David's Dartboard: Fashion Statements

03/17/2006 Last weekend I went shopping for a protective jacket for the iPod Nano I bought recently. (Yes, even Sound & Vision reviewers buy gear at retail.) The buzz was that the Nano's high-gloss finish was more easily scratched than the finish on earlier iPods, something I can't verify. To actually confirm such rumors with scientific certainty would require a controlled test - one in which a Nano and an earlier model were subjected to precisely the same wear and tear in a procedure that could be duplicated by others. Just carrying a Nano around in a random pocket or purse for a week wouldn't do as a controlled experiment. And I wasn't about to subject my shiny new toy to scratching by a weighted diamond stylus, as required by several standard hardness tests.

In fact, I don't much care whether the body of my Nano gets scratched. I don't think of my portable audio devices as status symbols or fashion statements but as tools for listening to music. And tools are useless unless they are used - somebody worried about wearing down a new screwdriver or pair of pliers will probably end up using the wrong tool for the job. Besides, in New York City the telltale white Apple earphones "status symbol" is seen as a "mug-me-now-I-have-an-iPod" symbol. Truly with-it dudes going after sound quality and isolation always use some other earphones - the models by Shure (www.shure.com) and Etymotic Research (www.etymotic.com) are recommendable. (An all-black Etymotic ER-4P has long been my reference headphone.)

031706dartboard1I did find that just by firmly rubbing my thumb on my Nano's display window I was able to leave a few very fine scratches. These might wear away with further use - much like the scratches in watch crystals seem to disappear all by themselves. But since display visibility is essential for correct operation and I expect to get a lot of use out of my Nano, I wasn't willing to find out whether its display scratches were self-healing. Thus my shopping trip.

I found quite a few protective devices for iPods of all types. I immediately ruled out all the ones for the Nano that provided no display protection. This included, surprisingly, the five-for-$29 plastic Tubes offered by Apple itself. (Hint to iPod protection manufacturers: if your product does shield the display, say so on the package. The shiny plastic used in packaging often makes it difficult to tell.) I finally settled on two that explicitly offered window protection: a Smoke leather belt-clip model and a DLO's pull-on plastic Jam Jacket.

You'd think such simple things would be no-brainer devices with few issues of installation, setup, or use - unlike, say, a multichannel home-theater receiver. Not so! While the Nano just slips into the Smoke, you have figure out that it has to be forced through the Jam Jacket's iPod-connector slot.


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