capsule review

iPhone and iPod Case Roundup: exercise edition

At a Glance

The iPod shuffle and iPod nano are the obvious choices when picking a ‘Pod for sporty recreation—they’re both solid-state, and incredibly tiny. But do those of us who have only a larger, heavier iPod, such as the classic or iPhone, out of physical activity, contently sitting on the couch accumulating calories while our smaller-player brethren hone their athletic skills and strengthen their cardiovascular systems? No, I say; that’s why companies make sport-targeted armband cases for all iPod models. Here, I look at two of these cases—one for the iPod classic, and one for the iPhone.

H2O Audio iFR Sport Combo for iPhone

Apple did pocket-scarce users a service with the iPhone, combining your iPod and your mobile phone into one handy device that’s perfect for those who would rather carry neither. iPhone-wielding sportsmen may want to consider H2O Audio’s iFR Sport Combo for iPhone ( ; $30) for their hardcore athletic needs. The iFR is a hard-shell, shock-resistant covering for the iPhone that include a velcro-secured armband for transporting the case during exercise.

iFR Sport Combo for iPhone

The iFR is no OtterBox Armor—neither waterproof (unlike H2O Audio’s other products) nor as tough—but it is a formidable, sturdy shield from the dangers of rugged adventures. The case is secured with a tiny lock screw at the bottom, and a thick plastic lid folds down to protect the phone’s screen. That protection, though, prevents you from actually using the controls; to remedy this, you’re able to swivel the lid and secure it behind the case, giving you full access to the iPhone’s screen and Home button. A removable, rubber cover protects the iPhone’s headphone jack, but removing and replacing it is as much of a nuisance as the cover is protective—most users will probably opt to just remove the cover permanently. At the top of the case is a tiny button to trigger the iPhone’s Sleep/Wake switch—so tiny, in fact, it was hard for me to press, and doing so is probably even more difficult for those with bigger fingers.

Aside from these few annoyances, the iFR itself is a solid case. Where it fails, however, is with the included armband. The case adds considerable bulk to the already-large iPhone, and the armband makes you feel like you’re running with a brick strapped your arm, limiting the benefits of the iFR to serious athletes who need the extra protection. In addition, the shell fits clumsily into the armband’s rubber holder—you have to really force it in and out, and the rubber warps and bends around the shell as if there wasn’t much effort put into its design. It’s also relatively difficult to hit the volume buttons and Ring/Silent switch when your iPhone is in the armband, forcing you to feel around, or even visually search, to find the buttons.

Ultimately, the iFR may be a good choice for rugged sports enthusiasts who constantly put themselves—and their poor iPhones—in harm’s way. But if all you want is a simple armband case for your daily jog and gym routine, you’re probably better off looking elsewhere.

Marware Sportsuit Convertible for iPod classic

Much like the iFR, Marware’s ($35) Sportsuit Convertible for iPod classic ( ; $35) attempts to be the do-all, be-all of iPod sport cases. Your iPod slips into a slim neoprene skin to protect it from scratches and minor impacts, with a clear, flexible-plastic layer covering the iPod’s screen and controls. The iPhone’s headphone jack and Ring/Silent switch are easily accessible on the top, and at the bottom of the case is a flap that can be folded back for access to the dock-connector port.

Sportsuit Convertible for iPod classic

But the heart of the Sportsuit’s unique appeal is what’s on the back of the skin: the Multidapt, a plastic connector for attaching it to one of the many available straps and clips designed for pocketless mobility. The Sportsuit package comes with a basic plastic belt clip and an armband, but you can also buy more accessories from Marware—a dashboard mount for your car, a handlebar mount for bikes, a leather swivel belt clip, and a ratchet-locking belt clip. The accessories slide onto the clip base and snap in place; to remove it, you use your headphone’s plug to push a button through a little hole on the clip, which unlocks the accessory.

The included hard-shell lid for the Sportsuit is a clever, sturdy way to protect your ‘Pod from harder impacts. A plastic flap slips over the Multidapt clip on the back of the case and is secured in place when you connect one of the accessories. But connecting an accessory when the lid is attached is a strenuous endeavor. Because the flap adds an extra layer to the back of the skin, you have to apply a lot of downward pressure the accessory to align the two clips. (It took me nearly five minutes to get it right on my first try, although the process did get easier the more times I did it.) The lid has a little band on its inner corner that fastens it to the main case; when you want to access the iPod’s controls, you can easily detach the band and swing the lid open. On the front of the lid is also a convenient flexible pocket for those small items sportsmen need to carry when they’re being sporty.

But, like the iFR, the Sportsuit’s biggest weakness is its armband. The Velcro that straps it to your arm is a small vertical strip that needs to attach to one of the small horizontal strips along its length. I had a hard time making it tight enough so it wouldn’t slide down my arm—and even when I thought I had it, the band seemed to loosen as my muscles expanded and contracted. While running, the Sportsuit bounced and jiggled and eventually slid further and further down my arm. Another annoyance: When I attempted to tighten the strap, my skin kept getting caught in the strap’s D-ring clip; which, may I say, was quite unpleasant. It may work better—but still not great—for individuals with arms larger than mine—I am, after all, a relatively slim 20-year-old, though I do exercise regularly. But not all of us are fit to compete in World’s Strongest Man, and that’s something to consider if you aren’t an Olympic shotputter.

The skin, its Multidapt connector, and the various attachable accessories make the Sportsuit an interesting and unique product. But the armband is a potential deal-breaker.

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