certain things we liked about IceFrame a lot: when customized in the color of your choice, it looks display-quality good - the thick plastic (roughly three times the nano’s original thickness) and shape look professional enough that we wish we’d had versions of IceFrame to protect and show off all of our iPods at our Portable Media Expo booth. IceFrame is like a trophy case for an iPod - a great idea. The colored pegs detract only a little from this - clear or chrome versions would have been even better, in our view, but the black and white ones are close enough. We also liked that there aren’t unnecessary holes on the case - the wrist strap works just fine when threaded through one of the case’s corners, and Xtreme didn’t try to make the iPod’s Hold switch accessible at the top: popping the case open is easy if you need to do this, and we prefer the full-time top protection.
Unfortunately, IceFrame doesn’t make an attempt to cover the iPod’s Click Wheel in any way, contrasting with Power Support’s inclusion of a film Click Wheel cover with its less expensive iPod nano Crystal Jacket (iLounge rating: A-), and it also leaves the nano’s entire bottom open, which doesn’t play out exactly like one might expect. Because of the case’s thick plastic and XtremeMac’s decision not to sculpt IceFrame’s bottom hole, the case is incompatible with oversized headphone plugs and Dock Connector accessories. The thin-profile Dock Connector plug found on XtremeMac’s Car Charger works, but its new AirPlay2 FM transmitter does not. Similarly, Apple’s iPod nano Lanyard Headphones work, but a pair of Shure E2cs doesn’t. As we’ve suggested before with hard cases, the better approach is either to leave full-time room for such accessories to connect, or better yet, offer a part-time cover that pops open.
IceFrame stands out because of its thick, strong plastic, color customization, and generally strong approach to iPod nano protection. While its two holes could have used a little tweaking - film for the Click Wheel and a more compatible set of ports at the bottom - many people will love the case regardless, and anyone who buys it will be highly impressed by its looks and build quality.
Ever since Power Support released its Crystal Jacket for iPod mini, we’ve been impressed with the idea of a clear hard iPod case that can integrate optionally with a belt clip. It was easier for the iPod mini, which came with its own belt clip; now accessory makers either have to provide their own clips, or omit them from the package, like IceFrame. MicroShield is the XtremeMac case designed for people who want the belt clip.
Each MicroShield comes with two pieces - a front shell and a rear shell. Not surprisingly, the front shell covers the nano’s entire face save its Click Wheel, and the rear shell covers nano’s entire back. Xtreme prevents metal-on-plastic contacts with the back shell by using two W-shaped gray rubber pads, and includes a non-detachable spring-loaded belt clip with the XtremeMac logo molded into its bottom. You snap the front half of the case on to the nano first, then turn the belt clip upwards or downwards to mount the nano in your preferred orientation.
XtremeMac deserves credit for the look of its design: the front shell is impressively beveled, with a depressed clear screen protector and a soft-edged Click Wheel hole that look really sharp. MicroShield’s stylized back shell is also nice - we liked the logos, W pads, and integration of the back and front shells through connecting, fully protective plastic sides. If we rated the case on looks alone, it would do very well, and its belt clip is superior to the ones included with both Power Support’s Crystal Jacket for iPod nano and Contour Design’s iSee-nano (iLounge rating: B), for those who put emphasis on that feature. Including the clip, the case is about as thick as IceFrame in total, though the main shell adds only an additional 75-80% to the nano’s original thickness.
Where it’s less impressive is in protection and versatility. Like the clear shells for older iPods, and unlike both iSee-nano and Crystal Jacket, MicroShield doesn’t shield your iPod’s top at all, and unlike the Crystal Jacket, there’s no film protector for your iPod’s Click Wheel, either. All three cases expose the bottom of your nano, but thankfully MicroShield is like the accessory-compatible Crystal Jacket rather than iSee-nano and XtremeMac’s IceFrame in this regard: we had no problem connecting oversized headphone plugs or Dock Connector accessories (even AirPlay2) to a nano inside this case. But it’s the only case of this batch that cannot be used without its belt clip, so unlike iSee or Crystal Jacket, you’ll need two cases if you want to alternate between belt and non-belt usage.
Overall, MicroShield is a good but not great case design - one that looks a bit better than it protects. It comes in a close second to IceFrame in our view, possessing one especially strong attribute - the quality of its belt clip - which sets it apart from other clear cases we’ve tested. With the ability to detach the clip, a Click Wheel cover and a bit more top protection, it would have rated even higher.