Review: Belkin Sport Armband for iPhone
Put aside for a moment the question of whether people will want to use armbands to carry their iPhones while jogging or working out -- some readers think not, but as history has shown, there's always a demand for armbands and other sports accessories for Apple's media players, no matter how large or small they may be. Consequently, it's no surprise that Belkin and Incase have already released iPhone-specific armbands, and others, such as Griffin, are working on alternatives for release later this year.
Belkin’s Sport Armband for iPhone ($30, also known as Armband for iPhone) is the simplest design of the ones we’ve seen, but undeniably attractive in its minimalist approach. Though its package is comparatively threadbare—Belkin has designed an all-in-one neoprene iPhone case and armband that cannot be detached from one another, with a single thin metal O-ring for adjustment of the Velcro and neoprene band—what’s there is nice.
Sport Armband’s advantages over the Incase design are instantly apparent. Belkin includes an integrated, full-face screen protector to keep iPhone’s face from getting dirty or sweaty while you’re working out, and rings the screen with silver reflective fabric in case you’re out running at night. You slide the iPhone into a thin slit at its top, which physically denies you access to the device’s speakers, microphone, and Dock Connector ports, but still enables you to hear audio played at any volume level through the bottom speaker, slightly muffled, or through the headphone port, which is totally unencumbered.
Use of iPhone’s face controls is moderately encumbered by the protector, which forces you to use some pressure to achieve button presses and multi-point web page or photo resizing. But the protector does more good than harm, and doesn’t prevent you from accessing iPod music, the screen unlock feature, the Home button, or other iPhone features. Complete coverage of iPhone’s body other than its top is offset by markings for where the side volume buttons should be, and generally are; the only complaint some users will have is that the case isn’t fully water-safe due to its slightly open top.
The armband design is also pretty good: in addition to the standard Velcro resizing mechanism found in most iPod armbands, Belkin has included a small key pocket that’s capable of easily holding a typical gym key or just squeezing in a house key, but not large enough for common or uncommon car keys. This pocket could stand to be a bit larger, and its perforated bottom isn’t likely to be durable if exposed frequently to rough key edges. It’s also worth noting that the armband isn’t quite as large as some we’ve seen, and thus isn’t the best choice for people with huge biceps, and doesn’t have the weaving or breathing holes found in some armbands to lessen moisture buildup. Still, it’s a comfortable first-generation iPhone armband, and one that most users will find easy to wear and enjoy. As noted in the separate Incase review, Sport Armband has a taut fit, as it stabilizes iPhone’s entire back on your arm, versus Incase’s slightly looser attached-to-iPhone-via-belt-clip armband design. Some users will prefer one fit or the other; we leaned slightly towards the firmer feel of the Belkin design.
All-in-all, the choice of iPhone armbands presently is more a matter of personal preference and one’s ability to accept compromises than it is a selection of one decidedly better option over another. Belkin’s slightly less expensive Sport Armband provides superior iPhone protection, generally cleaner looks, a small key storage pocket, and a single arm mounting solution that will work for most users. For $5 more, Incase’s Sports Multifunction provides a wider variety of carrying and wearing options, including the ability to pocket or belt clip a fairly standard iPhone case, but its design isn’t as slick or protective against sweat, the elements, or grime as Belkin’s. Those needing iPhone armbands will be fine with either of these options, but if you’re in need of a water-safe design, you may want to hold out a little longer for a more protective and refined second-generation armband solution.