Beautiful design is one thing that has remained consistent about Incase’s Apple accessories over the past few years: it is almost invariably true that an Incase accessory will make your iPod, iPhone, or Mac notebook look even cooler than it did when you first unpacked it. Protectiveness and pricing have been concerns for some of the company’s products, though: Incase’s recent iPhone and iPod cases have been on the expensive side, and sometimes lacking for protection. Thankfully, the company’s new Hardshell Case for the MacBook Pro ($50) compares very favorably to its closest competitor, Speck’s SeeThru, and more effectively converts the silver aluminum Pro into a “BlackBook” for those who have envied the dark enclosure of the $1499 MacBook model.
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One of the most striking touches about the Hardshell case is its bottom. Incase has designed the plastic shell to let the MacBook Pro’s battery meter and button peek through, as well as the screws on its rear corners. There are also rubberized dots to keep the case from scuffing on a flat surface. It’s a sharp design, with the benefit of a little added ventilation for the machine’s bottom casing.
Side ports are exposed in fairly typical fashion; our sample’s side is a little different from units at retail, which were tweaked to accommodate early MacBook Pros that lacked a FireWire 800 port.* The front of the case also has nicely cut port holes; the IR sensor’s hole is a little off-center, but still exposes the full sensor. When closed, the case is visually nondescript, save for a small Incase logo on the right bottom corner; when open with the screen facing you, it doesn’t interfere with the MacBook’s screen, keyboard, or speakers. [* = Updated post-publication based on a clarification from Incase.]
What’s most interesting about this design is Incase’s choice of materials. Rather than using clear, glossy plastic like Speck’s, Incase picked a translucent soft touch rubberized matte finish that has one major benefit—it looks very classy—and one issue, namely that it tends to show finger oil smudges and other little scuffs. When the MacBook Pro’s screen is on and the Apple logo is glowing, the Hardshell looks really neat, transforming the Pro into a somewhat more sophisticated take on the truly black 13” MacBook. Similarly, when the Pro is upside down, being held in your hand or under your arm, the combination of black and silver on the bottom is really attractive. But when the Pro is off, it might as well be an ThinkPad or Dell, as the top mutes the darkened Apple logo to the point of near-invisibility.
Though Incase’s web site currently shows the Hardshell in two colors—white and black—for the MacBook, the company apparently has four total colors coming for 13”, 15”, and 17” MacBooks and Pros: white frost, black frost, red frost, and plum frost, the latter colors in dark rather than cheery, bright shades like Speck’s. Whether to go with one company’s solution or the other will depend largely on your taste for more somber tones and matte finishes, or a wider variety of bolder colors that shine. It’s truly a matter of personal preference, and at the same price, we wouldn’t give one company’s design a major edge over the other.