Review: Marware Sportsuit Convertible for iPhone 3G
By definition, the first of any given type of accessory will also be the "best" so long as it lacks for competition, but that's never stopped us from saying that a design was bad enough to wait for a superior competitor. So when we say that the first iPhone 3G armband will be good enough for most users to buy without waiting around, take that as a strong endorsement of Marware's Sportsuit Convertible for iPhone 3G ($35). The design, adapted from the same-named sports armband for iPhone, is an attractive, substantially protective compromise between protection and usability, offering the versatility of a case that can be kept at arm, waist, or pocket level depending on your needs.
As before, the iPhone 3G version of Sportsuit Convertible comes with four pieces: a neoprene, plastic, and mesh iPhone 3G case, a Multidapt belt clip, an armband, and a detachable key pouch. The pack-ins haven’t changed much from the prior Sportsuit Convertible, which means that the armband is 17.5” long and very comfortable but not very breathable; the belt clip is durable and spring-loaded but doesn’t ratchet or rotate; and the key pouch works, but uses a passive slit rather than a locking clasp to keep your key inside. Once again, you can use the case by itself for pocketable iPhone 3G protection, attach the belt clip to wear it at waist level, or attach the armband with or without the key pouch to wear it on your biceps during runs or workouts.
The biggest changes here aren’t really that big at all: Marware has kept the case’s neoprene body, front clear plastic, and bottom mesh almost exactly the same as before. Whereas the last Sportsuit Convertible had a set of three ear speaker holes and a large proximity sensor hole above them, the new one shifts the proximity and ambient light sensor holes off to the left, corresponding with subtle changes to the iPhone 3G’s hardware. Sportsuit Convertible also continues to offer speakerphone access through its specially designed bottom, using a full mesh cover that can be folded back to let you insert or remove the iPhone 3G.
Callers told us that there was no interference, echo or otherwise, when using the speakerphone through the mesh; this remains a distinctive and nice element of Marware’s armband case designs. Similarly, though the clear screen protector has a “wet” look on the device’s face, we found that we were able to use all of the iPhone 3G’s on-screen controls—including the keyboard—without issues. Similarly, the camera fully worked without any encumbrance from the opaque black Orca skin neoprene case. On a side note, last year’s blue version no longer appears to be available for the iPhone 3G, which isn’t a huge loss in our view.
Our only major concern with the Sportsuit Convertible, which is reasonably priced at $35 given all of its pack-ins and functionality, is the manner in which it exposes certain parts of the iPhone 3G to the elements—a concern some runners and outdoors enthusiasts have with all but completely sealed cases. In addition to a headphone port hole and the mesh bottom, the case has a fully open camera hole and the aforementioned give holes on its face for the iPhone 3G’s ear speaker and sensors. However, Marware has completely covered the side, top, and front controls, as well as the rest of the device. Other than locking the iPhone in a box and sealing off your access to its microphone and speakers, save of course for a pass-through headphone port, there’s no superior compromise for protection and usability; Marware’s choices generally strike us as sound, though not perfect.
Overall, the Sportsuit Convertible preserves all of the features of last year’s very good iPhone case without making major changes—negative or positive. The result is a use-it-anywhere design that nobly offers a nice balance of usability and protection for various purposes, rather than restricting your use of the iPhone 3G’s many features under any circumstances. As such, you’ll need to be cautious not to take this Convertible out in the rain, but as a case, belt mount, or armband, it’s otherwise a strong design—more versatile than the vast majority of armbands we’ve tested for earlier Apple devices—and remains worthy of our strong general recommendation.