Review: Marware Sportsuit Basic, Convertible and Runabout for iPod nano
Pros: Evolved neoprene sports cases for the iPod nano, with some of the best protection ever developed, and certain cases with slick Orca-textured neoprene that looks considerably better than prior iPod and iPod mini neoprene designs. Basic and Convertible come with detachable Krusell Multidapt belt clips, and Convertible with an armband, wrist strap, and lid. Runabout is comfortable on the wrist, and visually much-improved. Prices generally remain reasonable, a major plus.
Cons: Basic’s clip and neoprene isn’t as good as Convertible’s. Convertible lacks one wrist add-on by comparison to competing Incase product. Runabout for first-generation iPod nano remains useful only for one purpose, and isn’t a practical pocket or other case.
Updated: Originally published November 17, 2005, this review has been updated on October 4, 2006 with photographs and details on Marware’s updated Sportsuit Basic and Sportsuit Convertible for the second-generation iPod nano. The new details are found at the bottom of the original review.
Introduction - Sportsuit Basic, Convertible, and Runabout for iPod nano (First-Generation) - November 17, 2005
In the last week, Marware has released a huge collection of new iPod nano cases that range in material from silicone rubber to neoprene and leather. Part one of our look at these new cases focuses on three Sportsuits - neoprene-bodied designs intended to be used for workouts or casual walking around.
For years, Marware’s Sportsuit cases have looked and felt pretty much the same: bulky neoprene cases that made good efforts to protect an iPod’s body, but didn’t look fantastic doing it. Rather than preserving the familiar look and feel of these aging cases, the company wisely chose to re-engineer its Sportsuits, with surprising results. Today’s Sportsuit Basic ($20) is a thinner 2mm neoprene and clear vinyl shell for the iPod nano that protects literally everything save its headphone port, closing with a smart tuck-in neoprene fold at the bottom that can be temporarily opened for nano removal or Dock Connector use.
Once inside Basic, your nano’s screen and controls are easily accessible through the clear vinyl, and the Hold switch can be used through a marked spot on the neoprene rather than a hole - a very smart and much-appreciated design touch. There’s a detachable Krusell Multidapt mini clip on the rear - one piece and not spring-loaded, but convenient and very sturdy - plus Marware and new SBN (Sportsuit Basic Nano) logos on the case’s sides. This is hipper than prior Sportsuit Basics, and more wisely protective - better visually in person than in photos, too.
While the headphone port hole is a little small, we found that it worked fine with our test plugs, and it was easy to pry back the corner of the Basic case to expose the entire hole temporarily if we wanted. This case is outstanding on protectiveness, and the flip-open bottom was a really good way to deliver the headphone port versatility users want. This is not the best neoprene design we’ve ever seen, generally or from Marware, but it’s very strong, and in equal parts because of its excellent protectiveness and reasonable pricing, it rates a high recommendation from us.
Then there’s Convertible ($30), the evolution of which didn’t impress us as much. Past Convertible cases have earned our highest ratings for their versatility and value for the dollar, but working in parallel, competing case maker Incase has made major inroads with its very similar multifunction Sport cases. We think Incase got the better of Marware this time with its nano Sports design (iLounge rating: A-), which looks great and offers similar functionality to Convertible. Marware includes a detachable armband, spring-loaded belt clip, handstrap, and a lid, but with the exception of the belt clip, we didn’t like these accessories as much as Incase’s.
Convertible starts strong with a slightly modified version of the Basic case: it replaces the standard neoprene with smooth, “Orca-skin” neoprene that feels silky and looks even better. Three colors - black, silver, and blue - are available, two more than the black-only Basic. Other than the texture and the SCN (Sportsuit Convertible Nano) logo on its right side, the case is equally protective and attractive as Basic, which is all good. And unlike Incase’s design, Marware includes a hard lid, which provides additional front coverage for the nano inside. However, in our view, the lid isn’t all that necessary here (or, for that matter, with Incase’s Sports) because of the full protectiveness of the case’s front without it, but it’s generally not a bad extra to include.
Unfortunately, Marware uses a weird, unwieldy mechanism for attaching its lid - the first Convertible lid to open from the case’s left rather than the top - and you’ll need to really fidget with the belt clip or armband in order to attach or detach it. It’s not the only accessory that’s a bit tricky to attach - the arm band is, too. It’s shorter in length than Incase’s by a couple of inches, and the hand strap is a simple cord rather than a neoprene piece like Incase’s - both small minuses. And though we strongly preferred Marware’s detachable, spring-loaded belt clip to Incase’s non-detachable one (and even the Basic’s included clip, for that matter), we didn’t like the other pieces surrounding Convertible enough to prefer it overall.
On looks and extra features, we prefer Incase’s Sports Case to the Sportsuit Convertible, and except in inclement weather would be more likely to use Sports Case either on or off the armband - despite Marware’s superior protection. That said, those who are looking for a better all-weather solution should pick the Sportsuit Convertible instead, so long as their arms aren’t super-large and don’t need the extra two inches of armband.
We were not previously fond of Marware’s iPod mini version of Sportsuit Runabout, a case designed as a wristband holder for the iPod shuffle. The idea remains simple: Runabout for iPod nano ($25) wraps a neoprene and Velcro band around your wrist, with an added neoprene extender for people with larger wrists. Now Marware uses Orca-textured neoprene (the better of its two materials) rather than thick standard neoprene, and there are two colors available - black and blue. Your headphones are plugged into a hole in Runabout’s bottom - larger than the one in Sportsuits Basic and Convertible - while the screen and Click Wheel remain protected with a vinyl guard.
In the only odd deviation from the other designs, Runabout needlessly exposes the nano’s Hold switch, which worked perfectly under neoprene protection in the other Sportsuits. Otherwise, this is a solidly protective case, and one that looks more than good thanks to the superior Orca neoprene material.
We even liked the way it felt more than the old Runabout. To this day, we still vividly recall the protestations of Marware when we said we didn’t like the way the iPod mini felt when mounted on our wrists - the company swore up and down after our review that many people loved it. As we explained at the time, we’re sure that some people did, but we didn’t. That’s not the case with Runabout for iPod nano - the lighter, thinner nano felt just fine on our wrists during a test run, and we liked Runabout’s texture and look considerably more. It’s even better than the new Runabout offers superior face protection - a complete Click Wheel and screen cover, rather than just the screen - and better nano top coverage. These improvements haven’t gone unnoticed, and together with nano’s better suitability for wrist-mounting earn Runabout a much-improved rating.
One of our two small issues is the wristband, which was just right for our average-sized male wrists as-was, but will require the included extension piece for people with beefier arms. True, it’s plenty long with the extension on, but for people with large wrists, it’s not the most elegant solution. The bigger issue is the case’s lack of multi-functionality - unlike Sportsuit Convertible or Basic, it’s not useful as a pocket or belt case, and really only does one thing, but well. Even with its flaws, we’d be inclined to pick Sportsuit Convertible first, but then, you’ll pay a small premium for its more diverse features. We think it’s worth the extra $5, and Incase’s Sports Case is, as well.
Sportsuit Basic and Convertible for iPod nano (Second-Generation) - October 4, 2006
Marware’s designs for Sportsuit Basic and Convertible didn’t require a lot of tweaking for the second-generation iPod nano, but the company went back and improved a couple of Convertible’s sticking points, resulting in a higher recommendation for the newer product than its predecessor. As with last year’s models, both cases are made primarily from neoprene, with the Basic model using a classic textured variant that looks like a duller version of Spandex. Basic continues to include a smaller belt clip and a tuck-away bottom cover that exposes either the nano’s headphone port or its entire bottom as you prefer. Even when open, the neoprene grips the nano well enough that you can safely use the Nike + iPod Sport Kit attachment.
As before, the Convertible version of the Sportsuit instead uses a smoother material called Orca-skin neoprene, which makes the case look and feel nicer, and includes a larger belt clip, detachable armband, and detachable black hard faceplate for the nano. Though we still think that the faceplace is unnecessary given the base case’s complete clear plastic and neoprene protection of the nano’s front, Marware has made it much easier to attach and detach than before, letting it slide onto the iPod’s top rather than trying to attach it with an awkward hinge. Similarly, the armband has become easy to attach this time out, sliding on and off the base case without any trouble, and it looks better than last year’s version, too.
Though Incase has continued to offer strong alternatives to the Sportsuit line, the new Convertible is a nice improvement, and worthy of our high recommendation; Basic remains a cheaper way to get much of the same functionality and versatility if you don’t need workout-ready accessories.