Review: OtterBox oPod 4G/photo water resistant case
Pros: Everything short of waterproof iPod 4G and photo protection in a quality hard plastic case, including screen protection and membrane-covered control access, improved from last year’s model. Optional armband works well, looks good.
Cons: Is water resistant but not waterproof, belt clip is only okay, price remains on the very high end for a plastic case.
One of the most interesting iPod cases we reviewed in 2004 was the oPod from OtterBox - a hard white plastic case designed to compete with Eroch Studios’ LiliPod, but engineered more to the specific needs of the iPod user. Now OtterBox has updated the oPod with an improved fourth-generation iPod and iPod photo version ($49.95), and this review highlights the differences between the older and newer models. If you want the full story on the older oPod, check out our earlier review here.
In brief summary, the new oPod is a hard plastic case for fourth-generation and photo iPods that differs in two significant ways from Eroch’s LiliPod: it offers screen and Click Wheel access, but is not completely water-tight. OtterBox continues to bill the oPod as “water resistant,” and says that the case will keep an iPod “safe at the beach, pool, river, lake or just walking in the rain,” all of which we agree with. Splashed water, dirt, and sand are highly unlikely to touch your iPod while it’s inside of the oPod, and therefore the device is one of the very best protective options we’ve seen for OtterBox’s recommended uses: “gym, pool, hiking, biking, kayaking, canoeing, [and] snowsports.” OtterBox offers five colors - white, pink, green, blue, and yellow - none glossy or color-saturated, but all acceptable.
All OtterBox won’t guarantee is that oPod might survive a drop into a pool or the ocean, and though it definitely won’t survive extended water submersion or exposure, you’ll have a few more seconds of protection than in any competitor save the LiliPod. Based on our tests, if your headphones are properly plugged into your iPod’s top, there’s a significant chance that enough air will be inside the oPod to give you a few seconds to safely retrieve your iPod before water enters the case. That won’t save your headphones, but priorities being what they are, the oPod helps more than nothing at all.
Like the older oPod, the new version of oPod includes gray foam inserts, rubber outside corner pads, a detachable hard plastic belt clip, and three numbered rubber headphone port seals. The two halves of the case snap together with a top clasping mechanism, and the case’s back half includes a rubber backing and side portion that connects and seals with the all-plastic front. You pop in different headphone port seals to accommodate different thicknesses of headphone cables (including Apple’s pack-ins, Remote control, and third-party cables); these detachable seals remain the primary reason the case isn’t fully water-tight, but are a bit better than their predecessors. We still wish OtterBox could engineer a better solution, even if iPod Remote control functionality was abandoned in the process.
OtterBox has changed the new oPod’s front, using a clearer rubber membrane to cover the iPod’s screen while preserving the earlier case’s harder textured plastic membrane to cover the Click Wheel controls. The new rubber screen guard is easier to see through and fogs up less; the Click Wheel guard is even easier to use than before, thanks mostly to the Click Wheel itself using more responsive tactile buttons. Scrolling remains responsive, and button pressing is very simple.
Fourth-generation and iPod photos both fit into the case we received, thanks to foam spacers included by OtterBox. One foam spacer remains in the case at all times, best fitting 40GB fourth-generation iPods but also barely accommodating both 40GB and 60GB iPod photos. A second foam spacer is inserted to render the oPod compatible with thinner 20GB iPods, and more or less permanently attached if you desire with a strip of included adhesive. Otterbox shipped our review case with the 40GB spacer already installed, and indicates in its manual that this is its common practice, but the iPod photos could really use a thinner option instead. Locking the oPod closed with the iPod photo inside is a struggle, but there’s no doubt when done that your expensive color-screened toy is exceedingly safe inside.
Just like its predecessor, the 4G oPod is exceedingly resilient, and using an optional armband accessory ($14.95), it can quickly be attached to your arm for outdoor or indoor activities. Like many such armbands, OtterBox’s is made from neoprene, though the company has textured the interior of its band with rubberized grip dots to hold your arm, and has a pretty solid Velcro strip to keep your adjusted position locked in. A hard fabric reinforcement joins with a hard plastic clip to lock into place on the oPod’s back, forming an even more decisive lock on your iPod than in similar armband accessories from companies such as Speck. Best yet, there’s little chance that your iPod’s in any danger if it drops off your arm - unless you’re at a tremendous height from the ground when it happens.
Our only issues with the oPod are small. Its included belt clip is far from the beefiest that we’ve seen, and while adequate, could be better. And though its optional arm band will be great for many users - and even fit users with smaller biceps - the addition of the oPod case to an already large 4G or photo iPod almost makes for reasonable arm exercise without even leaving your house. This is a bulky, resilient armband solution and case, and should be reserved for situations that really call for its utility - wet, sandy, dusty, or dirty workouts, not just everyday runs in the sun.
While we continue to hope and wait for a truly waterproof iPod case that allows screen and Click Wheel access, the oPod is certainly a great alternative in the meanwhile. As a hard case, it stands tall with the best of them, offering greater versatility and roughly equivalent protection while making the iPod’s controls and screen fully accessible. And it’s better than last year’s model, too. Great job, OtterBox.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.