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iPhone and iPod case roundup: nanos and iPhones, oh my

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If you follow Apple news, you might think that the only topics of interest lately are the iPhone 3G, the App Store, and the, er, somewhat unreliable MobileMe. But we know what you readers really care about, what will always remain first in your hearts: iPod and iPhone cases.

So, to feed that unsated hunger, we bring you yet another in our weekly roundups of cases. Sit back and enjoy the ride as we take a look at a pair of cases for the original iPhone and one for the third-generation iPod nano.

zCover iSAglove Dockable Kit for iPhone 

The iPhone 3G may be all the rage, but there are plenty of folks still out there rocking original iPhones. One problem with most cases is that it’s difficult to use certain iPhone accessories in conjunction with a case: for example, the iPhone’s dock. Although some vendors have solved this problem by including dock adapters that fit the iPhone when it’s in its case, zCover has concocted an alternate solution: they’ve included their own dock with a silicone skin to produce the $45 iSAglove Dockable Kit for iPhone.

The iSAglove is a pretty basic silicone skin. It’s got a large opening at the front for accessing the iPhone’s touch screen. There’s also an opening for the iPhone’s earpiece, another at the top for the headphone jack, and one that allows you to access the iPhone’s Ring/Silent switch. The Sleep/Wake button, Home button, and volume up/down buttons are covered with silicone nubs that let you operate them through the case. A small silicone flap covers the dock-connector port on the bottom when it’s not in use, though it also leaves the iPhone’s speaker and microphone accessible. There’s also an opening on the back for the iPhone’s camera to peek out.

The silicone is pretty thick and durable, and its ridges make it easy to grip; zCover has also reinforced the case’s corners, which is handy for drops. And for those who never want to be far from their iPhone, there’s also a removable rotating belt clip that you can pop in; it’s not the most robust one we’ve seen, but it’s fine. The mount for it uses zCover’s Universal Clip Connector Tab which allows you to attach the case to other mounts sold separately, such as a window clip.

And, of course, there’s the dock. Constructed from two pieces of plastic, a black base and a clear podium that clips on top, the dock accommodates both the large iPod dock-connector cable and the smaller iPhone dock-connector cable—there’s a separate bracket for each of them, and you can store the extra bracket inside the dock so you don't use it. There’s even a handy canal for threading the cable through.

In general the iSA glove is pretty good for your average silicone skin, though it does suffer from a few issues. For one, the nubs covering the volume keys are not very prominent, so it’s sometimes hard to find them without looking. The flap covering the iPhone’s dock-connector port is a nice touch, but it’s a little irritating to have to fumble with it when you want to put the iPhone in its dock. And the dock itself, while it’s convenient, can sometimes be a little difficult to use easily—since the base is not weighted, pulling the phone out requires two hands.

Overall, the iSAglove Dockable Kit is a good option for those who simply must have their iPhone in a case and use a dock, though it’s not quite as elegant a solution as providing a dock adapter, and it’s quite an expensive proposition.

IvySkin Xylo Touch-Thru Original for iPhone 

While hard-plastic cases often do a good job of protecting your iPod or iPhone from the harsh conditions of the outside world, oftentimes they add bulk to their sleek design, or look tacky. IvySkin’s $35 Xylo Touch-Thru Original for iPhone admirably fulfills the task of providing robust protection for the entire iPhone without compromising its design.

The Touch-Thru is composed of two parts, a front and back. The front looks a bit like the iPhone itself, featuring a black border around the transparent panel that covers the screen. There are openings on the front for the earpiece, Home button, and ambient-light sensor; on the top for the headphone jack and Sleep/Wake button; on the side for the volume buttons and Ring/Silent switch; and the bottom of the case has a slit for getting at the iPhone’s speaker, microphone and dock-connector port.

The bottom of the case is actually attached to the front panel of the Touch-Thru, so you pop the phone into that part before sliding the back on. The back panel is transparent, with a hole for the iPhone’s camera, and a tab that slides into the front piece in order to keep the case secure. Overall, the Touch-thru is pretty resilient; the polycarbonate is solid, and the case stays together well.

But the coolest thing about the Touch-Thru is the built-in screen protector. Made from slightly-flexible, transparent material, the protector allows full viewing and access of the iPhone’s screen while keeping it safe from scratches, drops, and falls. IvySkin says it operates by “ultrasonic waves” that are transferred from the panel to the screen—it sounds like voodoo, but in my tests, it works like magic.

The Touch-Thru comes in clear plastic, but is also available in black, yellow, red, blue, or a chrome finish for an extra $5.

DLO Jam Jacket Design for iPod nano

Now that accessory companies have mastered the process of creating silicone skins for electronics, they have to find a way to differentiate them. DLO has decided to compete on aesthetics: their $20 Jam Jacket Design for the third-generation iPod nano adds a laser-etched image to the back of the case.

From the front, the Jam Jacket Design looks much like any other silicone skin: it’s black and there’s an opening for the iPod nano’s screen. The bottom features an opening that allows access to the hold switch, dock-connector port, and headphone jack. There’s no screen protection, and there are no extra accessories.

The Click Wheel is covered by silicone with a raised bump in the middle for the center switch; though that protection is appreciated, I found that it unfortunately interfered with the iPod’s scrolling functions, making them jumpy and inconsistent.

The back of the Jam Jacket is what DLO hopes sets it apart: a laser-etched image of an eagle vaguely reminiscent of the obverse side of a quarter. Eye-catching, yes. But if you’re not particularly a fan of eagles, then the Jam Jacket really has nothing to offer that you couldn’t get from a cheaper, better silicone skin.

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