Company: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters
Model: Action Jacket mini
Compatible: iPod mini
DLO Action Jacket mini case
Pros: Currently the most protective iPod mini case on the market, serves triple duty out of the box as a case, belt clip case, and armband carrier.
Cons: Bulks up the tiny iPod mini, has several irritating design flaws, and is generally not as good as DLO?s cheaper Jam Jacket Pro for most purposes.
After testing Speck Products’ Mini Skin case, we recently reviewed and really liked DLO’s Jam Jacket mini and Jam Jacket Pro mini - two modestly superior, thin rubber cases also designed to protect the iPod mini. Now we’ve had a chance to test another product from DLO, the Action Jacket mini - an iPod mini case allegedly designed for “action.”
As you might guess from our acerbic use of quotes, we’re not sure how much or what kind of action this case is going to see, especially given that DLO is already offering a better looking, lower priced option - for most users - in the Jam Jacket Pro. Though we’ll offer our own opinion, we’ll leave it for you to decide whether this particular product’s extra features merit your attention.
Neoprene: A Spandex-Like Friend or Foe
Even though we shot down another neoprene case a while back (Tune Belt’s iPod Armband Carrier), we really don’t have a bias against neoprene. Seriously. Despite its protective and elastic qualities, it’s just a hard material to combine with iPods because of its thickness and potential for bulkiness. But it can work if it’s properly tailored and blended with other materials.
Certainly DLO tried hard to accomplish this feat: the Action Jacket mini case has a little bit of everything: the black neoprene body is covered with quality stitching and piping; a Velcro tab closes up the top while leaving the headphone port properly exposed; the bottom has a professional, hard rubber rectangular slot for the iPod mini’s Dock Connector port, and the back of the case includes two fabric straps and a hard plastic nub for a belt clip. The outer sides of the case feature soft rubber grips, and the front of the case is almost entirely comprised of clear vinyl, with a small hole to match the iPod mini’s Click Wheel.
We can say on a positive note that the Action Jacket is surely the most protective case yet released for the iPod mini, thanks to the thickness of the neoprene and the a combination of padding and soft fabric lining on the interior back wall of the case. Though the vinyl face of the Action Jacket lacks the nice elevated rubber anti-shock lips found around the screen and Click Wheel areas of the Jam Jacket Pro, the rest of its sides are better protected, and many users will like how clear the screen looks through the vinyl. Without a doubt, an Action Jacketed mini therefore has overall the best chance of surviving a big drop - at least on its sides or back - than in any other current iPod mini case, though there will surely be competition for that claim in the near future, and face protection probably matters more than side or back protection to most users.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of the Action Jacket’s design is its versatility. DLO includes an arm band and a belt clip with every Action Jacket, and the case can easily go from pocket to belt to exercise companion in a matter of seconds. DLO’s belt clip is a bit on the large and bulky side, but does hold the iPod mini and Action Jacket well. The black arm band is identical to the entirely acceptable one accompanying the Jam Jacket Pro mini, and DLO is now selling separately a small “wristband mini” ($7.99) that attaches to the case, as well. While we’re not quite ready to look like Power Rangers yet with the wristband, at least the option’s there for the curious.
Not as Cool as Action Jackson
Please trust us when we say that we appreciate and respect all the work it took to design and manufacture this case, because we do. But even so, we have to be honest: we really don’t like it, despite the fact that - unlike the Tune Belt - we would feel reasonably comfortable using it for its intended purpose. Several irritants contribute to making the Action Jacket mini a less than ideal product - all of which were addressed better in DLO’s own Jam Jacket Pro.
The first problem: none of the case’s external surfaces feels quite right. After a little bit of pushing and wiggling, an iPod mini will fit into the Action Jacket, but the vinyl front never quite seems to align perfectly with the mini’s Click Wheel. It’s a trivial gripe, and the least of our concerns. Next, and for intentional lack of a better word, the soft rubber sides of the case feel just plain icky to the touch - a weird texture that instantly calls to mind those balls of vending machine green slime kids fling in grade school.
Then there’s the Action Jacket’s back, which in trying to be all things to all users includes a hard plastic belt clip nub in addition to the fabric straps to hold the detachable arm and wrist bands. The fabric straps aren’t a problem, but the hard nub sticks out just enough to be uncomfortable in a pocket. It combines with a hard Velcro surface that unnecessarily covers the entire width of the back, rubbing rough against your finger if you touch the wrong part of the back surface, even when the top latch is closed. Only the top and bottom of the case feel pretty much right, though the top is initially a bit hard to close and the hard rubber rectangular bottom slot is only large enough to accommodate Apple’s official cable connections. (In-car users, beware.)
But the biggest problem is the overall look when you’re done putting your mini inside the case - at least for pocket use. Unlike the comparatively elegant Jam Jacket mini cases, which add almost no thickness to the iPod, the Action Jacket bulks up the mini like a Body Glove cell phone case. This isn’t as much of a problem when it’s used as an armband carrier, but for the 90% of the time you might use the case while doing things other than exercising, the extra bulk just seems unnecessary. And given that there’s a better option out there, it probably is.
Put in perspective, we don’t see the Action Jacket as a superior product to DLO’s cheaper Jam Jacket Pro mini, which also doubles as a workout armband when not serving as a smaller and cooler looking pocketable case. We certainly can’t ignore the fact that the Action Jacket is probably the best overall protective option for iPod mini workout purposes, providing as it does an almost complete and padded enclosure of the mini, and very good screen visibility besides. But when its other potential uses are considered, we wouldn’t choose it over the Jam Jacket Pro - a case which works almost as well for normal workout purposes and looks far better as a non-workout case.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school -ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.