When Speck makes a really cool case, as it has many times over the past six years, we get excited. Then, sometimes, it releases cases that just don’t look that hot. Last week, we looked at the unique ArmorSkin, heir apparent to some of the most creative cases in Speck’s history; this week, we’re reviewing the so-so TechStyle-Runner ($30) for iPod nano and iPhone, a case that is more “different weird” than “different good,” though a better than average approach to protection may win it some fans anyway.
The core of both versions of TechStyle-Runner is, like many playthrough iPod and iPhone cases, a hard plastic shell that has been wrapped in softer materials that are supposed to look and feel nicer in your hands. Here, the first layer of wrapping is soft foam, which gives the case a somewhat unusual springy feel, while the second layer is a mix of different types of stitched fabrics. Speck lets you pick from six accent colors—red, yellow, green, silver, pink, or black—with each case made primarily from a matte black, neoprene-like fabric. The accents wrap around the screen and controls, with an additional wavy stripe running down the back, paralleled by contrasting stitching.
TechStyle-Runner’s flaw isn’t so much the design, though it’s not great, but rather the execution, which leaves a lot to be desired. Rather than looking precise and straight, the stitching and tailoring struggles to properly follow either lines or curves, resulting in shapes that are distractingly uneven. The iPhone Runner sees its covered Home button off-center and hard to push, while a cut-out for screen access looked almost Picasso-esque in its imperfect angles and waviness. Similarly, a hole for the iPhone’s camera is completely off-center, but ringed with metal—a touch that would have looked great on a different case, but just looks out of place here.
Runner on iPod nano doesn’t fare any better. Its holes are also askew, with a too-small Click Wheel hole and an oddly-shaped screen portal; like the iPhone version, it’s incompatible with Universal Docks thanks to the size and shape of its hard bottom frame. Additionally, the nano version’s headphone port is just large enough for Apple’s and similarly small earphones, but not larger ones; the case doesn’t stretch much to accommodate larger plugs.
Adding to the cases’ awkwardness are the materials chosen for the accent colors. The black accents are made from cheap-looking high-gloss patent leather that feels more suitable to a Catwoman outfit than an iPod case, while the silver parts are faux metallic and light reflective, and the red, pink, yellow, and green versions use thin plastic that appears dented and uneven across each surface. Combined with glue dabs and stray stitches on the cases, these materials don’t do a great job of convincing you that they’re worth even $20, let alone $30.
There is a single saving grace to the Runner designs: they include screen protectors, and thereby cover much more of the iPod nano and iPhone than they leave exposed. Only three portions of the nano or iPhone are left open; though they’re not all small spots, particularly on each case’s top and side corners, they’re also not as big as they might have been.
Still, the quantum of protection is not enough to elevate the TechStyle-Runner cases much above the okay concepts and poor execution; these are classic “C-level” cases by our standards, merely okay and not offering enough in design or features to merit recommendation over the many better cases we’ve covered. With sewn cases like the ones we’ve seen recently, Speck should probably stick to plastic and rubber cases: in the post-Canvas Sport era, it has done a consistently better job on bringing innovative concepts to life in those materials than it has with fabric.
Company and Price
Company: Speck Products
Compatible: iPod nano, iPhone