Review: XtremeMac Iconz, MicroGlove and TuffWrap for iPod nano
Pros: Unique-looking iPod nano cases, each with screen protection, virtually full coverage of nano’s sides and back, most of its front and top. Iconz has solid licensed character artwork and Click Wheel protection; Microglove full Click Wheel and top protection, plus a detachable carabiner hook, and TuffWrap unique tread-like sides and stylish front and rear contours.
Cons: All three cases offer no bottom protection, both Iconz and TuffWrap expose nano’s top Hold switch, TuffWrap doesn’t cover nano’s Click Wheel. None of the cases includes a belt clip, though MicroGlove’s hook will suffice for most users. TuffWrap’s individual case price is high by comparison with equally or more protective cases.
There are occasions when really sharp-looking designs propel a case from “okay” on features to good, and three new iPod nano cases from XtremeMac fit that bill. Make from different materials, these cases all do the same general thing - protect your nano - but in very different ways, and we liked each for different reasons.
When XtremeMac first announced Iconz ($25), we were seriously excited: the company had made the incredibly smart choice to produce iPod accessories featuring licensed movie and TV characters, as well as baseball teams, and its first releases would be hard plastic iPod nano cases with your choice of Bart Simpson, SpongeBob SquarePants, Darth Vader, Batman, Scooby Doo, Tweety Bird, and Speed Racer on the front. Five MLB teams (Yankees, Red Sox, Cardinals, Giants, and Angels) would also be available in the separate Iconz Sport series. This struck us as really smart, and of course, all we wanted was for the cases to be as great as the licenses.
As it turns out, the final Iconz cases are pretty close. From an aesthetic standpoint, they score: the front graphics are detailed and very professional, a contrast with the inkjet-quality printed images we’ve seen on some earlier photo- and art-branded cases. The rear half of each case uses slightly frosted clear plastic, mostly showing off the nano’s metal back surface. Because the art wraps around the nano’s entire front half, including its Click Wheel, you’ll have no clue which color of nano’s inside once it’s inserted unless you look at the case’s bottom, which is in our judgment a good thing - the art considerably dresses up your nano, and transforms its appearance. Better yet, we found the plastic difficult to damage in a way that compromised the case’s appearance.
On the protectiveness front, Iconz are good, too: Xtreme provides complete nano front and side protection, and almost complete top and back protection. There’s regrettably an oversized hole for the Hold switch, and an uncovered iPod insertion/removal hole at the bottom, a choice the company has made across many of its nano cases. Regardless, our sample Speed Racer case had no problem keeping the nano inside at all times, and the hole at top is used to push the nano out, only the slightest of challenges. The Click Wheel is easy enough to use - not as easy as a matte texture, but fine nevertheless - and the screen is usable, though rendered somewhat prismatic because of the type of plastic used.
The open bottom makes it easy to use any headphone plug or Dock Connector accessory, including Apple’s iPod nano Lanyard Headphones, a fact that some people will like more than others. We always prefer the option to pocket our iPods, and Iconz’ open bottom and partially open top make this usage less comfortable than we’d prefer. Some people will also be concerned about the lack of a belt clip, detachable or otherwise. Ideally, we think the case could have been a two-piece pop-open design similar to Power Support’s Crystal Jacket, with a detachable side-mounting belt clip, but most of the case’s target audience will be plenty satisfied with Iconz the way it is. It’s a very strong start to the licensed case concept, and because of its licensing, not objectionably priced in our view, either.
Of the three cases, the most protective is MicroGlove ($20), an old-fashioned neoprene sleeve with an Incase-style modernized “mask” front and detachable silver metal carabiner hook. You may recognize most of the design from SportWrap (iLounge rating: A-), an XtremeMac case and armband we’ve previously reviewed; this case is the same except for its back and bottom.
Each of the five available MicroGlove cases uses the same shiny black neoprene body, changing the color of the 8-shaped front hard rubber mask from purple to blue, green, orange, and red. (SportWrap’s version is all-black, which we liked.) Each of the cases has an integrated soft clear screen protector and a matte Click Wheel protector, both of which let you use the nano inside without any hassles. As with SportWrap, though the location of the iPod’s top Hold switch isn’t marked at all (like it is on Marware’s SportSuit Basic (iLounge rating: A-) case), you can easily use it through MicroGlove’s fully protective top, a design choice we really prefer to having a hole at the top of the case.
Unfortunately, rather than using a part-time cover for nano’s bottom, XtremeMac leaves it entirely open on MicroGlove, something that would be neither practical nor wise if the case wasn’t as grippy as it is. For that reason, your nano remains inside without a problem at all times, but its entire bottom is always exposed, which we really don’t like - a flap, like the one on Incase’s Neoprene Sleeve (iLounge rating: A-) or better yet Marware’s SportSuit Basic, would have been smarter here. A small fabric loop dangles off of MicroGlove’s bottom right corner, letting you attach the included hook, which we assume will be the main draw for people considering this case: the fully open bottom doesn’t lend itself as well to being pocketed or tossed into a bag. Both of these competing cases also include belt clips - Marware’s is detachable - which the simple, bare-backed MicroGlove does not.
Overall, we generally liked the look of MicroGlove, but for the same price, we’d be inclined to go with Incase’s somewhat more evolved Neoprene Sleeve first on looks, and Marware’s SportSuit Basic on protectiveness. This is a solid neoprene option if you plan to use it with the carabiner, but we think the overall design and value proposition is better for the company’s armband-equipped SportWrap version of this case.
From the first day we saw rendered images of TuffWrap, we knew we liked its looks - its edgy front, back, and sides were both eye-catching and distinctive at a time when few other rubber cases were taking visual risks. But by the time we actually received it for review, we found it a challenge to rate as high as we’d wanted: first because of unusual pricing, and second, because the case looks better than it protects.
Today, XtremeMac sells TuffWraps in three different three-packs: the white, red, and black one we received; a lavender, gray, and pink pack; and an orange, gray, and lime set. The slightly translucent colors aren’t as bright or exciting as the ones the company picked for its earlier iPod shuffle TuffWrapz, but older users may prefer them for that reason. Each set sells for $25, a price that’s not cheap - Apple sells five iPod nano Tubes (iLounge rating: B+) for $29 - but also not objectionable. It also sells white TuffWraps for $20 each, which we found equally surprising because of the three-pack’s more respectable pricing, and what you’re really getting for that $20 price.
Other than the rubber case, each TuffWrap comes with one item: a hard clear screen protector that integrates nicely into the rubber. Both the case and screen protector are easy to put on, use, and take off of the nano. While the screen protector’s not perfectly clear, it’s a bit better than the hard one used for Iconz and the soft one used for MicroGlove, and a rubberized edge fits safely on the nano’s face without causing scratches. We liked it, and think Xtreme picked a pretty good option - film would have worked at least as well, but wouldn’t lay flat with the elevated front of the case, as the hard protector does.
But by comparison with other rubber iPod nano cases we’ve tested, TuffWrap’s protective omissions are impossible to ignore. There’s no Click Wheel protection (as is found in most nano cases these days), Hold switch protection, or bottom protection. Even Marware’s $10 Sport Grip (iLounge rating: B+) comes with Click Wheel film, and its $20 Extreme version (iLounge rating: B) includes an integrated rubber Wheel protector, as does Apple’s iPod nano Tube design and many other cases in this category. The simple fact is that we wouldn’t use a TuffWrap without an added Wheel protector, and for the same reasons as mentioned with Iconz above, feel uncomfortable with the unnecessarily exposed Hold switch and fully open bottom of this case. Speck’s similarly way-too-expensive ToughSkin for iPod nano (iLounge rating: B) at least has big bumpers on its bottom in case your nano falls to the ground; in TuffWrap, the nano is roughly flush with the case’s bottom. Additionally, the lack of a belt clip or other clothing attachment solution will also disappoint some people.
In our judgment, TuffWrap is a sharp-looking rubber case design that’s unfortunately short of the protection and add-ons we’d expect for the price. As a $20 single case, we’d only recommend it to a limited audience, but as a three-pack for $25, it’s a generally recommendable option, especially if you can find friends to buy the case or cases you don’t want. Mostly because of their good looks, we really wish that we could have rated both versions higher, and think that added protectiveness will really help the next generation of XtremeMac rubber cases do better than this one.