Review: Koyono BlackCoat Work Jacket with iPod Integration
Pros: An urban fashion coat with an integrated iPod carrying pocket and controls, sold in two versions (nylon or cotton) and two colors (black or beige).
Cons: iPod controls are right next to the iPod inside the jacket. Control panel inconveniently requires activation every time you want to use it after seven seconds of inactivity, making use of next-door iPod even more convenient. Sizing runs small. Unlike similarly pricey iPod jackets, Premiere version offers little insulation from cold outdoor temperatures, yet doesn’t seem 100% right for indoor use, either.
It would be somewhat of an understatement to call iLounge’s editors fans of Koyono’s BlackCoat series of shirts: we’ve been wearing iLounge logo-customized versions of the strategically zipper-pocketed BlackCoat T for the past year, and loving them. So when Koyono announced BlackCoat Work ($249-275), a jacket with full electronic iPod integration, we were naturally enthusiastic: could Koyono strike again with something even better than before?
Our short answer is “yes, but no.” Though we’re confident that the company will do better next time, BlackCoat Work unfortunately isn’t Koyono’s best thought-out product to date. For a couple of years now, companies such as Burton, O’Neill, and most recently Kenpo (MKT-07, iLounge rating: B) have been selling jackets with iPod remote controls integrated into their sleeves, enabling snowboarders, skiiers, and other fans of outdoor iPodding to change tracks, volume, and play/pause status on a strategically stowed iPod without opening the jackets and fidgeting with controls. These jackets have been expensive - Kenpo’s was the lowest-priced at $275 - but for some people, worthwhile. The question posed by BlackCoat Work is whether an everyday urban fashion jacket for iPod owners, rather than a cold weather sports-specific one, will catch on.
The key difference between iPod-ready jackets and standard ones is an electronics system called ElekTek from a company called Eleksen. It’s essentially a partially water- and wash-safe redux of Apple’s classic iPod Remote, with a Dock Connector plug that works with iPod 3G, 4G, 5G, nano, and mini models, and a set of play/pause, volume, and track buttons for control. A clothing designer can place the five iPod control buttons anywhere on the clothing, then run a wire invisibly inside from there to the iPod; users hold down the track forward button for a few seconds to activate the button panel, then input commands. As explained in our earlier Kenpo review, this is an accidental button press prevention system we don’t entirely like, but understand for certain applications.
And of course, putting iPod controls on the outside of a jacket’s sleeve makes sense for outdoor activities. But what Koyono has done with the ElekTek controls is only a step shy of bizarre: it has placed the five buttons on the jacket’s interior, literally right next to the mesh-fronted, zippered pocket that holds your iPod. If the point isn’t obvious already, remote controls make sense when they’re distant from the original controls; why bother adding the ElekTek buttons at all if your iPod’s right next to them inside?
Two other major oddities of BlackCoat Work were its fit and choice of materials. We typically wear jackets in medium or large sizes, and ordered Work on the large side to be safe. But the large size was too small, unusually so by U.S. clothing standards, and with five buttons (and two spares) to hold it closed was just barely wearable - certainly not fashionable in its tightness. A bigger question was how it was intended to fit. The name and design suggest it should be sized as a loose sport coat, suitable for wearing around an office or on the streets, while Koyono’s web site describes it as a “hybrid workman’s jean jacket and sport coat,” whatever that means.
However, neither concept - jean jacket or sport coat - seemed to fit the plasticy BlackCoat Work, which looked to us more like a combination of a sport coat and rain coat. In part, that’s because our review sample was a black Nextec nylon version of Work called the Premiere Edition ($275), which felt like something you’d wear outdoors, but not indoors. Unlike the arguably too-subtle inked buttons on Kenpo’s MKT-07, BlackCoat Work’s buttons are a panel made from bright white, orange, and clear rubbery plastic, slightly taller than any iPod you might place inside. It’s worth noting that Koyono also offers a stretch cotton version of Work that sells for a lower - but not low - price of $249, in both black and beige versions, and though we didn’t receive it for review, we suspect that the cotton Work would look more suitable indoors. But we’re not entirely sure. Both the nylon and cotton Work jackets are waterproofed, which gave us the sense that Koyono was trying to create a compromise, widely appealing article of outdoor/indoor clothing, rather than creating something suited especially well only to one application.
None of this is to say that BlackCoat Work is an actually bad coat - if it were properly sized, we’d wear it in public, which is more than we can say for some wearable iPod accessories we’ve seen. And Koyono continues to have a better grasp on urban fashion design than any other company we know to be making iPod-ready clothing, the reason we’ve liked the company’s earlier products. But the iPod integration is incidental in Work, rather than a major reason to buy it, which defeats the purpose of paying a price premium over any other jacket and/or remote control solution one might consider. That’s why BlackCoat Work rates a C- overall - any jacket with a mesh zippered pocket inside will offer comparable iPod protection and control access, and possibly better suit your fashion tastes.