Review: iSkin eVo

Pros:  Great screen protection, beveled button design, top-mounting accessory access, flat back design.

Cons: No control protection, potentially aggravating Dock Connector protection, questionable belt clip, and required purchase of unnecessary accessories.

Review: iSkin eVo

We’d like to say that the iPod silicone case battle’s dust of confusion has started to settle, but that might not be totally true. Following last year’s regrettable split between iSkin and Lajo, formerly joint developers of the original “eXo” series of silicone iPod cases, iSkin released the eXo2 while Lajo released the similarly named eXo 2, eXo 3, and plenty of other eXo variants.

Now iSkin has moved on with a mostly new design and a mostly new name: while preserving the familiar shape of its eXo 2 case, its new eVo case includes interesting new approaches to belt clip management, screen protection, and the use of top-mounted accessories. Fans of silicone cases will definitely want to read on, because the new eVo is definitely a challenger for the silicone case throne.

A Familiar Body With an Important Change

iSkin’s eVo initially looks very similar to its predecessor: made mostly from silicone silicone that snugly fits the third-generation iPod based on an A size (10-20GB) or B size (30-40GB) mold, the silicone portion of the eVo leaves the buttons, scroll wheel, and screen of the iPod exposed. Like the eXo2, hard plastic is used for the eVo’s included detachable screen protector, and the silicone case is beveled slightly inside the screen area and at the bottom of the buttons to provide a snug fit with the screen guard and easy access to the controls.

And again, the Dock Connector port is covered by a small flap of silicone that is designed to fit just inside the bottom of an iPod. It’s a good, fully workable implementation, though the flap is only just large enough to accommodate Apple’s reference-sized Dock Connector plugs. Unlike flip-bottom cases made by Speck and Lajo, you will have to tug on the case’s bottom a bit to get a good fit with peripherals made by Monster and other proprietary plug makers – the flap is really quite small.

The flap is also surrounded on both sides by a stylized silicone grip that is slightly bulkier than the otherwise two millimeter thick case. It’s more of a distinctive aesthetic tough than a functional one, but it definitely looks good. Whether you’ll see the ridge will depend on the color you choose – it’s not as noticeable in the otherwise good-looking arctic white or glow-in-the dark “ghost” colors, for example, but it’s very visible in the sonic blue and other bright or transparent tones. (For those keeping count, the four old eXo2 colors have been complemented by five additional ones.)

We like almost all of these familiar features – only the lack of protection for the scroll wheel and buttons is something we chafe over. While such protection has been implemented successfully in several variants on Lajo’s cases, some may prefer the risk of scratching to the slight detraction in touch-button sensitivity inherent in covering the controls. This is a matter of personal preference, but we would have preferred it.

Review: iSkin eVo

Fundamentally, the eVo looks and feels like the eXo2, and for that matter, a lot like iSkin and Lajo’s original eXo cases.

But the changes are important ones. First, while most of the case is thick and protective, iSkin has innovated a thinner accessory-friendly ridge for the very top of the eVo. As a consequence, the eVo is the first shock-protective silicone case to permit use of top-connecting peripherals (such as Griffin’s iTalk and Ten’s NaviPod) without being removed. While we wouldn’t be surprised to see someone knock this feature off, we salute iSkin for creating it, because it works wonderfully.

A New Age in Screen Protection

A second change is the more sophisticated new screen protector – one that we are tempted to call the best yet designed for the iPod. The eXo2 included a hard plastic protector with bumps that made contact with and occasionally were known to scratch the corners of the iPod’s screen. This was of course ironic and unfortunate in that a device designed to prevent iPod harm could occasionally cause harm itself.

At the same time, Lajo released numerous colored versions of iShades, entirely soft plastic screen covers that were physically harmless to the iPod but could leave a “wet look” on the screen that case fetishists disliked. Not surprisingly, we preferred the iShades to iSkin’s solution, primarily because we hate scratch-causing protective products, but secondarily because Lajo’s selection of colors is a smart, inexpensive way to modify the look of an iPod’s screen.

Thankfully, iSkin’s new protector no longer forces users to choose between a properly protected screen and a “wet” look. The eVo’s screen guard remains mostly hard plastic, but replaces the hard plastic bumps with tiny silicone pads, which neither scratch the screen nor slide around during normal use. Additionally, unlike its predecessor, the eVo guard bears no iSkin logo or markings, and simply looks like a clean, flat, hard surface that protects the iPod from damage. It’s a great solution, and one that would be hands down the best if only it came in many colors. For now, it’s only available in clear, and probably will not work with competitors’ cases.

A Handy New Belt Clip

First belt clips were plastic.

Then some companies, including iSkin, shifted to metal. Now the eVo has shifted back to plastic, with a brand-new “REVOclip” that uses two interesting interlocking pieces to hold the eVo on a belt – in either a horizontal or vertical orientation.

Review: iSkin eVo

The first piece, a hard plastic disk, is actually inserted inside of the eVo case, with two plastic pins sticking through the case’s back. This disk is coated on the iPod-touching side with a piece of softer plastic so as to avoid iPod chrome scratches. A separate second clip piece attaches to the two pins and locks into place with a cool like plastic locking mechanism. The second clip piece is actually itself composed of two parts, one that holds firm with the disk on the eVo case, and another that can move with clicks in 45 degree increments through a 180 degree range of motion, enabling the iPod to hang flat or sit on either of its sides while on a belt.

While this belt clip is surprisingly thin and well-engineered, iSkin’s only problem is the clipping mechanism: there isn’t one, it’s just three pieces of plastic held together by heat-binding and possibly some adhesive. iSkin claims that it’s “durable” and “non-shattering,” and though it feels strong enough not to break under normal usage, we’re initially not sure that it will have quite the longevity of typical metal spring clips for hard core users. Additionally, iSkin currently isn’t offering any other options for eVo belt attachment (such as the older metal version of the REVOclip), so unlike Lajo’s multiple belt options, this is what you get if you buy the eVo.

Frankly, we don’t belt-clip our iPods, and therefore this feature is not especially important to us, but those who do clip should consider whether they put enough strain on their iPods for plastic snapping to become a possibility. A “non-shattering” plastic clip is only as good as the belly or legs that come into contact with it.

Review: iSkin eVo

When the REVOclip is detached, the eVo’s back is left with four silicone bumps and a distinctive pattern of heat pores that together give the iPod the ability to cool off when the hard drive or battery get hot. We generally prefer the look of the eVo’s back to the Lajo solutions we’ve seen to date, but then, we like certain of Lajo’s clip concepts more, so this particular feature also remains a draw between the companies – for now.

As a side note, the eVo does not include the safety hand strap that came with the eXo2. Belt-clipping or non-belt-clipping are the only options this time out. But our eVo did include a clear PVC holding case, which like the one included with the eXo2‘s is a bit tougher than Lajo’s Zip cases, and may come in handy for toting around other accessories.

Day to Day Usability and Conclusions

On the day-to-day usability scale, the eVo rates quite well: thanks to an ever-expanding list of colors and several innovative features, it’s a case that we would recommend highly to users who use top-mounting peripherals, and anyone who isn’t concerned about scratching the scroll wheel or buttons.