[Please see review for ratings and Pros and Cons.]
Boxes from overseas are always exciting arrivals for iLounge, and this one was no exception: an otherwise non-descript cardboard box from China opened to reveal a cornucopia of Lajo’s new iPod mini silicone rubber cases. As you might know from earlier reviews, we really like the quality of the silicone rubber used in Lajo’s cases, and his company has previously offered many case variations to appeal to different consumers.
Dumped onto a counter, the new mini cases were quickly divided into styles. “Ah, these are the exo2minis; these are the exoflpminis, and oh, look at this, it’s an exo2mini-fb.” That’s right – “minus fb,” whatever that means. And then there’s the “eXo” versus “exo” issue. (For now, it’s exo.)
At some point, we realized that Lajo had released so many new iPod mini cases with different names that even serious fanatics had trouble keeping them all straight. There are thick versions, a thin version, versions with and without Click Wheel protection, with and without a metal mount for a belt clip, and with and without flip open bottoms. And at least fifteen color variations, with more on the way.
Since there are so many different names and features to choose from, we wanted to assemble a single review of all of the new Lajo mini cases and sort them all out for our readers. We’ll call the review…
Competitor iSkin has all but moved on from the eXo name to produce eVo cases, and Lajo has cranked his rubber toolworks into eXo and exo overdrive. The result: five new silicone rubber iPod mini cases, each with a slight difference from the next to accommodate different types of users.
All five cases have four major things in common: on the positive side, they snugly and easily fit any iPod mini, they protect most of the mini’s surfaces against scratches, and they all include a small rubber cord loop on their upper left hand corners. The downer is that they universally provide zero protection for the iPod mini’s screen, a major contrast with DLO’s nicely designed Jam Jacket, which covered the mini’s screen (but not the Click Wheel) with a built-in rubber shield.
Of course, this is somewhat of a surprise because Lajo makes eight different colors of inexpensive iShades, arguably the best soft plastic screen protectors available for larger iPods. While we would expect an announcement of mini iShades some time soon, we can’t consider the exo mini series perfect without them.
A comparatively minor flaw is that only one of the exo mini skins – the thinnest, least protective and least resilient one – is fully capable of being used with top-mounting accessories such as the iTrip and NaviPod. While iSkin plans this feature (in the form of a slightly thinner top surface) for its impending iSkin mini case, and surely Lajo will offer a similar future product, the true iPod mini fetishest still has to compromise when buying Lajo’s current best products. And to see which cases those are, you’ll have to keep reading.
A Quick Note on Ordering
As a final general note, while we commend Lajo for recent improvements to its direct sales website, and have ourselves had generally positive experiences receiving products we’ve ordered through the system, we continue to note complaints from readers about the web site’s unusual interface, alleged ordering irregularities, slowness and browser incompatibility issues. We have also noticed that announced and supposedly “available” products, colors and sizes are frequently actually unavailable, and that shipping times may be hard to predict.
While some of these are purely business issues – and ones that reliable entrepreneurial third-party resellers may take advantage of – it’s almost a certainty that you’ll visit the Lajo.biz web site if you’re interested in a product we’ve reviewed here. We therefore bring these issues to your attention so you won’t be surprised if you go to place an order and find that something we’ve discussed herein is unavailable. Given how much we like Lajo’s products, we continue to hope that the company’s official website will equally fulfill its potential to satisfy 100% of its customers.
The exomini is as standard as Lajo’s cases get, and provides a nice reference point for understanding the company’s other options. Available in only seven colors, the exomini is a smaller version of the company’s original eXo case, a two millimeter thick silicone rubber enclosure with holes on the front for screen and Click Wheel, holes on the top for Hold switch and headphone jack, and a hole on the bottom for the Dock Connector port.
The Dock Connector hole on the exomini (and most of Lajo’s cases) is just big enough to accommodate Apple’s reference-sized plugs without forcing tugging or case stretching. This should be at least a yellow flag for users of Monster peripherals, and any future peripherals that may clip into the iPod mini’s tiny bottom left and right holes. Audiophiles may also chafe at the size of Lajo’s standard headphone hole, which can be stretched easily to accommodate larger headphone jacks but, like the Dock Connector hole, isn’t just a simple plug-and-play port.
A collection of small holes on the exomini’s back radiate out from a double-reinforced circular rubber hub, which encases and renders scratch-proof a small metal screw mount for belt clips. We’ve discussed these belt clips in prior reviews, and tested the company’s SWVClips briefly with the exomini cases, finding the clips adequately sturdy and moderately attractive. The clips are an extra $6.50, and require an additional $1.00 chrome stub that screws into the metal screw mount. Lajo’s current optional clip solution is an okay if somewhat pricey one, and one we think will likely be supplanted in short order by either Lajo or a competitor.
Without a belt clip attached, the rubber hub protrudes two or three millimeters out of the exomini’s back, and two small rubber nubs at the bottom back of the case create a slight, tripod-like elevation for an iPod placed on a flat surface. Designed to disperse heat from older iPods that warmed during prolonged hard-drive use, the holes and elevating nubs are now more decorative than useful, but still look plenty stylish.
In a word, the exomini case is the only Lajo case we think is merely “okay,” because it’s overly simple by comparison with Lajo and its competitors’ products. While it does protect the iPod mini against most scratches and the sorts of drops people would expect in average situations, it’s not quite as fully featured as its nearest alternative.
We like the feel of Lajo’s rubber a bit more than the plastic in Speck Products’ Mini Skins, but Speck’s case includes a lanyard necklace and slightly more flexible bottom access to the mini’s Dock Connector port. Neither case offers screen or Click Wheel protection, both are available in few colors, and both are a bit overpriced at close to $20 per case. Given only these two choices, we’d pick Speck’s unless we needed a color other than clear and didn’t have unusual accessories to attach to the case’s bottom.
Pros: Quality rubber, fairly protective of the iPod mini, nice colors.
The Bad: Lacks screen and Click Wheel protection, has few features to appeal to particular tastes of iPod mini constituencies.
But, as you know, there aren’t just two choices. Lajo’s second case is the exo2mini, which is identical to the exo mini but for a single innovation – a one millimeter thick silicone coating for the Click Wheel. Lajo was first to bring this protective innovation to the last generation of iPod cases, and it works at least as well – perhaps slightly better – with the dual-tactile surface of the iPod mini’s controls.
The somewhat cool side benefit of the thinner Wheel silicone is its ability to re-cast the one colorless part of an iPod mini into your choice of shades. Our asphalt black test case gave the mini a dark brown Wheel, while the indigo case left the Wheel light purple. Regardless of color, small stamps in the silicone clearly indicate the “menu,” “forward,” “rewind” and “play/pause” buttons that are covered by the case.
We really like Lajo’s Click Wheel protection, and think that the exo2mini is almost on par with DLO’s Jam Jacket mini, which made different trade-offs, including screen protection (but no Click Wheel or top-of-mini cover) in the box. Given the choice between these options, we’d narrowly pick DLO’s case, solely because we’re more concerned about scratching our iPod mini screens than their tops and click wheels. But your personal tastes may vary.
When mini iShades become available, the exo2mini will be a top choice for everyone except audiophiles and top-mounting accessory users. Unfortunately, that day’s not here yet, and with its current limitations, the exo2mini is a product we’re “happy” but not “excited” about.
The Good: Quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, nice colors.
The Bad: No screen protection, no access for top-mounting peripherals.
Perhaps the oddest named Lajo product yet, the exo2mini-fb is quite simply an exo2mini case minus the metal belt clip mount, radiating pattern of holes, and associated additional silicone hub and nubs. As it turns out, “-fb” stands for “flat back”, and the result is a uniform two millimeters of protection on all parts except the one millimeter Click Wheel guard.
The -fb series will work with Lajo’s upcoming TwistClip, a rotating version of Apple’s packed-in plastic belt clip/enclosure that will let an iPod mini hang horizontally or vertically from your waist. We haven’t heard the pricing of TwistClip yet, but having seen a similar rotating mechanism on a case from Pacific Rim Technologies, we’re not closed minded to the idea… but we just don’t know who needs it.
At $17.50, the flat-backed version of the exo2mini case is perhaps the smartest choice for users who don’t plan to belt clip their iPods any time soon – including us. As mentioned earlier, the lack of heat-dispersing holes won’t be an issue except for users who subject their cool-running iPod minis to unusually high temperatures, and the only other issues are the ones we’ve noted above for the standard exo2mini case. It’s not a case to get excited over, but it’s a very solid product nonetheless.
The Good: Quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, nice colors, competitive price.
The Bad: No screen protection, no access for top-mounting peripherals.
If the exo2mini-fb gets the “oddest named” award, the exoflpmini comes very close. Under Lajo’s naming conventions, the eXo 2 iPod case and exo2mini iPod mini cases both include millimeter-thick Wheel coverage, so it makes little sense that the exoflpmini case – lacking the number “2” – also covers a Wheel. And it similarly makes little sense that the case’s key feature – a flip-open bottom – is branded “flp.” But never mind that.
The exoflpmini is an exo2mini with a feature clearly lifted from Speck Products’ original iPod Skin case: the bottom sixth of the case is flexible, either covering the entire bottom of the iPod mini or pivoting forward to expose just enough of the mini to use Apple’s standard Dock without fully removing the case.
This is a feature we love, and not surprisingly, Lajo’s implemented it quite well. There’s no small hole in the rubber for the Dock Connector port, which reduces dust and other interference with the port. And if you want to use Monster peripherals (and others that require a little more space), sliding the exoflpmini’s bottom portion aside is as easy as can be. A final surprise is that the case works even better overall than Lajo’s new exoflp cases for 3G iPods – truly a perfect overall fit.
Lajo clearly understands that this case will be popular, because unlike its other mini cases, exoflpmini is planned to include 15 colors, with most of the company’s best-liked versions on future tap. Unfortunately, as of the time of printing, only three colors look to be available, but with glowing and pearlescent options forthcoming, we think exoflpmini will be one of Lajo’s biggest successes… until exoflpmini+ta (top access) or +sp (screen protection) comes along. And to date, neither has been announced.
The only other issue with the exoflpmini is its price. At $21.50, it’s more expensive than any other iPod mini silicone case (save the jogging-ready version of DLO’s Jam Jacket Mini), even though there’s nothing different from an exo2mini save a slit (and missing hole) in the bottom of the case. We don’t think the extra $1.50’s going to be a show-stopper for many people, but it’s worth mentioning.
Despite the weird name, the exoflpmini currently has the most advantages of any iPod mini case on the market – Click Wheel protection, perfect Dock and Dock Connector port access, great fit, and a ton of colors. Its only shortcomings are its present lack of screen protection, its inability to easily interface with top-mounting peripherals, and its slightly higher price. But on balance, we think most people will be as excited about the case as we are.
The Good: Quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, great colors, our favorite Dock access design.
The Bad: No screen protection, no access for top-mounting peripherals.
The last of Lajo’s five cases is the exo3mini, a smaller version of the super-thin eXo 3 case developed for the third-generation iPod. With roughly one millimeter of silicone rubber as a shield, it is the least protective of the iPod mini, but consequently the thinnest profile case currently made. It offers just enough rubber to resist typical scratches on every surface save the iPod mini screen, but it shouldn’t be expected to protect against drops, resist tearing or withstand more serious abuse.
We have somewhat mixed feelings about the eXo 3 for standard iPods, but like the fit of the exo3mini quite a bit. It’s snug, looks good without adding much profile to the mini, and allows the use of top-mounting accessories such as the iTrip and Navipod without any hassle whatsoever. Docking the mini while fully in the exo3mini is an impossibility because of the added thickness, but any other use of the mini is about as unencumbered as it can get while in the case.
It’s hard to be “excited” in the purest sense of the word about the exo3mini case, because it’s a major design tradeoff – resilience and longevity are given up in favor of slimness and attachable top accessories. But because of Lajo’s seriously low price – a mere $9.50 – and the fact that the target audience knows what it’s trading off for the price and loss of silicone, we think the exo3mini is definitely an exciting product for people who need its features. Even if there’s a chance of tearing under abusive conditions, people can and will buy two exo3mini cases in different colors – at the same price they might pay for one competing product. That’s a cool option, and one we hope Lajo will expand upon with more colors.
The Good: Thin but quality rubber, great Click Wheel protection, nice colors, allows use of top-mounting peripherals, great price.
The Bad: No screen protection, not drop resistant, not exciting for damage-prone users.
Jeremy Horwitz is a consumer electronics fanatic who 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: See individual reviews for models.
Price: See individual reviews for prices.
Compatible: iPod mini