capsule review

Belkin SportCommand for iPod

At a Glance
  • Belkin SportCommand for iPod

    Macworld Rating

    All-weather iPod remote control designed for outdoor activities.

If you're of the active persuasion, it's likely that you've encountered the challenge of how to control your iPod when you're outdoors and your iPod is concealed safely inside your jacket, pocket, or bag. While clothing vendors such as Burton and JansSport have addressed the problem by building iPod controls right into their jackets, Belkin has taken a different -- and more versatile -- approach by creating a rugged, water-resistant remote control than you can place wherever it's most convenient, while your iPod stays dry and protected.

Like most portable iPod remote controls, the SportCommand comprises two main pieces: a remote control that transmits your commands and a receiver that connects to your iPod's dock-connector port and receives those commands. However, the SportCommand's components are quite different from most of those we've tested. Instead of a bulky receiver, the SportCommand uses a thin, 4.5-inch unit with a small dock-connector plug at one end, a small antenna at the other, and a flexible cable in between. When your iPod is in your pocket, the cable and antenna can fold back against the body of the iPod.

The remote itself is a large (4 by 2.7 inches) piece of fabric with Velcro on one side and a battery/electronics module and a large control pad on the other. The remote weighs less than an ounce and can be attached to you or your gear using either the included carabiner clip or the included neoprene armband; the latter includes a large Velcro section the same size as the remote. The armband fits arms 9.5 inches to 13 inches in circumference; an included extender increases the maximum girth by another 8 inches. I found both the carabiner and armband to be quite secure once attached. However, the remote is slightly easier to use when worn on the armband, since the remote then has a solid object -- your arm -- behind it to make pressing the buttons easier; when using the remote with the carabiner, you need to hold it between your palm and thumb, or use two hands, to press buttons.

The SportCommand's fabric buttons are water and tear-resistant; you can even hand-wash the remote when it gets dirty. At approximately 2 inches square, with a large, central Play/Pause button surrounded by smaller (but still relatively large) Forward, Back, Volume Up, and Volume Down buttons, the remote is quite usable while wearing thick gloves (although mittens are still a challenge).

Belkin advertises the remote's range as 50 feet. I didn't get nearly that range in my testing; 10 to 15 feet was the furthest I could take the remote from the receiver and still get reliable operation. However, given the intended purpose of the SportCommand -- to control your iPod during physical activity while you're carrying the iPod on your person -- this range is still more than enough.

Although advertised to work with the iPod mini and nano as well as dockable iPods from the 4th-generation model on, I found the SportCommand to work equally well with Apple's iPhone and iPod touch. The only caveat is that when used with the iPhone, the iPhone's built-in speaker is deactivated; you must listen to audio using headphones.

The SportCommand has two notable drawbacks. The first is its price: at $80, it's considerably more expensive that several other portable remotes we've previously tested (although, to be fair, none of those could be used in adverse conditions). The second is the fact that the SportCommand is really an active-use-only remote: there's no pass-through audio jack on its receiver, so you can't, for example, connect an audio or video cable to your iPod to connect it to your entertainment system, and the receiver module's thoughtful-for-active-use design makes it awkward to use on a desk or table.
--Dan Frakes

To comment on this article and other Macworld content, visit our Facebook page or our Twitter feed.
At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    All-weather iPod remote control designed for outdoor activities.

Related:
Notice to our Readers
We're now using social media to take your comments and feedback. Learn more about this here.