Review: Ice Creme Polishes Up Scratched iPods

Monday, 2004-06-14; 02:30:00

Polishing requires lots of work, but the polished iPod is worth it.

(Originally posted on AppleXnet)

As any iPod owner will know, the spiffy, white design of the iPod is part of the allure of the product. It looks good, it's not intimidating, and it embodies the essence of Apple's design philosophies. The only problem is trying to protect that new look. A carrying case may help, although the crumbs and dirt that get inside could scratch it up even more. And what do you do if you've already got a scratched iPod?

Ice Creme comes to the rescue. RadTech, the makers of ScreensavRz, also create polishing agents and cloths, which are sold together as the Ice Creme and Ice Creme M products. For $19.95, you get a 1 ounce of bottle of "severe abrasion formula" (the A agent), a 1 ounce bottle of "light abrasion/finishing formula" (the B agent), and a polishing cloth to help buff up your iPod. For an additional $5, you get an additional 2 cloths, as well as a "bright metal polishing formula" (the M agent).

Since I bought my iPod in November 2001, it didn't come with a carrying case, and I didn't bother to get a third-party case because I wanted quick access to my iPod. Therefore, after a few months of being in my pocket, being on various dirty desks, and surviving a few accidental drops, my iPod was pretty scratched up. I knew that it wasn't going to be easy to get the scratches out of my iPod. Fortunately, RadTech tries to make the process as painless as possible, even though it does require a fair amount of elbow grease. The cloths and polishing agents come in a small, compact tube when shipped, and RadTech also includes an explicit set of instructions on how to use the product, including the best way to polish and how to avoid some common pitfalls when getting the scratches out.

The first step in polishing a scratched iPod when using Ice Creme is to clean the front surface of the iPod of all existing dirt. This can be done by applying a bit of alcohol to one of the cloths that RadTech provides, or the cleaning can be done with no alcohol at all. This ensures that no specks of dirt get in the way when polishing, since they could potentially scratch up the iPod more.

If your iPod is moderately or severely scratched, the A agent should be used first to get out the biggest scratches. (Agents A and B are used on the front of the iPod where the screen and buttons are, while agent M is used on the metal backing of the iPod.) Apply a pea-sized bit of agent A to the cloth, and then start buffing the iPod's screen in a circular motion. As RadTech's instructions suggest, the best way to get the most pressure on the cloth and the iPod is to place your four fingers on the back of the iPod while using your thumb to actually do the polishing. One hand can also be used to hold the iPod with the other doing the polishing. Every few minutes, apply another pea-sized amount of agent A to the cloth, and continue to polish your iPod. It requires a lot of patience to make it look new again, but the results will definitely be worth the effort.

Note that a significant amount of pressure and a large chunk of time are needed to get the deepest scratches out of any used iPod. There's no way around the elbow grease that's required. The instructions state that it "takes about 30-45 minutes of polishing with 'A' to work out typical iPod scratching". My iPod was well over "typical" iPod scratching levels: one 45 minute session polishing the front of my iPod with agent A was not enough to get out all of the scratches. You can bet that your hands will get tired if you have an old iPod. If you plan to get out as many scratches as possible, consider breaking up the polishing into two sessions so that you can give your hands a rest.

That said, after 45 minutes, my iPod's screen was looking significantly better than before I started. The little scratches that had developed on the front of my iPod obscured the on-screen text a little bit, but the screen looked much clearer and cleaner after polishing.

For lightly scratched iPods, it's likely that the B agent will be all that's needed to polish your iPod. According to RadTech, this agent not only gets out small scratches, but restores the high-gloss finish that makes iPods look so good. That means that after finishing buffing up the iPod with the A agent, you should still finish with a 10-15 minute polishing with the B agent.

Here's a before and after shot of the first cleaning of the front of my iPod. Note that these photographs have been taken to explicitly emphasize the scratches on the front of the iPod, so while the after shot still looks horribly scratched up, it's not nearly as bad in normal light. About an hour of polishing went in to make the difference between the two pictures.

Before and after shots of the front of my iPod: click to see a larger version

The M agent works in a similar manner on the back of your iPod. You must purchase RadTech's Ice Creme M in order to get the M agent -- only agents A and B come with the regular Ice Creme product. Again, a pea-sized amount of the M agent is applied to a cloth, and then a circular motion is used on the back of the iPod to get out the scratches.

The instructions warn that "deep scratching that penetrates the chrome plating cannot be removed without creating an uglier blemish." It continues, saying that "the metal compound [is] sufficiently mild to avoid polishing through the chrome plating. The severity of deep damage can be significantly improved, however." I found that while the M agent couldn't remove all of the deep scratches that had developed in the back of my iPod (as the instructions warned), it did make it look a lot better, just like the A and B agents did to the front of my iPod.

Here are some before and after shots of the back of my iPod after 45 minutes of polishing with the M agent. Again, the pictures emphasize scratches, and therefore my iPod doesn't nearly look as bad in normal light:

Before and after shots of the back of my iPod: click to see a larger version

The lighting is a bit different between the two pictures, making it a bit hard to compare. Nevertheless, it's evident that many of the small scratches that appear before the polishing are improved or completely gone after polishing. Under normal lighting, the back of my iPod isn't perfect, but is much better than it was at the start. I can now use my iPod as a mirror again (as if that's practical at all).

According to John Grzeskowiak of RadTech, "the compounds function by abrasively removing the material surrounding a scratch or abrasion, bringing the surface down to the level of the bottom of the scratch. And yes again, it does this at a slow rate, which helps improve the final result." That means that you don't have to worry about how many times you can polish your iPod before the acrylic totally wears down: the polishing agents aren't very severe, so it's likely that your iPod will die before you wear down the screen's acrylic.

Grzeskowiak also emphasizes the cloths that are provided with the Ice Creme products. "One thing that sets our kit apart from the rest [...] is the polishing cloths we provide. They're made from our exclusive Optex fabric, which lends a degree of improvement to all the compounds we tested when developing this product. So [there's] nothing extremely special about the actual compounds - it's the Optex that makes the real difference." I also asked about how the polishing would affect the laser engravings on the back of the iPod, which includes the serial number and the Apple logo. Grzeskowiak assured me that using the M compound on the laser engravings won't affect them at all, so you can simply polish the entire back of the iPod without worrying.

For what it's worth, RadTech's Ice Creme products will probably be useful on other acrylic and bright metals similar to the iPod's front and back. Some of the other possible uses for Ice Creme, according to RadTech, are for polishing the screen and case of your PDA, the screen and faceplate of your cell phone, displays on other computing devices and instruments, the windows protecting your car's speedometer and RPM-meter, and even acrylic watch crystals.

Protecting an iPod from scratches can be close to impossible even with carrying cases. Thankfully, at least when it comes to polishing up iPods, RadTech's Ice Creme can whisk away most of those scratches so that you can once again appreciate the design of your iPod without it being scuffed up. The text on my iPod's screen looks much clearer, the number of scratches on my iPod has been significantly reduced, and my iPod looks much less aged overall. After using RadTech's Ice Creme (and a bit of hard work) on your iPod, it will end up looking just a week or a month old, rather than a year old. It's that good.

-- Simone

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