Review: Incase Sports Multifunction 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.
Other than the facts that it includes an armband and is washable, Incase’s approach with Sports Multifunction for iPhone ($35) is almost completely different from Belkin’s Sport Armband ($30, reviewed separately). Unlike the Sport Armband, Incase gives you four separate pieces in its package: an case, a detachable armband, a detachable handstrap, and a clear film protector for iPhone’s face*. Together, they offer more versatility than Belkin’s design, but they don’t do as good a job of protecting the iPhone. [Editor’s Note: Subsequent to our review, Incase contacted us to let us know that clear screen protectors are not being included with Sports Multifunction cases, despite what we found in our box and a reference on the back of the package to “Clear screen protection,” which the company says is a typographical error. We’re leaving the rest of our review as-was, but readers should not expect to find screen protectors in their boxes.]
Rather than attempting to cover iPhone’s entire body, the case leaves its top even more open than Belkin’s design, also exposing its camera, ringer switch, and all of its top rear and side corners. Holes are also left for iPhone’s proximity sensor, speakers, microphone, and Dock Connector port, plus its whole screen and Home button. A Velcro tab at the top needs to be pulled tight to properly hold the case closed and align the top speaker and proximity sensor holes; when that’s done, the case bulges a little at the edges of iPhone’s screen, but works properly in phone and other modes.
The difference in case design between Belkin and Incase is a marked one: Incase intends Sports Multifunction to let you use all of iPhone’s features while you’re on the go, while Belkin makes the assumption—a fair one, in our view—that if you’re buying a sports case and an armband, you mightn’t need full-time access to, say, the camera, the ringer switch, or the Dock Connector. We won’t tell you that one of the approaches is smarter than the other, since we can understand the appeal of both types of solutions for different types of users, but even with protective screen film, Incase’s design doesn’t feel as well-suited to keeping the iPhone sweat- and grime-safe as Belkin’s, and neither is as ideal in this regard as the best past iPod sport cases have been.
To Incase’s credit, Sports Multifunction’s eponymous multifunctionality is a strong selling point. For only $5 more than Belkin’s design—and the same price as most of its past sports armbands for full-sized iPods—Incase offers you three ways to wear the iPhone, including the two bands and a firm, non-detachable rear belt clip on the case. Whereas the handstrap is attached using plastic O-rings on the case’s back, the armband holds snugly to the belt clip, and wraps around to provide as much space for a bicep as in Belkin’s armband—again, not as much as we’ve seen in some armbands, but enough for small- to somewhat above-average-sized arms. Both the armband and the case include dark but reflective material, largely concentrated around iPhone’s body, as opposed to elsewhere on the armband, and Incase’s two-piece interlocking design tends to make iPhone bounce a little bit on your arm as you move, versus Belkin’s more taut, skin-hugging design. We’d give Belkin a slight edge here, but opinions will vary, as the Sport Armband places iPhone’s whole back against your skin to gain its reinforcement, which Sports Multifunction does not.
Incase’s other pack-in, the hand strap, is basically an easy way to provide reinforced hand-holding of the iPhone while you’re running. If you’re using the iPhone’s timer feature for runs, frequently changing music, or in some other way interacting often with its controls, the hand strap provides a convenient alternative mounting option that other companies tend to offer in separate products, or ignore altogether. Only Marware has offered a similar pack-in with past iPod armbands, but the company has not yet announced a challenger to Sports Multifunction with that feature. Incase therefore currently stands alone with its iPhone-ready pack-ins.
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 and 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.