Review: Belkin Sport Armband Plus for iPod touch
One month after the release of Apple's new iPod touch, we've had the chance to test thirteen different cases that are in or on their way to stores in the United States. Many of the designs will be familiar to owners of other iPods, but for those who aren't familiar -- and for those who need additional information before making a purchasing decision -- we've created three comparative reviews to give you a big picture look at all of these options. One review focuses on four $20-30 armbands, the next on six $30-35 leather or neoprene cases, and the last on three $15-25 plastic cases.
Clockwise from top left, Belkin Sport Armband Plus, Sport Armband, Griffin Streamline, DLO Action Jacket
Our first review looks at four iPod touch armbands, each based on a previously-released design for an iPod or iPhone. Belkin has the Sport Armband ($20) and Sport Armband Plus ($30) for iPod touch, which are based on the earlier Sport Armband for iPhone. Both of the iPod touch versions start in the same way: they’re made from neoprene, and feature an almost completely closed compartment for the iPod. One slit on the bottom of the Armband’s otherwise fully protective neoprene iPod compartment provides access to touch’s headphone and Dock Connector ports, while clear plastic screen protection is built into the holder. No other part of the iPod is exposed.
Sport Armband’s neoprene is black, while Sport Armband Plus’s neoprene is blue with red accents; we preferred the black version, but tastes will vary. Each one frames the clear plastic face with an O-ring of gray reflective tape, and includes a slightly stretchable, 12” long integrated neoprene armband that can’t be removed from the iPod compartment. Unlike the standard Sport Armband, which uses doubled-over Velcro to adjust the armband’s length, Plus relies on a metal pin for adjustment, such that you move the pin into any one of a series of loops to make the band tighter or looser. Belkin also uses a softer woven backing on Plus’s inside, which slightly improves its comfort on your arm.
There’s one other difference between the Belkin cases. Both designs feature a small pocket, but whereas Sport Armband’s is for a key, Plus’s is designed to hold an included, detachable Cable Capsule that helps you wrap and hide your earbud cables. Though it’s not a necessary pack-in by any means, we liked the Capsule, which uses a nice combination of rubber and hard plastic to flip open and closed, covering your cables, or letting you quickly wrap them outside, as you prefer or find convenient.
DLO’s design, the Action Jacket ($30), is the most different from its current competitors. Like most of DLO’s other Action Jackets, it actually comes with several pieces: the first is a neoprene, standalone iPod case with a full-face clear screen protector, a top with a hole for the Sleep/Wake button, and a bottom with access to the headphone port. The Home button is covered with neoprene, as is the iPod touch’s Dock Connector; you can open a Velcro tab to reveal the Dock Connector and remove touch from the case.
The package also includes a detachable black plastic belt clip, and a separate elastic and Velcro armband; these parts are alternately designed to mount Action Jacket on your waist or bicep during workouts. DLO’s armband is longer than Belkin’s, measuring 17” in length and stretching past that if necessary. Its elastic material is also slightly harsher on the skin, though not objectionably so. Since DLO uses two fabric loops on the case’s rear to attach the armband, the case is secure, and doesn’t bounce back and forth on your arm like some hybrid case-slash-armband designs have in the past.
Finally, there’s Griffin’s Streamline ($30). This is the only armband of the bunch that is designed to work with both the iPod touch and iPhone, which is more for Griffin’s and retailers’ convenience than consumers—few people will have both a touch and an iPhone to use inside. Based upon its previously-released Streamline Armband for iPod, this version still features a clear plastic face, a hard black and reflective gray plastic support rim, and a neoprene back with an integrated Velcro-tipped armband. Griffin’s armband is long and elastic, like DLO’s, but with slightly better adjustability and a slightly coarser elastic fabric.
The iPhone or iPod touch goes in the center neoprene pouch through a slit in the armband’s top; the touch goes in upside down so that you can access its headphone port and dock connector, while the iPhone goes in rightside up, with two slits in the neoprene enabling access to both the headphone port at top and the Dock Connector at the bottom. The extra slit makes it marginally less protective against sweat intrusion than Belkin’s Sport Armbands; it’s on par with the Action Jacket in this regard.
Each of these armbands has one or two advantages over the others. Judged solely on practicality, we liked the Action Jacket the best of the bunch, as it not only offers the greatest versatility thanks to its ability to be pocketed, belt clipped, or bicep-mounted, but also does better than certain past Action Jackets on iPod protection. With the exception of its unnecessary Sleep/Wake button hole—a marking would have sufficed—and touch’s exposed bottom left corner, it does a great job of covering every part of the new iPod, while enabling any pair of headphones to work, and providing easy play-through access to the screen and Home button. We found touchscreen and button access to be problem-free, and though neoprene cases aren’t our favorites, DLO’s vulcanized material looks and feels better than most.
Putting aside its iPod touch and iPhone compatibility, Streamline has only one advantage: the added adjustability of its armband. It’s the only one of the bunch to include a second O-ring to double back some of its elastic rather than leaving extra armband to flap in the wind. That said, we found Griffin’s armband less comfortable than DLO’s and Belkin’s, thanks mostly to the added width of the hard plastic iPod touch and iPhone frame, and a little to the comparatively narrow Streamline armband. We also found Streamline the most difficult to remove the touch from, though the touch was as easy to use as in Action Jacket while inside.
Both of Belkin’s Sport Armbands have benefits, too. We strongly preferred the look and feel of the standard $20 black version to Griffin’s $30 Streamline; the added small key pouch and more comfortable neoprene armband were both factors, as were Belkin’s superior touch enclosure protectiveness and much easier iPod touch removal. Both versions of Sport Armband recess touch’s screen under a little padding, making button presses a hint more demanding than the other designs, but not enough to bother most users.
The Plus version’s $10 premium buys the good but not necessary cord managing Capsule, as well as armband tweaks that we’d characterize as minor but for two facts: the metal pin system used by Plus actually gives you an inch or two of additional circumference that the Sport Armband lacks, and Sport Armband is only just large enough for medium-sized mens’ arms. Bigger-armed users will definitely be better off with Plus, but best served by DLO or Griffin’s armbands. Notably, none of the armbands uses a perforated or otherwise especially breathable armband design, and none provides full waterproof protection of the iPod touch; if you need either of these features, you may want to wait for the next round of options.
In our view, DLO’s multi-purpose Action Jacket and Belkin’s standard Sport Armband are the best of this bunch of iPod touch armbands: even at a higher price, we think the Action Jacket’s a little better because of its longer, detachable armband and the quality of its case design, which despite small omissions merit our high recommendation. Sport Armband’s $20 price - lower than the highly similar iPhone version - makes it a great deal for people with small- and medium-sized arms; the Plus version’s higher price, weaker color scheme, and small tweaks make it a bit less attractive. Of the bunch, Streamline strikes us as offering the least advantages relative to its competitors; if you can find it at a discount, really like its looks, or need something for both the iPod touch and iPhone, it might be worth re-considering.