Review: Belkin SportCommand Fabric Remote for iPod
Pros: A thoughtfully designed sports remote control, armband, hook, and receiver package that uses durable, weather- and tear-resistant fabric remote components that can be worn on your arm or elsewhere on clothing while your iPod’s safely inside a jacket or other pocket. Buttons are easy to use with or without gloves; receiver works from distances greater than product’s promised 50 feet away.
Cons: Twice the price of leading non-sports RF remotes; receiver lacks Dock Connector pass-through, and therefore isn’t as useful indoors as its top non-sports competitors.
Over the last two weeks, we’ve had the opportunity to compare three new accessories designed for the same purpose: they’re all wireless remote controls designed for athletic use outdoors. Belkin has released SportCommand ($80, iLounge rating: B+), while Monster Cable has released iEZClick ($70, iLounge Rating: B-) and Scosche has released the 150’ Wireless RF Sport Remote ($80, iLounge rating: B), each pairing an RF (radio frequency) remote control with a Velcro armband and iPod-mounted receiver. You plug your earphones into your iPod, connect the receiver to the iPod’s bottom Dock Connector plug, and then stow your iPod inside your ski jacket, bike shirt or shorts, or elsewhere away from harm. The remote provides you with wrist or bicep-level access to the iPod’s track, play/pause and volume controls, reducing your need to use its screen or Click Wheel, and the receiver drains only modestly from your iPod’s battery, requiring none of its own.
While these remotes are similar in concept, they’re different enough in execution that you’ll be surprised by how they perform relative to each other, so we’ve put collective conclusions at the end for your reference. For more pictures and details for each individual unit, check out our separate reviews linked above.
There’s no doubt in our minds that SportCommand is the most thoughtfully designed sports remote of the three. Though the two-piece neoprene and Velcro armband is a predictable element of the package, allowing you to expand the remote from wrist to bicep-sized with a jacket on, the actual remote is anything but what you might expect: made from a resilient, water- and tear-resistant fabric, it spreads out clearly labeled play/pause, volume, and track forward/backward buttons across a large front surface, which is easy to use no matter whether you’re working with bare fingers or thick gloves. The remote is almost entirely soft, save for a large, easy to remove battery compartment on its bottom front, with an integrated light to let you know the remote is working and sending commands.
Another interesting thing about SportCommand its its inclusion of a small metal carabiner hook. This mightn’t make sense at first, but a peek at the rear of the fabric remote - which can be fully detached from the included armband - reveals that there’s a loop for the hook, which then attaches anywhere else on your clothes. Its light weight and thinness makes it about as easy to wear as a ski tag when attached to the hook, a really smart addition to the design.
Unlike Scosche and Monster, Belkin’s performance claims for SportCommand are fairly modest: it says that the remote can work at a maximum, unobstructed distance of 50 feet from the receiver, which is the most unusually shaped of the bunch - a white and gray dongle that keeps the actual receiving hardware separate from the iPod’s body, and any possible interference from the iPod hardware or its metal casing. But in our testing, SportCommand was the strongest RF performer of this group, working at distances of at least 50 feet - more like 80 - which is solid by RF standards, but not the best we’ve ever seen. Whether you’re using it with your clothes or with an iPod laying on a table, it works well.
The only omission from SportCommand relative to its competitors is a pass-through Dock Connector port on its receiver. Scosche includes such a port, allowing you to use some of the remote’s functions with other Dock Connecting iPod accessories when you’re not outdoors - or conceivably a battery pack when you are - but neither Belkin nor Monster has this ability. As a consequence, the iPod’s headphone port is the only way you can connect speakers when SportCommand is attached, which makes Scosche’s Sport Remote a better pick for dual-purpose remote use, even if it’s not as good outdoors.
Of the three sport remotes, our top pick is Belkin’s SportCommand: it’s the easiest to use outdoors no matter where you want to wear it on your arm, or elsewhere on your clothes, has the best overall button and remote design, and has the strongest broadcasting power of the bunch: good enough to work from a couple of rooms away, indoors or outdoors. Scosche’s Sport Remote is second, benefitted by strong broadcasting power and a pass-through Dock Connector port that’s great for when you’re not outdoors, and limited primarily by its overaggressive name, too-small buttons, and a somewhat cheaper-looking design. Monster’s iEZClick is third, with big buttons that unfortunately come inside a chunky enclosure that’s the least powerful broadcaster, and not well-suited to indoor use.
Why didn’t any of these remotes receive our high recommendation? Pricing. At $80 for the SportCommand or Sport Remote, and $70 for iEZClick, we can’t help but feel as if all three of these accessories are just too expensive for what they are - armband-equipped versions of last year’s $40 iPod RF remote controls. In our view, Belkin’s thoughtfully designed, versatile and legitimately useful SportCommand comes the closest to earning its price, but none of the three is a complete replacement for the best non-sports RF remotes we’ve seen.