Though new to the iPod market, MacAlly has been selling accessories for Apple’s Macintosh computers for years. We’ve had a chance to test their newest products, ranging from headphones to cases and power chargers, and are breaking them up into two short collective reviews, one for headphones and one for the other accessories. We liked the Noise Reducing Headphones we tested yesterday, so how do MacAlly’s first iPod case and power charger fare?
PodCase iPod Armband Carrying Case
We’ve aired our views on neoprene iPod armband cases in the past, having reached the conclusion after seeing many such accessories that neoprene is a better case material for cell phones than iPods. The rubberized fabric almost always adds goofy bulk to an iPod, and works best - if at all - with iPod minis. That said, neoprene cases such as MacAlly’s new PodCase aren’t intended for everyday use with a third-generation iPod; they’re often designed solely for use during athletic activities, during which some people won’t mind having a bulky rubber bag attached to their forearms. (For reference, Apple and others have released thinner, cooler armband designs for the iPod mini, but as yet none have been adapted for larger iPods.)
Though it’s not going to win everyone over because of its looks, MacAlly’s take on the neoprene case is an acceptable one. The PodCase fits all third-generation iPods with a design slightly slicker than Tune Belt’s iPod Armband Carrier, though more garish in bright yellow with black outlines. (A fully black version is also available.) The iPod’s headphone port is easily accessible, the iPod itself is securely wrapped (and locked in place with a Velcro-closed front flap), and the arm band itself is a secure combination of neoprene arm padding, a velcro strap, and a plastic loop to provide a tightening point. Overall, the case feels fine and performs as promised to hold an iPod on your arm. At a $19.99 price, it’s not going to hurt anyone’s bank account, either.
The design’s main flaw is in the way it encloses the iPod. Tune Belt’s product turned the iPod upside down for easier screen viewing, used clear plastic to shield the screen, and exposed the iPod’s Scroll Wheel. MacAlly’s PodCase keeps the iPod right side up, covers two-thirds of its screen and all of its controls, and exposes nothing but the headphone port and hold switch. As a consequence, you can’t expect to adjust the iPod while in the PodCase unless you stop and entirely remove it, a design no-no that makes the case far less useful than it might otherwise have been. (The total lack of access to the Dock Connector port is another issue, but not an especially important one considering that the PodCase won’t likely be used with bottom-connecting accessories while in the case.)
Teski’s Roadie remains our top pick in this category for third-generation iPods, but MacAlly’s slightly better use of materials comes closer to a good use of neoprene than the other third-generation iPod armbands we’ve tested. It’s not a great offering, but it serves its purpose in a pinch.
Pros: Decent-looking exterior design, holds a third-generation iPod properly for athletic purposes, fair price.
Cons: No access to iPod’s controls; style, colors and neoprene heft may put off some people.
When we first tested MacAlly’s iPodCarCharger in July, we thought that it was a good idea in need of better execution. The concept is simple: for $14.99, you get a white plastic cigarette lighter adapter that attaches to your existing iPod FireWire cable and charges your iPod in the car. Unfortunately, after receiving the iPodCarCharger, we tested it and found that wouldn’t charge either of the iPods we tried, with either Apple or third-party cables. If it had been working properly, a blue LED light should have lit up to indicate charging, but it wouldn’t light up.
MacAlly sent us a replacement unit, which worked fine. We plugged in Apple’s FireWire-to-iPod cable, then plugged the iPodCarCharger into our car, and the blue light came on instantly. The iPod’s charge indicator started up, too. All was well in the world.
Since so many iPod car chargers sell for $30 including cables, a simple, cheaper accessory at this price level is a good deal - if it works, and assuming that you only need power charging in your car. An additional positive is that for travel packability purposes, it’s one of the smallest iPod chargers we’ve seen, although you’ll still need to carry a separate FireWire cable.
The only major tradeoff in using the iPodCarCharger is that you sacrifice the ability to use line-out audio from your iPod, and must rely upon the headphone jack for audio output instead. For our purposes, this turns out to be a considerable disadvantage of the product - we’re accustomed to having line-out in the chargers we’ve used and liked, and therefore wouldn’t have daily use for the iPodCarCharger ourselves.
Therefore, while we seriously like the iPodCarCharger’s price, and think that its small size will make it attractive to some purchasers, we ourselves would be inclined to spend a little extra money and buy a more fully-featured charger, like Belkin’s Auto Kit. That said, we would normally rate the iPodCarCharger in the B-range (recommendable to a specific niche of people), but our final rating is affected a fair bit by our concern that other people may experience the same defect we experienced in our first unit, which we’ll note is a very rare thing in our testing of iPod accessories. If you’re not concerned about that risk, consider the iPodCharger a B-ish product on our scale.
Pros: Inexpensive car charger in iPod-matching white.
Cons: First unit we received didn’t work; second one worked as promised, offered limited functionality.
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.