Review: H2O Audio Amphibx Fit Waterproof Armband for iPhone
Given the huge price premiums that accessory makers have been able to charge over the years for waterproof custom-fit iPod cases, it's something of a surprise that dunk-resistant iPhone accessories hadn't appeared en masse three years ago -- even today, they're still few and far between. So while waterproofing expert H2O Audio's new iPhone-ready armband Amphibx Fit ($60) isn't the first product of its kind, the total number of alternatives can be counted on one hand, and H2O has been competing more against itself at this point than other worthy rivals. Thankfully, its continued interest in improving its products has led to another worthwhile design, though one that's not as flashy as its predecessors.
Amphibx Fit is the sequel to Amphibx, a two-year-old $80 waterproof armband that was designed to work with iPods and iPhones at a time when equally waterproof microphone-laden earbuds didn’t exist—and iPods weren’t quite as varied in physical size as they are today. H2O subsequently released a smaller, less expensive armband for iPod shuffles and the sixth-generation iPod nano called Amphibx Grip, as well as its first-ever waterproof mic headset Surge Contact, which collectively demonstrated that the company could create more compact and functional waterproof products. Amphibx Fit incorporates the lessons learned from these products as an alternative rather than a replacement for the original model: H2O pitches it as a lighter and more minimal solution that’s iPhone headset-ready, every bit as watertight, and less expensive, besides.
What you give up by going from Amphibx to Amphibx Fit is a design that for better or worse had the heft and bulk of a wetsuit. Designed to stay firmly on the arm even when used on a surfboard, the armband in the original Amphibx might have been overkill for other athletes, particularly female runners, and the device-agnostic design didn’t offer any way to access an iPhone’s rear camera without opening the vacuum seal to remove the device. Released in an era where iPhones and iPod touches alike have twin cameras, Amphibx Fit has been designed as a mostly clear soft plastic bubble with an opaque black fabric ring around its outermost edge. Insert your iPhone or fourth-generation iPod touch upside down and you can use the rear camera by just pulling the armband off. H2O has also mounted the headphone port and device insertion trap door on Fit off to the iPod or iPhone’s top or bottom rather than its side, reducing the original Amphibx armband’s substantial footprint.
While these changes are almost universally improvements to the original design, they come with consequences. Instead of a permanently integrated neoprene strap, Fit uses a smaller and detachable elastic one that works just fine, but absorbs more moisture. It’s washable, but it may well need to be washed with greater frequency if you’re going to frequently expose it to water. The clear bubble holder works well to hold any iPhone model—and other, similarly-sized devices—but needs to have the air pushed out before its rear door is shut, else the bubble’s face will bulge in a touchscreen-impeding way. And even though the case is both waterproof to 12 feet and capable of floating rather than sinking in water, buoyancy is achieved through an opaque, biscuit-shaped buoy that sits somewhat awkwardly on Fit’s back, preventing the armband from making the sort of fully comfortable contact it should with an arm. As much as we liked what Fit is capable of doing, there’s no doubt that it’s the product of compromises.
That said, it’s also a fairly remarkable accessory when you really start to use it. Since H2O Audio’s very first iPod product—the only one that ever had any issue with its watertight seal—the company has enabled Apple users to safely dunk their devices in water, an otherwise dangerous experience that in years of testing new cases has never ceased to send initial shivers up the spine. But you can pop the iPhone into Amphibx Fit, lock the rear door closed, and hold the armband under water without worrying about moisture intrusion. Jump into a pool or jog in the rain with your iPhone; It’s just safe. While Fit is designed to be used with any of H2O Audio’s Surge series of waterproof earphones, which aren’t included, the company includes a foam attachment for use with some other earphone plugs that will protect the headphone port; obviously, full waterproofing requires both the armband and waterproof earphones.
In addition to swimming and running with your iPhone—both aided substantially by the aforementioned Surge Contact headphones—Amphibx Fit is the exceedingly rare accessory that can be used to let you take full control of an iPhone-compatible wireless speaker system from inside a shower or bathtub, providing full touchscreen access even while it’s under a steady stream or layer of water. We had no problem using the iPhone inside Amphibx Fit to stream stereo music wirelessly to Bluetooth speakers, or to access a nearby Wi-Fi network. The biggest challenge we faced was in getting the armband oriented such that the screen was on the right angle for viewing and touch access. Thinning the armband, perhaps by integrating the buoy into the edging rather than its back, would make a subsequent version easier to use and more comfortable.
So Amphibx Fit isn’t a perfect waterproof armband for the iPhone, but it’s a pretty good value for the $60 asking price, and really stands out from the crowd of non-waterproof armbands that hover in the $40-$50 range. Athletes looking for a smaller and lower-profile option than the original Amphibx will find a lot to love in Amphibx Fit, particularly if occasional camera access is appealing, though serious watersport fans may prefer the first model’s bigger, firmer band and wetsuit-like design. Due as much to its size as anything else, women should consider this model to be H2O’s best iPhone-ready waterproof armband; men will more likely be split between the two models.