Review: Contour Design iSee-mini

Pros: A clean, simple, and very inexpensive hard case for the iPod mini that works well to protect almost all of its body; compatible with Apple’s packed-in iPod mini belt clip and Arm Band.

Cons: No Wheel or top protection; Dock Connector port hole on bottom is on the small side, limiting its usefulness with some accessories.

Review: Contour Design iSee-mini

In the world of hard iPod carrying cases, clear plastic is the new metal. From Matias to Power Support and now Contour Design, hard transparent plastic shells have come to play an increasingly important role in protecting iPods against damage – most likely because they’re cheaper and easier to manufacture than metal cases, can sell for similar prices, and have less chance of themselves scratching the iPod inside.

Contour Design’s iSee-mini ($19.99, available for $14.99 and up) is in name the smaller sibling of iSee, a one-piece and inexpensive full-sized iPod case that covers a 4G iPod in clear plastic. But in actuality, iSee-mini is far more similar to Power Support’s recently released Crystal Jacket ($20.00), a two-piece and similarly inexpensive iPod mini case that we reviewed and liked quite a bit.

Like the Crystal Jacket, iSee-mini is comprised of two separate pieces of clear plastic that cover most but not all of the iPod mini’s body. In concept, the two pieces could be melted into a single plastic shell that an iPod mini could just slide into from the top. But there’s a reason that Contour, like Power Support, used two pieces instead.

The first piece slides on to the mini, covering its front face, four corners, and bottom.

A smooth, wonderfully beveled hole is left for the mini’s Click Wheel, while its screen is protected by the iSee’s plastic. The second piece is a back plate cut to fit perfectly with the first piece, in a fat upside down T shape. Once the first piece is on the iPod mini, you snap the second piece into place, and every bit of the mini save its top surface, Dock Connector port, and Click Wheel are covered.

Review: Contour Design iSee-mini

Why the second piece? Like Power Support’s Crystal Jacket, the back piece of the iSee-mini is replaceable by Apple’s iPod mini belt clip, the free white pack-in that holds the mini on your clothes but exposes it entirely to the elements. It can also be used with the iPod mini Arm Band. The iSee-mini adds the front and corner protection Apple’s clip lacks – a smart move, and one that is achieved a bit better in the iSee than the Jacket because of Contour’s decision to also protect the mini’s bottom surface.

Unfortunately, unlike the Crystal Jacket, which because of its open bottom permits the use of pretty much any Dock Connector iPod accessory, Contour’s Dock Connector hole is very small and won’t let you use much more than Apple’s own thin-profile Connector plugs. So unless you’re using the right accessory, forget about taking the iSee-mini in your car. This is one of the biggest differences between the two otherwise similar products.

Review: Contour Design iSee-mini

There’s also another difference between the iSee-mini and the Crystal Jacket. Power Support’s solution includes free Wheel Film, the company’s clear adhesive protector for the exposed Click Wheel surface, which while not as resilient as hard plastic does afford anti-scratch protection for a part of the iPod the iSee-mini does not.

But the third and final difference is price. While the products are priced almost identically by their manufacturers, some stores are offering the iSee-mini for $5 less than the Crystal Jacket, which makes Contour’s product a viable alternative despite its lack of Wheel protection.