Review: Marware SportGrip for iPod nano (video)
Though we're not huge fans of silicone rubber cases these days, several companies have set themselves apart from myriad no-name competitors with aggressive pricing, customization, or designs. Two of the industry's current leaders -- Marware and ifrogz -- have just released three new cases, the Marware SportGrip ($10), ifrogz 3GNanowrapz ($15), and ifrogz Treadz ($15), which are highly likely to appeal to budget-conscious owners of the third-generation iPod nano.
All three of the designs agree on the same necessities: the new iPod nano can and should be fully covered on its top, sides, back, and the metal parts of its face. It needs to be open to headphone and Dock Connector plugs on its bottom, and provide some sort of access to the nano’s Hold switch down there, as well. The screen and Click Wheel also need to be easy to use. Whether you pick SportGrip or the others, you’ll find all of those statements to be true; on the flip side, none of the cases includes a belt clip, lanyard necklace, or holes for attachment of anything else. They’re just rubber cases.
But from there, they differ. Both of the ifrogz cases have boxy rounded rectangular shapes with side bumpers—3GNanowrapz has very prominent bumpers, while the flattened tire-like Treadz has more shallow versions, both will help keep your nano’s corners safe in the event of an accidental drop. SportGrip, by contrast, has seven thin gripping ribs on each side, and is tapered with a more hump-like back that feels comfortable resting in your hand. Thanks to the bumpers, the ifrogz cases have slightly bigger footprints than the SportGrip, which itself adds a little thickness to each of the nano’s sides, and offers pretty good anti-drop protection despite lacking such prominent corners.
The cases’ biggest differences are in colors, protection and in practical bottom accessibility. As is always the case with ifrogz’ Wrapz cases, 3GNanowrapz are designed to offer lots of color options, and today come in at least nine colors—clear, gray, two shades of pink, red, black, red, green, and aqua blue. The tire-styled Treadz currently comes only in black, and SportGrip comes in five colors: black, blue, clear, red, and teal. Based on ifrogz’ current lineup and past history, it’s obvious that if you’ll want to look at the 3GNanowrapz if you want the widest possible variety of case color options, but SportGrip has an acceptable lineup; clear is always a good option.
Despite its lower price, Marware also includes film screen and Click Wheel protectors with SportGrip—a feature missing from the ifrogz designs. As always, ifrogz plans to sell these parts separately for $6 total, and offer a wide variety of custom artwork for the Click Wheel covers; none are yet available on the web site. Marware’s free film is good but not great: the screen cover is just fine, but the Click Wheel cover only gets the edges of the Wheel, not the center; Marware’s included center sticker just falls off. The company also includes a cleaning cloth for the nano’s screen.
Each case’s bottom is a little different, too, and Marware’s is the best of the bunch. ifrogz exposes the Hold switch, Dock Connector and headphone port with holes that are on the very small side, which is nice for protection, but not for accessibility. You’ll need to dig a fingernail into the Hold switch hole to use it, and most Dock Connecting accessories we tested didn’t work with the thin Dock Connector port hole; thankfully, the headphone port hole opened to accommodate all of our test headphones properly. Marware leaves all of the bottom save the corners entirely open, and with the new nano, that makes sense; the Hold switch is accessible, and the bottom’s fully compatible with every accessory we tested, including docking speaker systems.
Overall, we can’t help but feel that Marware has the right general idea with its SportGrip cases. Just as with the prior-generation versions we’ve tested, the third-generation nano SportGrip delivers just the right combination of aggressive pricing, ease of use, and protection to merit our high recommendation: you just can’t do better than this case for the $10 asking price. Though it’s not the sexiest design we’ve seen, and isn’t perfect in protection, it comes close enough to be a great budget-priced option. ifrogz’ 3GNanowrapz and Treadz cases, by comparison, are good options, offering less protection and less convenient accessory access at a higher price, but also more color options and different styling. We’d be inclined to pick the SportGrip first, but when ifrogz has its stickers and more color options ready, it will have even more customization options on its side, and commensurately more reasons for 3GNanowraps and Treadz to appeal to users.