Review: Kenpo MKT-07 Jacket for iPod
Pros: The most affordable piece of outerwear yet to feature electronic iPod integration, with five remote control buttons integrated into the user’s left sleeve, connected neatly to an iPod pocket inside. Fleece lining and nice design make the jacket both comfortable and practically wearable. Available in two colors - black and silver - as well as five sizes. Machine washable or dry cleanable.
Cons: Silver-on-silver buttons can be hard to see. Automatic button press timer requires activation of the entire button control panel after seven seconds of inactivity, which may be inconvenient under certain circumstances. Though inexpensive by comparison with iPod jackets made by large snowboarding companies, next best option is a comparatively inexpensive wired or wireless remote control, though this solution provides substantially better integration.
While Kenpo’s new MKT-07 Jacket for iPod ($275) isn’t the first piece of outerwear to offer electronic iPod integration - Burton and O’Neill have released similar products called Amp and Hub/H2 - it’s one of the most affordable iPod jackets we’ve seen, retailing for around half the original asking prices of the snowboard companies’ products. Since this is a piece of clothing, strongly subject to personal tastes, our discussion of its appearance and utility as a jacket will be limited. If you’re comfortable with how it looks in the photos here and on Kenpo’s web site, you’ll mostly want to know how its iPod functionality works. So other than mentioning that we preferred the look of Kenpo’s black version of this jacket to the silver one we tested, we’ll say that we’re confident that you won’t look like a fool wearing either of them - a good starting point for any wearable iPod accessory. We also found the jacket to be comfortable during extended outdoor use; the MKT07 is fleece-lined and ready for at least light winter temperatures, and sold in five sizes (S to XXL) for iPod owners of varying frames.
MKT-07 uses an iPod electronics system developed by Eleksen, maker of a number of innovative fabric electronic products, to integrate the equivalent of Apple’s original iPod Remote directly into one of the jacket’s sleeves. What’s unique here is that Kenpo and Eleksen have deftly hidden both the remote circuitry and buttons, making them all but invisible to both the wearer and outside observers. By contrast, earlier jackets from Burton and O’Neill made their iPod control panels stick out: an array of five buttons was easy to see on the jackets’ sleeves, and pressing them had the exact same effect as using Apple’s wired Remote. Kenpo’s panel of buttons is functionally the same - volume up, volume down, track backward, play/pause, and track forward - but it’s so faint on your left forearm that you won’t spot it unless you look carefully. This is clearly by design, but we did have to use the flash on the photo below to illuminate the buttons enough to be photographically visible.
The sleeve buttons connect to several components found in an interior pocket - actually, set of pockets - on your left side. First is a small plastic-tipped ribbon, set atop a small Velcro-capped pocket. The ribbon connects to a detachable black Elek Tex control box, which in our review sample used a white cable to attach electronically to the extended headphone port of a 3G, 4G, or mini iPod. A Kenpo representative told us that a Dock Connector version of the box for 5G iPods and nanos is forthcoming.
In the current version of the MKT07 Jacket, you put your iPod in a larger adjacent pocket, connect your headphones to the Elek Tex box, and close a flap on top of both of the electronics pockets. The placement of the iPod and control box is fairly convenient and comfortable; it’s not easy to pull your iPod out for on-screen navigation, but also not terribly difficult. Ideally, it would be easier to indulge the occasional need for iPod screen access, and we suspect the pocket and Elek Tex design could be adjusted further to make this possible.
When closed, all you see coming out of the pocket is your headphone wire, which runs upwards inside the jacket to your head.
A yellow fabric loop inside the jacket lets you run the headphone cable roughly in parallel with the jacket’s zipper, reducing the small prospect of an inside-jacket tangle. It’s almost unnecessary given that the pocket does such a good job of keeping everything simple, but might be useful if you’re using longer-cabled headphones. Both oversized headphone plugs and longer cables worked properly with the jacket’s cable management system. In any case, your headphones pop out from the jacket’s collar, running into your ears with little other outward appearence that you’re carrying an iPod.
Other than the fact that they’re not always easy for the wearer to find, a point that we consider non-trivial, our only gripe with the buttons is their sensitivity. Eleksen has intentionally designed the buttons to operate on a limiting timer, in an attempt to prevent accidental button presses from wreaking havoc with your music. To activate the entire control panel, you’ll need to hold down the track forward button for 2-3 seconds, then press whichever button you want to use. Multiple button presses within a short period of time will keep the timer from expiring. But after roughly seven seconds of inactivity, you’ll need to re-activate the panel again. There are times when this is useful, and other times when it’s annoying - we’d have preferred a switch to toggle between timed and unrestricted button access, just as we’d get if using a wired Apple Remote.
Similarly, though the interior pocket design could have made occasional iPod screen access a bit easier, we liked the system’s easy-to-use iPod connector system. The only reason Kenpo uses a separate component to connect to the iPod and jacket is washability: the Elek Tex box needs to be removed (along with the iPod) before the jacket is cleaned. A plastic bag is included to hold the box when not in use, and you can machine washing or dry clean the rest of the jacket whenever necessary. Kenpo and Eleksen claim that the jacket’s internals can withstand virtually unlimited cleaning - at least 10,000 cycles - and have no circuitry failures yet to report.
Button visibility and timed use issues aside, we liked the design, comfort, and iPod integration of the MKT-07 jacket, and think that it’s a good early step down the path to a more iPod integrated future. Time will tell whether people prefer to keep iPod buttons as inconspicuous as those here, or whether flaunting the iPod’s earbuds and presence remains as fashionable as it is today. In the meanwhile, we wouldn’t hesitate to recommend the MKT-07 to people who want a simple, generally affordable way to control the playback of 3G, 4G, or mini iPods while outdoors. Those seeking lower-tech, cheaper options, or ones compatible with current-model iPods, can always opt for one of Apple’s remote controls, or wireless ones such as Griffin’s AirClick series.