Pros: Rugged soft plastic iPod 4G/photo case that wisely uses detachable parts to protect the iPod’s screen and controls, offer rear protection and a detachable belt clip.
Cons: One-size-fits-all isn’t perfectly suited to smaller and larger iPods. Dock Connector port could have been a little larger; top hole could have been a little smaller.
For every ten similar iPod cases we see, one stands out as unique. Speck Products’ new ToughSkin ($34.95) is one of the special ones. Rather than duplicating its own or other companies’ existing iPod cases, Speck looked outside to a niche market – ruggedized electronics – and thereby brought a new twist to iPod 4G and photo protection.
Ruggedizing is a process by which ordinary electronic products are physically and mechanically reinforced against various forms of shock, scratch, and drop damage; you may have seen it in certain thick, plasticized PDAs or tablet computers, or otherwise in the package scan and signature computers carried around by UPS and FedEx drivers. The goal is to take a delicate item and make it safe to subject to more than everyday wear and tear, but perhaps a step or two shy of intentional misuse.
Using Kraton plastic like most of Speck’s other cases, ToughSkin essentially ruggedizes the iPod’s entire body. Its corners in particular benefit from dramatically enhanced, thick soft plastic “bumpers,? while its sides are similarly ribbed with the brick-like extra protection. Hard transparent plastic is used for screen, Click Wheel, and reinforced back protection, with a clear detachable belt clip nub and frosted belt clip as options.
Both the screen and Click Wheel guards attach with integrated plastic pins to small holes in the case – the screen guard with four, the Click Wheel with two. At the top of the Click Wheel guard is a hole that integrates with the ToughSkin case to seal closed, but the bottom pins work as a hinge to pivot the Wheel protector open whenever necessary. Only two holes are left in the case – a thin box at the iPod’s top, which only modestly exposes the headphone jack and Hold switch, and a smaller hole at the bottom, which provides access to the iPod’s Dock Connector port.
Unlike earlier Speck Kraton plastic cases, we found it exceedingly easy to insert and remove an iPod from the ToughSkin – a major issue people have had in the past. And the various attachments give ToughSkin a level of protectiveness and versatility that we can’t help but like. iPods encased in ToughSkin easily survive drops from four- or five-foot heights, and we feel relatively confident that they’ll do more than that if pushed.
Additionally, Speck’s design is attractive – albeit decidedly more masculine than a lot of other cases we’ve seen. While we think ToughSkin will prove popular at construction sites and playgrounds, environments where its resilience would be most appreciated, its general “tough guy” appeal is undeniable. Speck’s marketing seems similarly focused: its web site wisely advertises ToughSkin alongside a photo of Hummer’s H2, which shares a similar aesthetic. Of the colors – blue, red, orange, black and clear – we strongly preferred the clear one’s clean and less plasticy look, though the others may fit your individual needs.
Our only issues with the ToughSkin are minor. Though we remain less than thrilled about one-size-fits-all case designs with spacers, ToughSkin works pretty well to accommodate all 4G and photo iPods. The reinforced back flips to act as a spacer for either 20GB iPods or 40/60GB iPods and iPod photos; the thicker iPod photos do fit fine, with only a hint of bulge in the case’s top and bottom. Our test unit’s spacer was easily scratched by the iPod, but didn’t scratch the iPod itself, and was difficult to flip from 20GB to 40GB/60GB mode by detaching the included belt clip nub. Speck said that the nub should be substantially easier to use in all shipping ToughSkins.
Additionally, the top and bottom holes could be a bit better sized. In a rugged case, we would have preferred a bit more coverage on the needlessly exposed top left side, and a bit of extra space on the bottom hole would have better accommodated a wider range of Dock Connecting peripherals. Apple’s work fine, but others will be more of a challenge.
Though tempting, we wouldn’t compare ToughSkin directly against Otterbox’s oPod (iLounge rating: B+), a high-impact hard case that boasts water resistance in addition to the ToughSkin’s features. The ToughSkin’s a case we would use in our daily lives and if we were rock climbing in good weather, while oPods are the cases we’d take in the snow and other weather-challenged situations. They’re different cases for mostly different purposes, at somewhat different price points.
We’ve had mixed feelings about Speck’s Kraton plastic cases in the past, but ToughSkin is clearly its highest-use application: it looks tough, feels tough, and integrates very well with the detachable hard plastic components. At $34.95, you come close enough to the protection of a case like the oPod for most purposes, but get something that you’ll want to use under other circumstances, too. Overall, this is a great design with only small issues – a very good release for Speck and a nice expansion of the world of iPod case options.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.
Company and Price
Company: Speck Products
Model: Speck Products ToughSkin
Compatible: iPod 4G, iPod photo