Review: Monster iSportCase
Pros: Clean plastic design matches the iPod.
Cons: Inadequate shielding and latching mechanisms to protect the iPod when outdoors and hold it in place in a vehicle.
Over the last several years, one company rapidly became synonymous with premium-priced, bling bling audio and video accessories - the sorts of parts people would find connecting their brand new home theater components when they told a Best Buy or Circuit City salesperson to spare no expense. Whether it was $59.95 for Monster Cable’s gold-tipped Xbox cables when Microsoft’s reference version sold for $19.95, or $49.95 for “gas-injected dielectric” FireWire cables that could be had for $3.99 as no-frills generics, we’ll admit to having been somewhat skeptical of the premium products based on their prices alone in the past.
But we’ve recently had the opportunity to put a number of Monster’s iPod accessories through their paces, and we were pleasantly surprised by a number of them.
Only one stood out as less than impressive, and it just happens to be this one: we can’t in good faith recommend the iSportCase to our readers.
Taking Simplicity Too Far
Designed for two purposes, the iSportCase is touted as a dashboard-mountable carrying case that can be removed, slipped onto a belt with an included clip, and used while jogging and running. Of course, given our experiences with devices such as Belkin’s Tune Dok and Tune Belt’s iPod Armband Carrier, you’d be guessing correctly if you thought that we’re still looking for the ultimate, reasonably-priced iPod in-car mounting accessory, and for that matter, the ultimate carrying accessory for use during workouts.
Minimalist simplicity may be one of the iPod’s top selling points, but it’s certainly not what we look for in a mountable, protective case for $300-500 consumer electronics. The iSportCase takes minimalism to an extreme - thirty cents worth of medium-strength, slightly flexible translucent white plastic is attached to a three-cent plastic belt clip by a half-cent plastic screw.
An iPod is held in place by the edges of the case - though held may be a strong word - and not protected in any way from front or side impact damage. Monster’s design sure looks clean and fairly matches the iPod’s external aesthetic, but we felt similarly good about Belkin’s Tune Dok too-cheap design. There are ample-sized holes at the top of the iSportCase for the headphone port and hold switch, and at the bottom for the Dock Connector port.
There’s one major difference between Belkin’s minimalist protection and Monster’s: the iSportCase is always intended to be positioned vertically, whereas Belkin’s Tune Dok always holds the iPod on at least a 45 degree (and typically horizontal) angle, so the chance of your iPod slipping out of a hot iSportCase is higher. (The plastic edges of the case do a fair job of holding the iPod at room temperature, but working out on a hot day or in a warm room might call the plastic’s strength into question.) Given the lack of even a token clear plastic shield for the iPod’s screen, we certainly would not want to see what the front of an iPod looks like after taking a tumble, an issue that wouldn’t be a concern in a more protective accessory.
True, we’re not talking about protecting the passenger in a car, but as you may have guessed from our recent review of Tune Belt’s iPod Armband Carrier, we don’t like to think about the myriad ways our entire music collection could be damaged in one fell shake or swoop. As a jogging or running peripheral - and yes, the iSportCase is advertised for these purposes - we would be more than a mite concerned about moving at all with something anchored and protected as tenuously as the iPod in this particular accessory.
Mounting the iPod
In theory, vertical mounting in a car is the perfect way to go for an iPod: with a visible screen at the right height, you could easily access your entire music library with the slightest movement of your head. But in practice, if you’re going to mount an iPod in a car, you’d like something firm and hopefully metallic to hold it in place. The iSportCase is anchored to a dashboard by a single one-cent piece of 3M adhesive. It’s not impressive.
Our concern was compounded by the design of the iSportCase’s dashboard mounting bracket. The unusually oversized bracket piece makes no effort to prevent the iPod from swinging left and right, or lock it firmly from shaking forward and back. In fact, it is so large and the iSportCase’s belt clip integrates with it so loosely that we guarantee you would see your iPod pitching boat-like to and fro in your car whenever you round corners. But we don’t suspect you’ll be trying the iSportCase any time soon for this purpose.
Virtually all of Monster’s iPod peripherals are a fair to good value for the money and use quality components, but the iSportCase is a notable and disappointing exception. Though it looks good in a box and matches the iPod quite well, its design flaws quickly became apparent when we tested it for its intended purposes. As a car mount and as an exercise carrier, the iSportCase scores a double “ouch!” - a rare finding from the iLounge test labs, but in this case, a fair one.
Jeremy Horwitz is a consumer electronics fanatic who 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.