Those few iPod case makers that actually exercise creativity are annually faced with a familiar question: continue or discontinue that experimental design you tested for one or two iPod models? Speck Products faces this question more often than most companies, as it routinely releases outside-the-box designs that could as easily be hits as flops with consumers. One such unusual case, ToughSkin, has endured for several years; another, ArmorSkin, has just been introduced. Despite their similarities, both cases have long and prosperous futures ahead, if the versions we review today are any indication.
ToughSkin for iPod nano ($25) and iPod classic ($30) both have the same appeal as ArmorSkin ($30) for iPod nano: they use unusually thick clear or black stiff rubber shells to protect your iPod against light drops and scratches. But whereas ToughSkin is thick on all sides, and squared off on its corners, ArmorSkin is thick everywhere except for its front, which you might assume from the photographs is left entirely open. It’s not: ToughSkin uses a mix of rubber on the iPod’s metal with a detachable clear hard plastic screen protector, while ArmorSkin has a thinner clear plastic cover for the nano’s face. Both designs are different enough from other rubber iPod cases out there that we consider them to be standouts, and signs of Speck’s continued commitment to be something more than a commodity case maker.
The cases differ only a little in terms of iPod coverage. All three leave the iPod’s Click Wheel entirely uncovered; clear film or built-in plastic isn’t included. Speck always exposes the Hold switch and headphone port of each iPod, but in ArmorSkin, the remaining coverage is tight and complete: the Dock Connector isn’t exposed at all. Both ToughSkins expose their respective iPods’ Dock Connectors: the iPod nano version has a fully open bottom, while the iPod classic has a rectangular block cut out for that port. Because of the thickness of their bottom rubber surfaces, none work properly with Universal iPod Docks.
ToughSkin (left) and ArmorSkin (right)
Comparing the nano versions of these cases is fairly straightforward. ArmorSkin covers a little more of the nano and costs $5 more. To our eyes, it looks better—especially in clear, where it better shows off the body of the iPod inside—with a seriously cool rounded block pattern on its back and sides. It’s also not as easy to use with iPod accessories, the only feature omission that we consider serious here. ToughSkin costs less, provides almost as much body coverage, and offers superior accessory compatibility. Though we prefer the fresher look of ArmorSkin, we still really like how it looks—again, especially in clear—as it reminds us of Power Support’s classically icy Square Type cases for iPod mini and iPod nano.
Speck’s iPod classic version of ToughSkin is a slightly different story. It has the same general profile and features as the fifth-generation iPod classic ToughSkin we reviewed two years ago, including a detachable belt clip and nub that are no longer part of the iPod nano version. It still uses a rubber spacer to enable its 160GB iPod-sized body to fit thinner 80GB iPod classics, rather than coming in two different sizes. In our view, this isn’t an issue for a case that intentionally beefs up the iPod’s size, but some people may feel otherwise. Like the iPod nano version, its only major omissions are in control and port protection, which other case companies have successfully achieved for all iPod models with stickers, flaps, or other plug-in parts.
A nice bonus for the ToughSkin family is that it’s less expensive now than it was before. Speck used to sell both ToughSkins for $35; now it sells the classic version for $30 and the nano version for $25. Admittedly, the omission of the belt clip means that you get a little less in the nano version than before, but $25 is about right for a nicely made nano case like this, as $30 is fair for the iPod classic version. ArmorSkin is similarly fairly, but not aggressively priced for a good looking, novel case. Pick ArmorSkin if you don’t mind giving up accessory access and want an eye-catching, modern design that’s almost as pocket-friendly as can be; ToughSkin if you need full-time Dock Connector access, and don’t mind compromising a bit on protection to get it.
Company and Price
Company: Speck Products
Compatible: iPod nano (video)