Review: Marware Sportsuit Relay for iPod nano (video)
Apple rarely designs a case or armband so superb that it displaces competing alternatives, but this year's $29 iPod nano Armband came close, leaving little apparent room for third-party developers to do better. Good looks aside, Apple's Armband protects the whole nano except for its bottom corners, and uses a unique dual-finished plastic face with a tactile Click Wheel cover and an indented Action button. Yet Marware and DLO have both tried to do better, and in certain ways succeeded with new alternatives: Marware has three different Sportsuit-branded options ranging in price from $20 to $30, and DLO has the new $30 Action Jacket for iPod nano.
Though they all come with the same basic pack-ins—a cleaning cloth and unnecessary clear film protectors for the nano’s screen and Click Wheel—Marware’s three Sportsuits otherwise have different features: two transform from wristbands into armbands, while another transforms from a case into a hand, belt, or arm-ready case. The simplest version is the Sportsuit Runabout ($20), which like Apple’s Armband serves only as an athletic iPod holder, and not as a plain case—you can’t detach the Orca-skinned neoprene nano holder from the matching wristband. An armband extender allows you to add inches of additional length to the wristband, enabling it to be worn on your bicep. It comes in either black or blue colors.
Sportsuit Relay ($30) is a resized, slightly more deluxe version of Runabout, designed specifically to appeal to runners with the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. It has all of Runabout’s features, including the wristband with armband extension, but also has just enough extra space at the bottom to squeeze in the Sport Kit’s iPod-mounted receiver attachment. Runabout also includes Marware’s Sportsuit Sensor+, a black neoprene and Velcro pouch that mounts Nike’s Sensor on any pair of shoes. It’s available only in a black and red color combination.
As the prices of all of these nano armbands are so similar to one another, there are several important factors we consider important: protection, ease-of-use, accessory compatibility, and wearability. All three of the Marware armbands offers slightly superior protection to Apple’s design, covering the nano’s full body except for tiny Hold switch and headphone port holes, which aren’t as precisely aligned or cut as we’d have hoped; two of the three cases came with the punched-out headphone dot still hanging by a string. Similarly, none needed the Hold switch hole, and in the Runabout, it’s useless, as it doesn’t really expose the switch properly.
On a positive note, our headphones worked fine with all three cases, even though the small holes made us concerned that they mightn’t. Similarly, we found it generally very easy to use the nano’s Click Wheel, even when the glossy front surface was wet, though we found Apple’s matte-finished and indented face a bit easier to use and nicer to look at. Despite the misalignment of the Hold switch holes, we found use of the switch basically the same as on Apple’s case, which offers less protection.
The cases differ most in accessory compatibility and wearability. The $20 Runabout is completely no-frills in both regards: think of it as a wristband first and an armband second, and don’t consider it if a Nike + iPod Sport Kit is or may be in your workout plans. Marware’s $30 Relay is a strong solution for Sport Kit users, and thanks to the included Sensor+, eliminates the need to buy Nike+ shoes to use the Sport Kit. You can read all about Sportsuit Sensor+ here. But like Runabout, Relay is a wristband first and foremost, then an armband. While Marware’s armband extender works exactly as it should, for bicep use, we preferred the way the unified Convertible armband felt, and then, liked Apple’s perforated, breathable armband even better.
To our tastes, Convertible is the best option of the bunch. For the $30 asking price, you get both a fully functional, highly protective case and a multi-purpose workout accessory that you can wear, pocket, or carry as you prefer—its only weaknesses are if you really prefer wrist-mounting, which it doesn’t do, and if you need the Sensor+ holder for the Sport Kit, which Marware sells separately for $10. For that reason, Sport Kit users will find Relay a cheaper overall option, but otherwise considerably less versatile, and those without Sport Kit ambitions will find Runabout to be even less expensive, but the most limited of the bunch. We think Relay and Runabout are both equally strong wrist-mounting options with obvious individual advantages (pricing, coloration, or Sport Kit extras), but we’d pick Convertible first for the price.