Review: Nike Nike+ Sport Armband for iPod nano
Pros: A mostly black armband with adjustable Velcro straps and nearly complete iPod nano protection. As with earlier version, Pro Compression fabric looks and feels very good, offering great comfort. Reasonable pricing. Compatible with Nike+iPod Sport Kit.
Cons: iPod nano’s screen is impossible to see inside, and by contrast with numerous armbands that include screen protectors, removal of the nano for screen use while you’re working out is annoying and inconvenient. Though armband is physically compatible with oversized headphones while in fully-encased use, Apple-sized headphone port hole creates additional annoyances every time you need to remove iPod. Single color scheme nicely matches one of Nike’s shoe designs, but may not appeal to some users.
Seven months ago, we reviewed the Nike Sport Armband (iLounge rating: B), a moisture-wicking bicep mount for the iPod nano or shuffle, concluding that while Nike had aced certain aspects of iPod armband design, it had forced prospective users to compromise on nano screen access, universal arm fit, and price. The Sport Armband had a milky, screen-blurring face guard, an odd two-size (Small/Medium, Medium/Large) fit system without Velcro adjustability, and a surprisingly high $40 price tag. If it fit your arm and you could afford it, great, but there were plenty of other, less expensive options with better nano screen access and greater sizing versatility.
With this past week’s release of the Nike+iPod Sport Kit (iLounge rating: A-) and matching Nike+ apparel, the company has gone back to the drawing board for the confusingly-named Nike Sport Armband for iPod nano ($30) - confusing in that the box uses that name, which is basically the same name as the earlier armband, but web sites such as Apple’s online store call this the Nike+ Sport Armband. The latter name is obviously more appropriate. If you’re calling stores to find one, you’ll know they have the new version if the box’s back or clear front face reveals a Nike Swoosh and Plus logo. Otherwise, it’s the prior Sport Armband, which you might actually want to buy: in our view, the new version is a significant downgrade from its predecessor.
There are some positives to report. We liked the original Sport Armband’s looks and comfort - on regular-sized arms - and the new version is similarly good in these regards. The Nike+ version is still mostly black, and also still uses the company’s stretchable, comfortable Pro Compression Fabric, features that virtually everyone will like. It is sized to not only fit the Nike+iPod Sport Kit’s nano receiver, but fully cover it inside. Rather than trying to produce the Armband in two different sizes, Nike now just includes a resizeable Velcro adjustable fit system with plenty of Velcro and enough give in the fabric to accommodate all but the smallest or largest arms. And the Nike+ Sport Armband now sells for a more reasonable $30 - the same price that Nike dropped the original version down to at some point after our earlier review. These were all good moves - enough to entice many people to consider the Sport Armband alongside numerous existing competitors.
Unfortunately, a few design decisions make the new armband less universally appealing than before - one decision far more so than the others. Most trivially, the Nike+ Sport Armband now comes in only a black and red-colored version, with the red more prominent here than on the neutral gray-accented earlier design. Based on the reader responses we’ve seen across numerous past armbands, we don’t think that most people will care too much about the red splashes, and those users with matching Nike+ black and red Moire sneakers or orange-accented alternatives may actually like the new color. But many - probably most - potential users will absolutely hate another dimension of the new design: it completely covers your nano’s screen. And it shrinks the case’s headphone port hole down to a small, Apple headphone-friendly size that could be an issue for users with larger-than-Apple-sized headphone plugs.
These factors might not seem like much of a problem at first, but when you actually run with the Armband and the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, they turn out to be significant. You’re forced to rely on the Kit’s voice feedback, which only comes intermittently unless you reach over and press the iPod’s center button, and isn’t provided at all for access to most of the nano’s other features. The case makes it obvious through a recessed, elevated, and gray icon-tagged mimicing of the iPod’s Click Wheel where the button should be during “normal position use,” but if you try to move the iPod partially out of the case to pause a workout, change your music, or otherwise see the screen, the iPod’s controls are completely obscured and rendered confusing by the opaque black fabric. If you’re using unusual headphones, you’ll find this frequently necessary task especially grating. Trying to calibrate the Sport Kit’s sensor with the nano inside the Sport Armband was only one of the examples of simple iPod tasks rendered chore-like by this design; since the Sport Kit provides even more reasons to want screen visibility than before, the Armband’s design literally makes its use unpleasant - entirely, unnecessarily so - an issue that plagues all of the other new Nike+ nano-pocketed, screenless apparel we’ve seen.
Why would Nike downgrade the Nike+ Sport Armband from its predecessor’s better face design? Perhaps it didn’t want to build clear screen protectors into all of its clothes, and limited the Armband for consistency. Whatever the reason, it was a bad move, and one that will only be acceptable to the sort of power runner or workout user who just presses play and hardly interacts with his or her iPod on the go. Everyone else - the Sport Kit walker, some treadmill users, and non-Sport Kit users - will suffer for it. Based on the wide variety of good iPod nano armband alternatives out there, we were inclined to rate the new Sport Armband as “bad” overall, but when its comfort, generally good looks and reasonable pricing are taken into account, alongside the fact that it’s being marketed towards some people who may not need frequent nano screen access, we think it just barely qualifies as OK, the mark of our C- rating. We wouldn’t buy it, or recommend it to anyone over top Incase or Marware options we’ve tested, but it’s not entirely bad - just a narrowly-appealing offering from a company that has made other, much more impressive iPod-related moves this week.