Pros: Quality aluminum iPod mini protection with good screen protection, an anti-scratch foam interior, and a very nice belt clip design. Good value for price.
Cons: No Click Wheel protection, small Dock Connector opening, initially lightweight feeling. Multiple case openings may defeat purpose of resilient metal protection.
Give Innopocket and Saunders a hand: right on the heels of Matias’ debut of the aluminum and plastic iPod Armor mini, they are about to release a less expensive competitor under two brand names.
Variously called the Innopocket Metal Deluxe Case and the Rhino-skin Aluminum Hardcase, this aluminum alternative to iPod Armor has several design differences that distinguish it from Matias’ excellent product. After testing Innopocket’s and Saunders’ newer and cheaper offering, we feel that it will definitely appeal to iPod mini owners looking for a compromise: less shielding than iPod Armor, but more accessibility.
Familiar, Yet Different Design
Though Innopocket and Saunders’ cases are almost identical – and we’ll treat them as one and the same for purposes of this review – they do differ in one way: Saunders has stamped the word “rhino-skin” on the front of its Aluminum Hardcase between the screen and Click Wheel. Since we received Innopocket’s clean-faced unit for review, we’ll refer to both cases collectively as the Metal Deluxe Case from here on out.
Metal cases for iPods have been popular ever since Matias released its original aluminum iPod Armor case for the full-sized iPod: users have claimed that metal-encased iPods could even survive being run over by vehicles. Unfortunately, this protectiveness came at a cost: the entire iPod (including its screen and controls) was covered in metal, and doing anything except listening to an uninterrupted playlist required a remote control or flipping open the case. Additionally, rough edges and under-padded interiors on some early products had the potential to scratch the iPods inside.
These kinks have been worked out in their iPod mini case successors, but at a cost. The all-metal designs have been replaced by hybrid metal and plastic designs that most likely will not survive being run over more than once, though the extent of plastic differs from iPod mini case to case. Matias’ iPod Armor Mini is in essence a hard plastic shell with fair amounts of metal coating. Innopocket’s Metal Deluxe Case offers a padded aluminum shell with only a single major plastic part: an integrated clear hard plastic screen protector. Though the case’s interior is padded with a thin layer of scratch-resistant foam, and the clip that holds the case closed includes a small hard plastic surface, Innopocket’s design is otherwise all aluminum, and therefore uses far more metal than the iPod Armor mini.
But another couple of design decisions bring the Metal Deluxe Case and the iPod Armor mini closer to parity: Innopocket’s design doesn’t cover as much of the mini’s body as Matias did. Unlike Matias’ fully protective front surface, Innopocket decided to forego protection altogether for the iPod mini’s Click Wheel, leaving a large circle of the iPod mini’s front exposed. Similarly, a hole was left at the rear center of the case, giving a thumb or finger enough space to push the iPod mini out.
It’s not as if Innopocket’s design isn’t protective, though: despite the front and rear holes, the company went a bit beyond Matias in protecting the iPod’s top, latching the front panel closed with a clip that falls between (but still exposes) the mini’s hold switch and headphone port. As a consequence, the Metal Deluxe Case isn’t suited for simultaneous use with top-mounting iPod peripherals, but it does offer a couple of millimeters of extra protection in case the mini falls to the ground on its top.
The bottoms of the cases are slightly different, as well. Matias used its front door hinge and molded plastic bottom to create three tiny feet the iPod mini could stand on. More importantly, the iPod Armor mini case had a fair-sized hole for Dock Connector accessories. Innopocket’s all-metal bottom is comparatively plain – since only the front door hinge is there, the case stands unevenly when put on a flat surface. The Dock Connector hole is pretty small, too: slightly larger than Apple’s official plugs, Innopocket’s bottom design won’t pair with really oversized (Monster) cables, and just barely fit Belkin’s slightly larger than normal Auto Kit Dock Connector plug.
A final and interesting difference between the cases is in the belt clip design. We typically don’t belt clip our iPods, but Innopocket’s solution strikes us as a better one, all things considered. The rear of the Metal Deluxe Case includes a professional-looking, gently elevated surface that contains a screw hole that can hold or detach a metal post (nub). This post is designed to be attached easily by hand – but can be tightened with a screwdriver if you prefer – and even includes a scratch-proofing washer, to boot. Every Metal Deluxe Case includes a decent-looking black plastic belt clip that fits, locks, and works fine. It’s definitely a better solution overall than Matias’ adhesive nub, but then, it adds slight thickness to the back of the case, just as adding the top-mounted closure clip adds a bit of height up top.
In all respects, the Metal Deluxe Case proved at least satisfactory, if not better. We found insertion of the iPod mini to be easy enough, but it took a few tries before removal became… well, easier. Innopocket’s foam interior holds the iPod mini firmly enough that removal really does depend on the rear bottom hole, and pressure on the bottom plastic surface of the iPod mini. It’s easier with the rear metal post installed as a place to rest a finger while your thumb pushes the iPod out, but not impossible to do without the post in place.
Once inside, the iPod mini is satisfactorily protected on all sides (save its front Wheel, top and bottom holes) against both scratching and impacts. The left and right sides of the case are doubly reinforced against damage by virtue of the overlap of front and rear panels, something that wasn’t the case in Matias’ design. Innopocket’s screen protector also looks good – a little less refined than Matias’, but not by much.
As a standalone product without an iPod mini inside, the Deluxe Metal Case rides the fine edge of feeling too lightweight and insignificant, primarily because of its loose front hinge and thin-feeling front. The hinge has a small amount of give on its horizontal axis when open, and moves a little from side to side even when closed – not enough to cause any problems. To test the resilience of the front panel, we applied a reasonable amount of pressure, revealing only the slightest flexibility in the aluminum metal. Ultimately, we felt that the case provided more than adequate protection – where it protected – and when an iPod mini was inside, the lightweight feeling mostly disappeared.
The single biggest issue we had with the practicality of Innopocket’s design is the scope of its protection. A gaping front hole for the Click Wheel is highly useful for daily access, but it doesn’t guarantee that your iPod mini will remain entirely unharmed under extreme conditions. There’s an assumption that most people buy these hard cases in order to provide a more or less complete shield against the elements, so in a sense, the Metal Deluxe Case is highly practical for daily use, except when there’s a problem.
Those who want a case for its looks more than protection will therefore have good reason to prefer Innopocket’s design. Because it literally requires either a remote control or flipping open the front panel to change songs, Matias’ case is less practical for typical daily use. But if you need to protect your iPod mini against damage from sharp edges and objects, the iPod Armor mini definitely covers more of the surface area of the device inside.
For people who aren’t as concerned about the surface area protectiveness of a metal case as its typical daily use, Innopocket and Saunders’ iPod mini cases are great options – particularly for people who belt clip their minis. It doesn’t hurt matters that these cases sell for under $35, which is $15 lower than Matias’ price, though we noted in comparing prices that Matias includes free shipping (from Canada) and its competitors do not.
Attractive and amply protective under the most common circumstances, the Innopocket Metal Deluxe Case and Saunders’ Rhino-skin Aluminum Hardcase are welcome alternatives to both softer cases and similarly hard but more confining ones. Despite a few issues that may limit their appeal to some users, we think that these new hard cases offer a good value for the dollar and will satisfy those who prefer their design compromises.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school – ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.
Company and Price
Model: Metal Deluxe Case
Compatible: iPod mini