Price: $19.95 (3-pack)
Compatible: iPod shuffle
Pros: Nice-looking translucent acrylic plastic guards for the front and sides of an iPod shuffle, adding bold, glossy color to most of its body.
Cons: Can’t be used with standard USB cap; only useful with lanyard or XtremeMac’s SuperHook; not protective of the iPod’s back (but as a ‘guard,’ doesn’t lose rating for this); must buy in 3-packs with colors you might or mightn’t like.
Like Marware’s Sport Grips before them, XtremeMac’s Shieldz ($19.95/3-pack) walk the tightrope between iPod shuffle “case” and “something else” in a way that may confuse some people, so we’ll say this up front: they’re not cases, they’re plastic half-shells better described as “guards,” and they’re appearing in our Clips and Guards category. Therefore, unlike a full-fledged case, you shouldn’t expect Shieldz to really protect your iPod shuffle in a pinch. That said, they’re extremely cool decorative additions to a lanyard-equipped shuffle, and if XtremeMac’s sleek designs appeal to you, they’re definitely worth your attention.
Each of the Shieldz is nothing more than a single piece of hard translucent acrylic plastic that covers your iPod shuffle’s sides, top, button and front surfaces. There are holes for your shuffle’s Control Pad, headphone port, lanyard strap, and… well, its entire back. Once the shuffle clicks into place inside, you can listen to and wear it, access its front and rear controls, and remove it with a slightly flexible tab up near the headphone port.
That’s it. If it seems simple, it is; the concept would have been nearly perfect as a case if there was a matching rear protective insert, and then it would only have lacked for one major thing: a way to use it without attaching the lanyard USB cap or something equally large. Your shuffle won’t stay inside with the standard USB cap, but you can attach XtremeMac’s SuperHook as an alternative. This limitation crimps Shieldz’ utility for almost anyone except lanyard fans and those who are willing to spend the extra cash for the SuperHook.
But if you’re in that group of people, you’ll probably find Shieldz to be surprisingly cool. The acrylic is thick and colorful enough to make your shuffle look even bolder than before, and those surfaces that are covered feel covered well. Apple and some third-party headphones go into the headphone jack without an issue, but thicker headphone jacks (such as Shure’s) won’t work with the thicker plastic. Thankfully, lanyard-wearing your shuffle is as easy with one of the Shieldz on as without.
Each set of three Shieldz differs from the others only in colors: one box contains “bubblegum, grape, and lemon,” another “neon bubblegum, neon lemon, and neon tangerine,” while the last has “cherry, ice, and cobalt.” We were particularly fond of the cobalt (blue), transparent (ice) and neon lemon (fluorescent yellow-green) Shieldz, but the other colors do equally good jobs of brightly coloring and enhancing your shuffle’s gloss. Hopefully there’s a pack of three that mostly appeals to your color sensibilities, as there’s currently no way to mix and match.
Though XtremeMac doesn’t make the mistake of calling them “cases”, our only other issue with the Shieldz is XtremeMac’s claim that they “offer serious protection” - frankly, by comparison with the company’s own TuffWrapz and numerous true cases we’ve reviewed, they’re not the sorts of products you buy if you’re looking to keep your shuffle totally safe from harm. Apple’s acrylic Sport Case (iLounge rating: A) offers similar style and considerably more protection at a higher price, as only one other example.
We were divided on how to rate the Shieldz: most of us really liked their looks in a B+ or A- sort of way, but their lack of standard USB cap compatibility and open backs limited their appeal in most of our minds to a B- level, as well. All things considered, we felt comfortable calling them a B overall - not right for everyone, but good (though not perfect) for their target audience. From our perspective, Shieldz are a cheap way to gloss up and protect the front half and corners of your shuffle, and given that they’re only $19.95 for a 3-pack, it’s hard to go wrong with them if you know what they can and can’t do for you.