If you’d asked us two years ago whether we’d be carrying our iPods today covered only in thin sheets of transparent film, we’d probably have said “no;” cases provide padding and anti-drop reinforcement we used to feel was all but mandatory. But having spent the last 9 months using one of our full-sized iPods with nothing but ShieldZone’s InvisibleShield Full Body Shields (iLounge rating: A-) attached, we’re now believers: as long as you don’t drop your iPod on the ground, good film protectors can be superb substitutes for bigger, more elaborate cases.
Now a company called NLU Products has released BodyGuardz ($25), an alternative to InvisibleShield that caught our attention for one major reason: it promised optical clarity. As good as InvisibleShield is at resisting scratch damage, it isn’t perfectly invisible or clear; rather, it looks a bit like baked Saran Wrap once it’s been applied to the front and back of your iPod. When a video’s playing at most brightness levels through the 5G iPod’s screen, you can’t really see the dimples in the plastic film, but when light and other objects reflect against the iPod’s body, they’re obvious.
The good news about BodyGuardz is that NLU technically gives you more clear film for the same price as InvisibleShield, and the film is indeed clearer than ShieldZone’s. Every BodyGuardz package includes two sets of front film covers and two back covers for the 5G iPod, plus a bottle of application solution and a squeegee to remove air bubbles during installation. According to the company, iPod nano versions also include three separate screen protectors. By contrast, ShieldZone gives you only one front cover and one rear cover, solution, and a squeegee. You can decide whether or not the extra film matters to you; in nine months of using InvisibleShield, we haven’t felt the need to replace the original stickers we put on, but some people may.
Our comparison shots here are from after the required 24 hour curing period, which gives BodyGuardz the opportunity to self-eliminate air bubbles and evaporate any of the application solution left under its surface. You can see InvisibleShield on the Click Wheel while BodyGuardz is on the rest of the 5G iPod’s body, and although this difference may be hard to see in photographs, light dances differently off of the two surfaces. Simply put, NLU’s film still has dimples and a bit of distortion, but they’re smaller and a little less visually intrusive than ShieldZone’s. If clarity was the only issue of importance, we’d pick BodyGuardz over InvisibleShield by a slight margin. That said, neither is perfectly clear; there’s still work left to be done by both companies (and their competitors).
The bad news is that NLU’s film doesn’t cover as much of the 5G iPod’s body as ShieldZone’s film does. BodyGuardz doesn’t include any protection for the 5G’s matte Click Wheel surface, which is vulnerable to scratching and scuffing without some sort of coverage. We also found that the front film that is there wasn’t perfectly cut to cover the 5G’s face from edge to edge—it was a little bit short—and an odd little tab on the front bottom was hard to keep on the 5G during the drying process without a piece of tape. The rear surface protector provides roughly the same amount of coverage as ShieldZone’s, though we found InvisibleShield’s rear tabs a little easier to apply.
All in all, we have to give the edge to InvisibleShield in its current implementation, as its modestly lower clarity is offset by markedly superior front protection – the reason for ShieldZone’s A- rating and BodyGuardz’ B+. Neither of these products earns our flat A rating since they’re not priced aggressively, and don’t provide the complete, clear body protection their marketing suggests you’ll get. With new Apple products coming in the future, our hope is that both of these companies will continue working on clearer, more protective solutions to further enhance their appeal relative to cases.