Last year, at a time when iPod cases had grown exponentially in number, we awarded our Accessory of the Year award to a surprising recipient: clear full body film. Though there are plenty of ways to dress an iPod up, we’ve become increasingly interested in solutions that affordably preserve the naturally good looks of Apple’s products, while rendering them safer to toss into pockets or bags.
Since last year, a company called ShadesCases has been selling products called Shades that are half way between cases and film: despite the company’s name, ShadesCases claims that a Shade is “not a case,” and “not a skin.” Separate Shade versions are sold for the third-generation iPod nano ($15), iPod classic ($17) and iPod touch ($17), each in ten colors, except for the iPod nano’s nine, and the company offers a buy two, get one free promotion for users who want more than one color. In quick summary, Shades are indeed cases, but they’re just thinner and more straightforward than most of their competitors. Except for a couple of little issues, we’d rate them very highly—a strong alternative to both thicker cases and simpler films.
Each Shade is a single piece of properly contoured soft plastic that covers the entire iPod except for its headphone port, Dock Connector, and Hold switch; the switch-less iPod touch has its Sleep/Wake button covered, but the Shade exposes its full bottom save for its corners. ShadesCases accomplishes its coverage through a couple of interesting techniques: the front and back of each Shade start as separately made pieces of polyurethane, and the front is built from parts that are guaranteed to be clear—letting you fully see the iPod’s screen and the majority of its Click Wheel, if it has ones—while other parts, including the rest of the face and the center of the Click Wheel, can be clear or colored.
The result of this process is that a Shade can either let you see the iPod’s body under a plasticy glaze, like film, or re-tint its front and/or back with a translucent colored coating. Shades we received for testing included ones that could re-color a silver iPod classic or nano blue, orange, red, green, or other colors, doing the same in darker tints with black classics and nanos. iPod touch versions we tested have a clear or partially black front, each with a white translucent black. Additional colors are also available; the only caveat is that each case’s clear fronted version invariably has a somewhat white back.
There are a few major positives to ShadesCases’ approach. First, unlike too many cases these days, you don’t have to put on two pieces of a case, then add screen and film protectors, in order to cover your iPod. A Shade is slipped on to the iPod, generally without much tugging or screwing around, and does exactly what you’d expect it to do. From the nano and classic to the touch, the polyurethane doesn’t significantly inhibit use of even the touch-sensitive controls; we were able to scroll on older iPods and use the keyboard and double-finger zoom features of the newer iPod touch without any serious issues. Covered buttons work just as we’d expect, and the extent of each case’s coverage is in the A- category by comparison with peer products—not perfect, but very close. Plus, the Shades are all Universal Dock and accessory compatible, so you needn’t take them off at any point while using your favorite headphones, speakers, or other accessories.
All of these factors are huge for people who value convenience and simplicity in their iPod protection—Shades are, in essence, the equivalent of full body iPod films minus the lengthy initial installation time. But they do have a few caveats. The polyurethane isn’t as clear as the best films we’ve tested, and though we’d hardly call it terrible for iPod screen visibility, you can do better. Because of its reflectiveness and imperfections in the plastic, you’ll see a little prismatic distortion and glare with a Shade on your iPod—comparable to many but not all of the iPod face films out there—and you’ll feel better about the image if you turn the brightness up a bit.
There’s also an oddity in which each case’s back half differs in look from its front half, with a bubbly, sparkle-flecked back texture rather than the front’s completely clear one, and the fact that the fronts of the nano and classic cases are imprinted with iPod-styled Click Wheel markings that don’t line up perfectly with the iPod’s own icons. Combined with each case’s rear inked-on Shades logo, which looks OK but not great, and variations in the consistency of the coloration, these cases can come across as a little cheap rather than totally classy.
Given their prices, which are on the low side for cases but roughly par for full body film, we think that some users will be fine with these issues, but others will expect a bit more. Speaking for ourselves, we’d be seriously inclined to pick these cases over other options for times when a quick recoloring job was needed, but not as an alternative to truly clear body film—yet. As a first stab at a new genre of iPod protection, these versions of Shades merit a B+ rating and our general recommendation. Relatively small changes could easily make their sequels into highly recommendable, A-caliber alternatives to both clear film and traditionally larger cases.
Company and Price
Company: Shades Cases
Compatible: iPod nano 3G, classic, touch