Review: ifrogz Audiowrapz for iPod nano 3G
Screen aside, of the dozen or so advantages an iPhone offers over an iPod nano with comparable storage space, the one we most often miss when switching back is the iPhone's integrated speaker -- a feature that Apple has previously intentionally left out of iPods, most likely because of the space it would demand. Thanks to its speaker, an iPhone doesn't need headphones in order to serve as a full-fledged media player, and lets you just start listening to audio the moment you pull it out of your pocket -- or even while it's still inside. The quality of that speaker isn't spectacular, but it's more than adequate for casual listening when a better-sounding accessory isn't available.
Though we wouldn’t have guessed a year ago that we’d be as excited about such a thing as we actually are, iFrogz’ Audiowrapz ($25) does for the third-generation iPod nano what the internal speaker does for the iPhone: it provides a pocket-sized integrated listening device for those times when you’ve left your earbuds aside. And it goes further, actually, serving as an almost completely protective carrying case for the nano at the same time. Three metal grilles at the bottom radiate audio forwards, from directly underneath the nano, which is held inside the rubber case with a hard plastic mounting bracket and a headphone port plug. A pass-through port at the bottom right lets you connect headphones to the nano without removing it from the case.
What’s great about the Audiowrapz package is straightforward: given the nano’s long-lasting battery and small size, you can easily toss the iPod inside, carry the whole package around in your pocket, and only pull the case off for occasional recharging and synchronization sessions. iFrogz offers the standard Audiowrapz case in eight colors, each with a screen protector, and also sells a tire-tread version called Treadz in black. Additional case options are soon to be available, as well, including a child-friendly Tadpole handle-equipped version that makes a lot more sense than sticking iPod earbuds into tiny, sensitive ears. iFrogz sells each case separately from its sticker-styled Click Wheel covers, which are available in your choice of numerous art versions for a $3 premium over the base case price.
Another generally positive feature of the design is iFrogz’ battery-neutral approach: Audiowrapz doesn’t include a battery pack, and its passive speakers draw no more iPod nano power than would a pair of inefficient headphones. The positive way of looking at this is that you’ll still see a day’s worth of battery run time from a nano playing music through Audiowrapz’ speakers, but the flip side is that the nano’s audio level needs to be set higher than 50%—practically, closer to 85%—for the speakers to be audible. This will drain the nano’s battery faster than Apple’s pair of included earphones, but given how long the devices currently run for, it’s not a major problem.
Less than great are a few small issues. First, Audiowrapz’ three metal grilles contain a total of two small speakers, which together produce a little less volume and depth than the single speaker found inside the bottom of the iPhone. Though they technically produce left- and right-channel sound, the separation is so modest that you’ll only hear it if you cover one or two of the grilles with your finger, and even then, the channel separation isn’t complete. Apple’s choice to go with a single, more powerful driver makes sense for this type of micro speaker application, and the result is that the iPod nano with Audiowrapz performs music acceptably, but not amazingly or loud enough to be heard at anything more than a short distance. Just like the iPhone, bass distortion is very noticeable at high volumes, though Audiowrapz’ peak is around 70% of the iPhone’s.
Size is also a modest concern. Though the third-generation nano is positively tiny by comparison with the iPod mini, Audiowrapz makes it bigger than the mini in all dimensions when they’re placed together. Thankfully, the differences aren’t huge—the package is still a little smaller than the iPhone overall, still hugely pocketable, and less of a pain to carry than active pocket-sized speakers we’ve tested—but size-obsessed nano fans may want to stick to earbuds. On a related note, iFrogz’ internal nano bracket is made from a fairly thick piece of hard plastic that could be more usefully turned into a thinner, hard rubber piece in a future Audiowrapz iteration; the current one didn’t scuff our nanos, but we have little doubt that typical nano abuse will lead some users to have issues.
Last is the issue of connectivity. Unlike the iPhone, which pops right into a speaker or other dock when it’s removed from your pocket, an iPod nano wrapped in Audiowrapz has its Dock Connector port covered, so you’ll need to remove the nano from the case to do anything other than listen to its audio. This is an issue with every iPod nano-ready pocket speaker out there, however, and the only way around it would be a pass-through Dock Connector plug, which would have driven Audiowrapz’ cost way up.
Ultimately, reasonable pricing is the reason that Audiowrapz receives our high recommendation rather than a general one: $25 is so completely reasonable for a combination case and speaker system that we can’t fault this package more than slightly for its omissions. Yes, you can find bigger and more powerful iPod speakers for the same price if you shop around. And yes, you can find smaller and more compatible iPod cases for the same price, or less. But you can’t find a combination case and speaker for the nano anywhere at this price, let alone with nearly complete protection and your choice of multiple designs and colors. If you’ve used an iPhone, this might not seem like a breakthrough product, but the iPod family’s never had anything quite like it. We’re anxious to see how iFrogz builds upon the concept with future cases and sizes.