Review: H2O Audio Outdoor Case for iPod nano (1st and 2nd Gen)
At some point -- typically, say, summer of a given year -- there's such a significant risk of an iPod's imminent replacement that companies all but stop releasing new cases and accessories. Holdovers from earlier in the year continue to appear, however, and since there's the possibility that prior iPod owners will still want new cases -- or, that Apple won't replace the iPod -- we continue to review important or interesting new releases, anyway. Several recent cases for aging iPods, including H2O Audio's Outdoor Case for iPod nano ($40), were worthy of additional coverage, so we're looking at them today.
By contrast with the other cases we’ve checked out recently, H2O Audio’s design approach is impressive. The Outdoor Case for iPod nano is amongst the most aggressively iPod-specific cases we’ve ever seen, designed to shield a first- or second-generation nano from everything save submersion in water. In essence, the Outdoor Case for iPod nano was designed to make further use of a relatively advanced Click Wheel protector developed by H2O Audio for use on its numerous Waterproof Cases for iPods, iPod nanos, and iPod minis. Whereas the Waterproof Cases are expensive and fully submersible in water, the Outdoor Case is less expensive, and water-resistant but not water-submersible. As its name suggests, it’s safe to take outdoors, where you can splash it with mud, rain, sand, or sweat without fear of damaging your nano, but you can’t go swimming or surfing with it.
Though the Outdoor Case remains a hard plastic, fully protective shell for the iPod nano, providing no opportunity for the nano to be damaged under indoor or most outdoor usage scenarios, H2O made a few compromises to drop the Waterproof Case’s price and improve its all-purpose appeal. The perfectly clear back shell has been scotched in favor of an opaque gray plastic one with rubber feet and a super-sturdy belt clip that’s held in place with two Philips’ head screws. Gone are the watertight seal and headphone port extender, replaced with a simpler rubber O-ring and two rubber pop-out port covers on the bottom. There’s now a Dock Connector port hole, as well as a headphone port hole, neither compatible with oversized accessories but both capable of working with Apple’s pack-ins and similar alternatives.
There is one nice holdover. In addition to the belt clip, H2O Audio includes a neoprene and Velcro arm band that you can wear for indoor or outdoor workouts, which adds tremendously to the value proposition of this $40 case—especially when compared against Otter Products’ well-known OtterBox for iPod nano (iLounge rating: A-). There’s no need to buy anything else if you’re hoping to exercise with the Outdoor Case on your arm, which can’t be said about the OtterBox; Otter packs it only with a necklace and rear clip. And H2O goes further, offering a $30 Outdoor Sport Integration System kit that lets you attach the Outdoor Case to a bike mount or backpack mount if you desire. Otter’s only comparative advantage is that its OtterBox is safe to fully submerge underwater; you’ll need to decide whether that’s a critical factor in your purchase.
As with its Waterproof Cases, the star of the show here remains H2O Audio’s unique mechanical Click Wheel cover, which simultaneously protects the iPod nano and permits full-time Click Wheel access—no matter what sort of weather or other conditions, save underwater submersion, you’re dealing with. Five white buttons let you pass through finger presses to the nano’s Menu, Track, Play/Pause, and center Action buttons, while a silver plastic wheel spins on the nano’s touch-sensitive Click Wheel surface to simulate the brushing of your finger for scrolling and volume adjustment. Strictly speaking, this wheel isn’t anywhere near as necessary above water as it is under water, since a properly made clear plastic membrane offers just as much iPod control access and equal protection, but if price wasn’t an issue, we’d always pick the H2O design over alternatives we’ve seen.
Thankfully, at $40, price really isn’t an issue for the Outdoor Case: it’s priced the same as Otter Products’ OtterBox for iPod nano, yet comes with a better bundle thanks to its packed-in armband. In our view, though it’s too late in arriving, it’s probably H2O Audio’s smartest product yet, as it fulfills the needs of active iPod nano users at a reasonable price, with a great design, and without requiring additional purchases. We only wish we’d seen it sooner.