With the immense popularity of the iPod family (to the point "i"-anything is becoming a part of the lexicon) it is not surprising to see the growing number of accessory cases on the market designed to provide protection for that $200-plus purchase. Some cases protect more than others. Being outdoor adventurers who prefer a slog in rain and mud to cruising the local mall seeking this week's bargains when the weather turns damp, we qualify as iPod nano owners who require a bit more protection than mere scratch-and- bump guards afforded by silicone, neoprene or leather cases.
We require a case that will allow us to take a trail-running tumble with the nano into a waist-deep stream and come up with a grin still listening to tunes as we spit out debris. We're not talking mere scratches and blemishes here, gang – we require real impact and dent protection. Enter OtterBox.
OtterBox is, for good reason, a highly-respected manufacturer of waterproof, crushproof, dustproof cases designed to offer the maximum protection for valuable electronics from computers to cameras. So, when OtterBox let SNEWS® know the company had a line of iPod cases we immediately ordered up several to put through their paces.
Our slate of testers has broken MP3 players (one even fell underfoot during a treadmill workout, and the results weren't pretty), as well as drenched, battered and ruined supposedly water-resistant/shock-resistant tape players, radios and CD players over the years. So we were more than ready to dance to the challenge.
Inserting the nano into the case is very easy. Crack open the lid – it only pivots open to 40 degrees -- and slide the nano in until its headphone jack connects and clicks into the stationary headphone plug inside. The nano sits securely, surrounded by a rubber bumper around its edge; when you squeeze the lid down and secure the latch, there is a feeling of security as the rubber gasket around the opening is compressed – sealing out water to a depth of one meter, according to the company. That same seal keeps out sand, dirt and dust – all enemies of the nano or any iPod.
The first thing we noticed is that unlike other metal or plastic crush-proof cases on the market, OtterBox doesn't prevent you from controlling your nano when it's safe inside the case. The nano ClickWheel is protected by a thin plastic membrane which allows relatively consistent and easy control of the nano's various command modes through the case. Folks with longer nails or bigger fingers may find they have to work a bit harder and practice a bit m ore because of the thick framing around the edge of the command zone to get the hang of scrolling and selecting.
Our concerns that another layer of plastic over the small viewing screen would diminish the viewing pleasure were squelched quickly. Even behind a plastic window, the nano's screen appeared bright and was easy to view.
We loved the waterproof headphone connection which made it possible to plug in and use any headphone – including aftermarket ones with a standard mini-stereo plug designed to be waterproof. The belt clip on the back of the plastic case has what look like butterfly wings on each side, designed so the headphone cord can be easily wrapped around and secured in place – perfect for stowing when packing the case with nano inside away.
After some serious testing, there is no doubt in our minds that when a nano is inside its OtterBox protective case, it is safe and sound from nearly everything Mother Nature can toss its way. But all that protection does come with a price: bulk.
One of the most wonderful things about a nano is its diminutive size. Put it into an OtterBox and it's like turning a feather into a brick. Whether or not bulk and increased weight is a fair compromise for the protection that the case offers in return will be up to each user. For us, it is – to a point – although one user decided it was too heavy for a really long trail run but loves it for shorter hikes and other less intense endeavors.
Protection raves aside, there are a few very real quibbles that do need correcting before we're ready to say the OtterBox is THE ideal choice for hardcore nano protection.
We'll begin with the belt clip. While it is very secure and easy to slip on a belt (although not off), it has one major failing: No rotation capability. Mobile phone companies quickly realized that if you have a belt clip, you had better add the ability for the clip to rotate or the phone will simply get in the way of bending body parts, seat belts and airplane seats. Same goes for the nano. Forget trying to sit comfortably with the nano on, unless you move it well over to the side, which is just not comfortable if you are trying to wear it and sit in a confined space, like an airplane or train seat for example. Too, for those who want to simply clip the nano to a strap on a treadmill or indoor cycle during a workout, forget it, as with the belt clip's current configuration, the nano screen will display upside down.
Which brings us to the neck cord: Apparently the OtterBox designers never actually used the nano case, as they quickly would have realized that if it is hanging from the provided neck cord, it hangs upside down. Perfect if you are trying to show the screen to a friend, but not so cool if you are trying to use the nano case yourself – lift it up in front of you and it's upside down! Next iteration we suggest the strap go on the other end of the case so the person wearing the nano case can see and control it.
A couple of other very minor quibbles: The neck cord detaches far too easily, making it possible to open the case, and then snap it closed with the one end of the cord no longer properly connected. If this occurs while you are leaning over the edge of the boat, you can at least be comforted in knowing your nano is waterproof … as it floats away in the tide or current. And there's no easy way to access the "lock" button on the nano once it's inside the case, which prevents the nano from being accidentally turned on or off without opening the case.
*Review addition (May 25, 2007): 2nd Generation Nanos (the colored ones) do not fit in the original Nano OtterBox cases. So, SNEWS tested the new Nano 2nd Generation OtterBox. We live with our OtterBox casings and have tested them in severe dust, heavy rain, dropped them in wet mud, and more. Bottom line, just as with the original Nano OtterBox, the 2nd Generation protects your Nano like no other box we've tested. Our quibbles in design (damn thing hangs upside down still) noted in the first version still remain though...perhaps the OtterBox engineers will actually use what they've created soon so next verion will see design improvements.
SNEWS® Rating: 3.5 hands clapping (1 to 5 hands clapping possible, with 5 clapping hands representing functional and design perfection)
Suggested Retail: $40
For more information: www.otterbox.com