Company: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO)
DLO Action Jacket for iPod shuffle
Pros: Highly protective iPod shuffle armband converts into a stand-alone vulcanized neoprene case with sturdy belt clip, which can be ratcheted 180 degrees into your choice of positions. Full access to the iPod shuffle’s Control Pad.
Cons: No access to the iPod shuffle rear controls or front lights when inside the case, which may modestly limit the Action Jacket’s utility to those who plan to use it as a full-time case outside of workouts.
Is your iPod shuffle disposable? Sacred? Case makers aren’t yet sure how much people value their low-priced shuffles, and even Apple Computer’s own $29 offerings run the gamut from ultra-protective (the iPod shuffle Sport Case) to absolutely not (the iPod shuffle Armband). Contrasting with Apple’s latter offering, DLO’s new Action Jacket ($24.99) is the first truly protective armband alternative for the iPod shuffle, using a somewhat familiar neoprene coating to shield the shuffle’s body from bumps, scratches, and the elements while you exercise.
Though each Action Jacket box comes with two pieces - a neoprene iPod shuffle case and a soft elastic and velcro armband - it would be inappropriate to describe either piece so simplistically. DLO actually took the time to infuse some smart new ideas into each of these familiar items, and the Action Jacket package benefits tremendously as a consequence.
Let’s start with the case. We’ve said before that we’re not huge fans of neoprene cases for full-sized iPods, but we’ve also noted that there are good and bad ways to use neoprene. DLO’s figured out a really good way: vulcanize the entire case. As Apple has demonstrated in its earlier Armbands, the vulcanization (baking) process takes neoprene out of a 1980’s time warp by creating a less Spandex-like, matte texture, and DLO has applied the same concept to the full iPod shuffle’s case design. Action Jackets are thus padded, relatively sophisticated looking, and jet black except for a gray DLO logo on the bottom front - a very nice look overall.
With the exception of a Velcro-tabbed insertion hole at the bottom and a small headphone port hole at the top, the Action Jacket entirely covers the iPod shuffle, permitting full Control Pad access with a vinyl window on its front. There aren’t holes for the shuffle’s LED lights or rear power switch, but under most circumstances - not all - we don’t think people will care. You know the shuffle’s playing if there’s music coming through the headphones, and can easily flip the switch into a position before stuffing the shuffle in the case. For reference, we didn’t have a problem using either Apple’s or third-party headphones with the headphone port hole, which has been an issue with some of the iPod shuffle cases we’ve seen.
The other impressive innovation on the Action Jacket case is a sturdy, attractive rear belt clip that actually rotates 180 degrees in six ratcheting steps. If you want to clip the Action Jacket case to your belt or shorts, you can, and you can position your shuffle’s headphone port wherever you prefer. It’s a smart design.
Then there’s the armband. In addition to the fact that it’s softer and more comfortable than most of the elastic armbands we’ve seen - only a hint shy of Apple and Speck’s vulcanized neoprene bands - DLO has included an elastic loop that lets you integrate the Action Jacket’s belt clip with the armband for a secure fit. We had no problem making the armband fit on different-sized arms, and really liked the way it looked and felt overall.
Is it as glamorous as Apple’s own iPod shuffle Armband? Maybe not - by a small factor, and certainly not for lack of trying. Thanks to its heavy use of vulcanized neoprene, it’s as good-looking as any neoprene arm band we’ve ever seen. But you can’t argue with its added protectiveness and resilience. If your iPod shuffle happens to get scratched or bumped while in Apple’s Armband, or if it starts raining while you’re jogging, you’re in trouble. DLO’s design eliminates those threats, and looks good doing it, too.
Best of all is the price. At $24.99, the Action Jacket delivers a better value than Apple’s offering, with the added multi-purpose utility of a detachable, belt clippable case and its separate armband. As we’ve said before with earlier iPods, neoprene isn’t the coolest way to tote around an iPod, but DLO’s aesthetic on this one isn’t unnecessarily bulky or outdated in any way. We wouldn’t totally avoid taking the case alone out in public outside of exercising, as we would with some of the earlier full-sized iPod neoprene cases we’ve tested.
Overall, the Action Jacket is a generally superior armband to Apple’s own first-party offering, at a more attractive price - just the sort of product we like to see. While it’s not as visually slick as Apple’s minimalist design, it’s more protective. And it only lacks for the ability to access the iPod shuffle’s rear controls and front lights - issues that will only matter if you plan to use the case a lot outside of its primary “Action” armband application. That minor inconvenience is the only reason it falls short of a flat A grade; regardless, it still comes highly recommended in our book.