Review: H2O Audio iN3 Waterproof Case for the iPod nano 3rd Gen
Waterproofing an iPod isn't easy, but it's also not impossible: H2O Audio has been creating truly waterproof, submersible iPod cases for years. The basic concept of most of H2O's cases has remained the same: enclose the iPod inside of a two-piece, almost entirely clear hard plastic shell that has a rubber sealant ring in the center, and a clasp at the top or bottom to hold the pieces firmly together.
What’s unique about H2O’s design is that the case provides full-time access to the iPod’s Click Wheel using a special mechanical control surface called “Commander,” which works even when the iPod’s submerged to a maximum safe depth of 10 feet underwater. Other companies’ waterproof cases tend not to provide completely reliable control underwater, so Commander really makes a difference if you’re trying to change songs, volume, or other iPod settings while you’re swimming or diving.
H2O Audio’s latest iPod case is iN3 ($80), a new and improved third-generation iPod nano version of its past Waterproof Housing for iPod nano. We’re glad to report that, unlike the company’s iV6 Waterproof Case for iPod classic, iN3 isn’t just a modest cosmetic update of an earlier product with a higher price tag.
Instead, iN3 builds upon the features of the past iPod nano Waterproof Housing, adding more value for the same price—still not cheap, but also not as eye-popping as the $100 iV6. As with the prior package, iN3 includes a clear hard plastic case and a black neoprene armband, designed to let you wear the case on your arm while you’re swimming or hand carry it underwater if you prefer. New to the package is a black plastic belt clip with two screws, which can be attached to iN3’s back if you want to wear it on other swimming gear; you also get a spare O-ring in case the one pre-installed inside iN3 wears down. The included belt clip makes iN3 more versatile than the iV6, which is welcome, especially at the lower price.
Though we haven’t had any problems using any of H2O’s recent cases underwater, we went through our standard submersion tests with iN3, and once again found that the case worked just as well as expected: perfectly. Unlike Otter Products’ recent Armor Case for the third-generation nano, which became insensitive to touch controls when submerged in water, the nano’s Click Wheel continued to work just as expected inside iN3. We were able to scroll up and down through songs, videos, volume, and other settings without any issue, and change tracks at any time with the built-in buttons.
Just for sake of completeness, we tested iN3 with both waterproof and non-waterproof headphones, there wasn’t any water intrusion into the case when it was used with the non-waterproof headphones; opening the case revealed a completely dry iPod nano, and no condensation, which is just as it should have been. Of course, the same thing was true with both H2O’s and competing waterproof headphones, though H2O’s provide a more satisfying seal in iN3’s custom pass-through headphone port, and consequently have less of a chance of rusting than generic plugs.
Since it works exactly as expected and now offers even more in the package than its predecessor model, it’s hard to fault the iN3 for anything major: the single sticking point remains the price you’ll need to pay for both the case and a truly waterproof pair of headphones. You can expect the total cost to run around $120, which is close to the price of an iPod nano itself, and considerably higher than the cost of a submersible but not as depth-certified or guaranteed controllable alternative such as the Otter Armor case. In past years, Otter and H2O have been closer to one another in performance, but for now, serious swimmers, surfers, and divers should consider iN3 the smarter pick, even at a higher price: if you need complete iPod nano control underwater with the versatility of belt clip, armband, or hand-holding options, iN3 is the best option we’ve seen, and H2O’s best nano case to date.