Review: iDive 300 iPod/iPhone underwater case
At a Glance
If you’re a professional scuba diver, there’s probably one aspect of your career that you really dislike: the interminable decompression stops. For those who don’t know, professional divers tend to dive much deeper, and for much longer, than do recreational divers such as myself. As a result, they build up lots of inert gases in their bloodstream, and these gases need to be purged before surfacing so as to avoid decompression sickness. For example, the US Navy’s dive tables show that a diver spending 60 minutes at a depth of 130 feet must make four decompression stops totaling nearly 90 minutes before surfacing!
As a recreational diver, I don't have anywhere near such requirements—just a three minute “safety stop” at 15 feet of depth. I can easily pass those minutes by just looking around at the undersea environment. But if I had 90 minutes or more to wait before surfacing, the surroundings would quickly turn monotonous. You can’t read a book or magazine, for obvious reasons, and taking a nap isn’t a good idea, either, as you need to maintain your depth and be awake to monitor your equipment. Sounds like a recipe for hours of boredom, doesn’t it?
Until recently, it probably was. But add H2O Audio’s iDive 300 Deep Dive Waterproof Case & Speakers to the mix, and you can use those decompression stops to watch a movie, listen to an audiobook, or be serenaded by your music collection. You can also use the iDive 300 during your dive, as well as while snorkeling and swimming.
The iDive 300 lets you use your iPhone or iPod underwater to watch video and listen to audio (you can't run apps or use the phone). Specifically, the iDive protects your player down to an incredible depth of 300 feet—recreational divers are limited to 120 feet, and most "waterproof" iPod cases we've tested work only to 10 feet or so. Your iPod or iPhone fits snugly inside the case using several included spacers and trim pieces. The iDive 300's amplified, outside-the-ear headphones—actually small speakers—are permanently connected and can be either clipped to the sides of your mask or tucked inside a dive hood.
How does the iDive 300 let you use the touchscreen on an iPod touch or iPhone, or the Click Wheel on an iPod, through the thick plastic required to withstand the incredible pressures at such depths? It doesn’t. Inside the iDive, you’ll find a circuit board, a dock-connector plug, and space for three AA batteries (for powering the case's circuitry and headphones). You control your player using buttons—for volume, playback, and menu navigation—on the side of the iDive, which communicates with your iPod or iPhone through the dock-connector port. In other words, the iDive is more like an iPod speaker system in a waterproof enclosure than a simple waterproof case (which partly explains its higher price).
How well does the iDive work in the real world? A recent short trip to Cabo san Lucas gave me the opportunity to use the iDive on a real dive, using my iPhone 3G as the audio and video source. After testing the case at home to make sure it was watertight, I set out on the trip, still with a good deal of trepidation over immersing my iPhone 3G in the open ocean!
I neeedn’t have worried, however, as the iDive performed perfectly. Once in the water with the iDive, I tested both movie and audio playback, and everything worked as expected. I was able to easily navigate menus, start and stop audio and video, and watch and listen to my iPhone while scuba diving. I had a bit of an issue during setup, requiring me to turn the iDive on and off a couple times to get it to “see” my iPhone, but after that, it worked fine.
There’s something decidedly weird about listening to music (not to mention watching a movie) while gliding 60 feet under the surface. The underwater world is usually quiet, with the exception of the noise from breathing and bubbles…but not for me, at least not on this dive. I tried a variety of music, and found that classical seemed to work nicely with the slow, easy pace of scuba diving. (The faster you swim, the faster you use up your air supply, so scuba divers are generally very slow swimmers.)
Using the iDive while diving was reasonably easy, at least in warmer, “no glove” water. The buttons were all easy to press, and I could operate them by touch after I became familiar with their locations. For colder water use, I tested the iDive 300 at home with my light dive gloves on, and the buttons were large enough to distinguish and press. I didn’t, however, bring the gloves on the trip, so I can’t comment on how well the gloves would work with the iDive 300 in the real world.
The sound from the headphones is adequate, if not of the highest quality—I found the sound somewhat tinny, with bass response lacking. I had the speakers clipped to my mask, resting over my ears; I imagine that had I been wearing a dive hood with the headphones tucked inside, the sound might have been better. To be fair, reproducing sound accurately underwater is very difficult, especially at the lower frequencies, so the iDive did an acceptable job, in my opinion. Volume levels were easily loud enough—the amplified speakers did that job with ease.
Seeing the iPhone’s screen also wasn’t a problem, at least not in the water we were diving in, which was generally clear with visibility ranging from 20 to 50 feet. I didn’t see any distortion from the case's plexiglass, which is impressive, given its thickness. I recorded a short movie, below, of the iDive 300 in action at approximately 65 feet (using a Canon SD850 IS in a waterproof housing), so you can get a sense of how it looks. You'll notice that the colors are somewhat off due to the lack of natural light during a scuba dive and the fact that I recorded the video using a compact digital camera.
Being a recreational diver, I got nowhere near the iDive’s 300-foot limit, as our dive ranged between 50 and 65 feet. Still, there’s a fair amount of pressure at those depths, yet the iDive 300 remained perfectly sealed, and all of its controls worked fine. At the conclusion of the 45-minute dive, there wasn’t any sign of water anywhere inside the case.
The biggest problem I had while using the iDive 300 was simply managing the cables it adds to an already cable- and cord-heavy hobby. The headphone cable leading out of the iDive splits into left and right cables after a foot or so. Combine those cables with the buoyancy-jacket inflator, the instrument cluster, and two regulators, and you’ve got a potential tangle on your hands. I did my best to route the cords in such a way that they wouldn’t interfere with the rest of my gear.
Another potential issue with the iDive 300 has nothing to do with the product and everything to do with how you use it: While enjoying your music or movie, you may forget to check your depth, your air supply, the location of your buddy, and/or the direction you’re moving. Overlooking just one of these things while diving could potentially lead to a fatal accident, so it’s critically important that you stay involved with your dive while using the iDive 300.
Macworld's buying advice
Overall, I was very impressed with the iDive 300. While it’s not cheap at $299, you do get what you pay for: It’s amazingly well-engineered, solidly built, and worked exactly as advertised during my time with it. It was relatively easy to set up, its buttons were large and easy to press under water, and there was more than enough volume at the depths I tested it. Sound quality is about what I was expecting, given the difficulties of reproducing sound underwater, and was certainly good enough to understand words and listen to music.
If you just want to use your iPod or iPhone around the pool or while snorkeling in shallower waters, H2O Audio's Amphibx line will handle those needs. But if you’re looking for a well-built, waterproof case that you can use while scuba diving, the iDive 300 is well worth your consideration.