Review: Apple iPod shuffle Sport Case
Pros: Beautiful iPod shuffle-enhancing clear hard plastic case that improves upon the designs of Contour’s great full-sized iPod Showcases, accenting shuffle’s design with a thin strip of color. Provides water-resistance and sportier lanyard necklace, wisely includes shuffle headphone port extender.
Cons: Lanyard isn’t detachable unless you cut it off.
Can iPod shuffle hard case design get any better than this?
Apple has an unfair advantage when it comes to designing iPod accessories: it has access to brand new iPod designs months before its competitors, and could easily design and sell many of the coolest-looking add-ons without anyone else’s assistance. In so doing, however, it would destroy the entire “iPod economy,” which like the Macintosh community benefits tremendously from the efforts of millions of dedicated fans.
That said, it’s nice to see the company flex its accessory design muscles once in a while on something other than power adapters and cables. The iPod shuffle Sport Case ($29) is a near masterstroke of accessory design, proving that Apple’s always watching third-party developers - and planning ways to do them one better. It has the scratch protectiveness and general look of Contour Design’s awesome, mostly transparent Showcases for full-sized iPods, only with smarter color accenting, rubber-sealed controls and edges, and a few other surprises.
First among them: the company’s unexpected inclusion of a small (4.75”) headphone port extender cable that matches the iPod’s ubiquitous earbuds. It’s there to solve a problem we’ve seen already in prototype shuffle cases - “what about third-party headphones with bigger plugs than the iPod’s slender pack-ins?” Apple’s answer - plug the headphone port at the top of the case so that the case is sealed, extend the port just a little bit, and let people use whatever headphones they like. It’s an impressive solution because no other case maker has bothered to do it. But then, few have the resources to do it, either.
Next is the case’s general approach to protection. Two clear plastic halves are joined at the center by a hinge that encircles a white plastic center and the Sport Case’s integrated lanyard necklace. One half - the front - has a bright orange rubber seal that outlines the entire case, including a circle around the headphone jack. The same half has a circular rubber cover for the shuffle’s Control Pad, with painted icons matching the originals. Five rubber buttons poke through the case’s hard plastic front, and touch the shuffle’s face when inserted inside. The rear half of the Sport Case is plain clear plastic.
Apple’s surprise is in the locking mechanism. Contour has used hinge locks, but Apple uses two textured white plastic slide locks - one on each side next to the Control Pad. Slide them into place and green dots appear to let you know the case is safely closed. When locked, the case feels as tight and secure as can be.
And it looks cool. Very cool. iLounge’s editors have an unhealthy love for orange, white, and gray - some of us more than others - but even the least orange-influenced of us thinks that the Sport Case’s use of colors is superb. It adds just enough of a sporty look to the simple body of the shuffle, and the integrated white fabric lanyard even features touches of the same color. Plus, only Apple would bother to put the green dots on the slide locks; it probably cost a bit more to add those two painted touches to the body, but it was worth it.
Controlling the shuffle inside is pretty easy. All five buttons on the front work without a problem - they’re not super sensitive, but also aren’t hard to use. However, Apple consciously decided not to expose the shuffle’s rear power switch or battery indicator button - most likely because there was no elegant and properly protective solution. We can live with that. It’s very easy to pop the case’s locks open to turn the shuffle on and off or see the battery light in action. If someone figures out a better way to handle this, we’ll be the first to commend them for it.
Apple touts the sport case as “shelter… from the elements,” and says you can use it “at the beach, by the pool, or on a rainy day jog.” The implication is that the case is water-resistant, not water-tight, the difference being that you can safely splash a water-resistant case with rain or other water, but you can’t “dunk it in the pool” or “use it in the ocean.” It’s a low threshold to meet, but the Sport Case meets it. Combined with headphones or the headphone adapter cord, the rubber seal and plastic body are fully sufficient to protect the shuffle under any weather conditions - something that’s not a given for an unprotected iPod given small and large holes in the body.
The seal was so good, in fact, that the case survived a couple of underwater dunk and submersion tests without wetting the shuffle inside. While neither Apple nor we recommend it - and even we were skittish about trying it - we would feel comfortable accidentally dropping the case in a pool with the headphones attached… so long as we knew we could grab the lanyard quickly and pull it out.
Our single small reservation concerns the lanyard. On the bright side, it’s just as long as the one that comes with the iPod shuffle. But also like Apple’s stock iPod shuffle lanyard, you can’t remove it unless you cut it off - or pull off the lanyard USB cap, which isn’t an option on the Sport Case. Third-party lanyard makers have already solved that problem by using two metal halves that screw together; we wish Apple had done the same. But those who don’t like the lanyard always have the option of snipping it off permanently, and/or buying a detachable replacement such as the third-party Sport Rope.
In recent weeks, we’ve said that we think Apple’s other shuffle accessories are a bit overpriced, but we’re far less price-sensitive about add-ons that are both unique and special. By that standard, Apple’s iPod shuffle Sport Case is definitely the most valuable of the $29 shuffle accessories we’ve reviewed so far. It’s a perfect case for people who want some extra shuffle style or protection, yet still want to show off the iconic white bodies of their new toys. Now let’s see these in a few more colors - blue would be especially welcome.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.