Review: Nike Amp+ iPod nano Remote for Nike + iPod Sport Kit
Pros: A next-generation iPod remote control that doubles as a fashionable unisex digital watch, with attractively futuristic yet subtle styling. Clock and iPod control icons look cool on hidden 7-by-5 LED screen. Enables easy control of the iPod nano’s power, track, play/pause, and volume features through intuitive button design, as well as access to Nike + iPod Sport Kit-specific audio feedback and PowerSong features. Generally simple setup. Available in four color combinations, each with stainless steel clasps.
Cons: Requires purchase of Nike + iPod Sport Kit, bringing total price to expensive level, especially given that remote cannot be used with other iPod accessories such as speakers. Resizing of band to fit different wrist sizes is a little tricky and requires you to cut through plastic. Won’t completely eliminate some users’ need to look at nano’s screen.
It would be an understatement to call Nike’s Amp+ iPod nano Remote ($79) the coolest and most misunderstood iPod accessory introduced in the past year. The bracelet, which is sold in four colors—blue, green with orange, black with red, or black with graphite—is a watch, an iPod remote control, and a fashion statement. Give it a quick glance from a distance and you’d think it’s just an extra-wide Lance Armstrong LiveStrong wristband, but get up close and you begin to realize that Nike has crafted an understated and underpromoted work of design genius: a wearable, functional add-on for the iPod that doesn’t make the user look or feel like an idiot.
Let’s skip straight to the biggest pieces of bad news here: Amp+ only works with the iPod nano, and actually depends on you to already have the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, a $29 add-on set that adds a tiny wireless receiver to the nano and a runner-friendly sensor to your sneakers. Consequently, your total cost to buy and use Amp+ is going to be around $110, which is really high by iPod remote control standards, and a number that’s frankly not justified by the device’s remote functionality alone. Nike has included a simple five-button controller that’s exactly like the iPod shuffle’s Control Pad, plus two side-mounted buttons—one that’s Sport Kit-specific, the other not. If you’re wearing your nano on an armband, or holding it in your hand while you run, you have little to no need for Amp+.
Except for the fact that Nike has made Amp+ nearly irresistible as a futuristic watch—assuming that you like one of the color options. Its right-side button can be pressed to reveal a set of 35 red LED dots that are hidden under the bracelet’s urethane plastic surface in a 7 wide by 5 tall array. That button makes the current time’s hour appear, scroll off, and get replaced by the current minutes, which then dissolve—an effect that is so undeniably cool that you’ll be willing, at least temporarily, to ignore the slight inconvenience of needing to press the button every time you want to see the clock. Holding down the clock button lets you reprogram Amp+ for 12- or 24-hour time and reset the time.
As simple as the iPod nano remote control functionality may be, it just makes sense in a device of this sort. Though it’s easy to describe, it’s not as simple to actually wrap the equivalent of an Apple remote around a wrist, add a clock to it, and make it look good enough that normal people would wear it. Workout purposes aside, Nike’s black designs in particular offer a perfect, inconspicuous way to let theft-conscious iPod nano users control playback, volume, and power on/off status without pulling something out of their pockets; the blue and green versions are a bit more eye-catching, but still not identifiable as “iPod accessories.”
The one major Nike addition to Apple’s standard remote formula is the Sport Kit-specific button, which can be pressed during a Nike+ workout to activate the device’s audio feedback, or held down to trigger playback of your PowerSong. Hitting any of the non-clock buttons triggers a brief light show on the red LEDs to show what you’ve pressed, unnecessary but cool eye candy that visually confirms what you’re hearing in your ears. In our testing, Amp+ worked flawlessly to control an iPod nano 30 feet away—more than enough distance given that users will be keeping the nano much closer when connected to the Sport Kit. Conversely, it must be noted that you can’t use this particular remote with other iPod accessories, since the Sport Kit occupies the nano’s Dock Connector port and doesn’t include a pass-through for connection for speakers. It’s very specific to a particular usage model: the iPod nano as a portable, out-and-about device.
One other practical issue that bears mention—and the reason Amp+ most demands a sequel—is the accessory’s actual utility during workouts. There are two schools of thought regarding access to the iPod nano’s screen during runs: some people feel that the nano’s on-screen text and song selection features are highly desirable even when they’re running, while others need nothing more than the Sport Kit’s audio feedback and the ability to change the volume or tracks every once in a while. If you’re in the latter camp, Amp+ doesn’t need assistance to serve your needs. But some users might prefer a persistent, more complex on-bracelet display that lets you track your time or access other iPod information while you’re running. For now, those users will need to look at and use the nano itself, and perhaps a cheaper armband would better serve their needs.
Setup of Amp+ is almost entirely without issues—except for one. From an iPod nano connection standpoint, it could hardly be easier. Assuming you’re using the latest iPod nano firmware (1.0.3 or newer), the Sport Kit’s settings menu will include a Remote option, which you turn on, then “pair” with a couple of button taps. That’s it; Amp+ works as a remote whether or not you’re using the Sport Kit’s workout modes. You don’t need to be walking around with Nike+ shoes or the shoe-mounted sensor in order to control music playback.
Our single functional gripe about Amp+ is in how you set it up for your own wrist. Presumably to keep costs down, Nike uses stainless steel for the wrist clasp and for the back of the watch, but otherwise is using a simple plastic band that’s been molded in an O shape to fit a slightly above average man’s wrist size—it can’t be made big enough to fit huge wrists, but it can shrink enough to fit others, assuming you have a scissors handy. We found the process of opening the metal wrist clasp for adjustment to be a real pain, and the idea of snipping off pieces of the wristband to be a bit unsavory, even though Nike’s tried to make the wrist-measuring process easier with an included paper measurement tool.
Once that’s been done, though, Amp+ looks, feels, and works great—so much so that we’re going to continue to use it as a watch even without the Sport Kit, the major reason we can generally tolerate the price tag. Nike’s come up with a form factor so enticing that it’s easy to picture the next generation of iPod shuffles utilizing the same general design, and equally easy to imagine Nike evolving Amp+ into subsequent products with persistent clock faces and even more iPod control features. It goes without saying that we’d like to see the Sport Kit, and thus Amp+, work with other iPods and iPhones as well. While we hope that Apple and Nike heed these requests, there’s no doubt in our minds that the current version of Amp+ is one of the best iPod nano accessories we’ve yet seen. Thanks to a great wearable design that we’d take any day over the iPod jackets, shirts, and cabled remotes we’ve tried, it’s highly recommendable, and deserving of more attention than it has received.