Review: OtterBox OtterBox for iPod shuffle
Pros: Waterproof, impact-proof, dirt- and dust-proof iPod shuffle protection in a quality transparent hard plastic case, including rubber-covered Control Pad and power light access. Optional armband works well, looks good. Great price.
Cons: Included lanyard is only adequate; case only certified as waterproof to a depth of three feet (one meter); no access to iPod’s power switch while inside. Waterproof headphones sold separately, not by OtterBox.
When a company develops one great iPod case, it’s no surprise to see the same design appear in multiple sizes that fit different types of iPods. Having previously created the water-resistant oPod, OtterBox went on to develop the eponymous and truly waterproof OtterBox for iPod mini (iLounge rating: A) and OtterBox for full-sized iPods (iLounge rating: A/A-), cases that we’ve strongly praised on design, pricing, and performance. Now they’ve released OtterBox for iPod shuffle ($29.95), which generally continues the impressive dynasty.
Predictably, the newest OtterBox shares virtually all of the design cues of its predecessors: it’s a hinged two-piece hard plastic case that flips partially open from the top, exposing a pass-through headphone plug inside and a watertight cavern to rest your shuffle in. By comparison with other iPod shuffle cases we’ve tested, OtterBox is strong - very strong - and marketed as “waterproof, dustproof, dirtproof, sandproof, and drop-proof,” with heavy emphasis on its impact resistance. Like its predecessors. it feels strong enough to keep your shuffle safe if run over by a car, though we haven’t put it to quite that level of testing.
New to the design are two spaces where you can insert the plastic-capped ends of a small included fabric necklace cord - a smart way to offer such integration, though the cord isn’t quite as nice as the one included by Apple with its iPod shuffle Sport Case (iLounge rating: A). It’s fully adequate, however, and easily detached if you don’t want to use it.
Also unlike the prior OtterBoxes, the new case doesn’t include a belt clip - detachable or otherwise. The company instead offers a new and well-built optional armband ($14.95) custom made to fit the enclosed iPod shuffle. It’s black and uses neoprene and Velcro to fit most arms without a problem. This armband also holds the shuffle case snugly from both the top and bottom, and lets you connect headphones in either direction that you might mount the shuffle on an arm.
To use OtterBox for iPod shuffle, you pop open a lock at the case’s bottom to break the vacuum seal, insert your shuffle right side up with its USB cap on, and then close the case. The lock is then closed, the case becomes waterproof thanks to a rubber O-ring on its top half, and you can use your shuffle underwater without fear.
Mostly. There are three differences between this case and its predecessors that are worth noting. First, it’s the only OtterBox not to provide complete access to all of an iPod’s major controls: you can access the front Control Pad for volume, track, and play/pause control very easily through a watertight membrane, but you can’t use the iPod’s rear power and play order switch. The back of the case is all hard plastic except for a small rubber button that lets you use the shuffle’s remaining power indictor light.
The reason for this is unfortunate, and in our judgment hard to avoid: it’s highly difficult to create a watertight way to access the shuffle’s rear switch inside of a case. Apple most likely skipped doing so in its Sport Case for the same reason. But in our judgment, the use of the rear switch while inside the case is virtually unnecessary: the shuffle’s long battery life means that you can turn on the shuffle, put it in the case, and leave it turned on inside for as long as any normal underwater activity - and drying off the case when finished - might take.
(The only company that conceivably could offer a way around this is Power Support, which pioneered and is patenting a thick circular rubber surface called the Power Ring. The ring enables you to move the shuffle’s switch inside of a case without risk of case tearing, but Power Support hasn’t yet made a waterproof case using the technology.)
A counterveiling and very significant difference between this case and its predecessors is pricing. OtterBox now offers this enclosure for $29.95 - a $20 drop in price from its other cases, and only a dollar more expensive than Apple’s iPod shuffle Sport Case. As we noted in our review of that case, Apple effectively designed the case to be water-resistant - it doesn’t endorse full submersion - though we submerged it for brief periods in shallow water without ill effects. But only OtterBox guarantees that its shuffle case is waterproof, and we found this to be true in more extended testing - at least, to the depths OtterBox states that the case is safe.
That’s because there’s a third difference: OtterBox’s waterproof guarantee. Since the last time we checked the company’s site, we noticed that OtterBox has reduced the guaranteed depth of water submersion that any of its iPod cases can withstand. While the company’s general FAQ page continues to state that “OtterBoxes are rated and guaranteed to 100 feet deep,” separate materials specific to the iPod cases now list all of them as waterproof to a mere 3 feet (or 1 meter) depth, and the new shuffle case’s packaging says as much as well.
As the iPod mini and iPod 4G cases were previously listed as waterproof at 10 foot depths, this was more than a bit of a surprise to us, as was the new packaging’s small print statement that the case is “intended for surface swimming only.” Is this merely a warning to discourage people from diving with the shuffle case, or indicative of something else? We’re not sure. We had no problems in our testing, but certainly wouldn’t recommend you use the case in a way that OtterBox warns against on its packaging.
Regardless of whether it provides 10-foot waterproof protection or three-foot waterproof protection, this OtterBox is still the most waterproof case yet developed for the iPod shuffle. On protectivity alone, it’s the first case we’d recommend to “extreme” active users whose rock-climbing, aquatic, or military activities risk dropping, surmerging, or otherwise seriously damaging the smallest iPod. Compared in protectivity to Apple’s A-rated iPod shuffle Sport Case, the OtterBox is ready for a combat zone, while Apple’s is more appropriate for the ESPN Zone. Since many of our readers are now choosing iPod shuffles as “safe to toss around” supplements to their full-sized iPods, we view this case as highly recommendable.
That said, the Sport Case’s superior lanyard, sportier design, and thinner profile continue to make it a somewhat more endearing offering for use outside of extreme environments. OtterBox for iPod shuffle excels at very specific applications - resistance to pressure and elemental conditions - but it’s not as generally appealing as Apple’s design. And there’s no way around the fact that some serious watersporters will be disappointed by the company’s increasingly limited waterproof guarantees. Three feet of water submersion is fine for showering, swimming, and light dunking of the shuffle - the sorts of ways people are likely to use it for fun. But there’s now plenty of room for companies such as H2O Audio to offer dive-ready waterproof cases, albeit certainly at higher prices.
OtterBox is offering a great case for under $30, but there’s a bit of room for improvement. As we’ve said in past reviews - and have heard in numerous comments from our readers - we continue to think that titularly waterproof cases should be accompanied by (or sold alongside) waterproof headphones, and should be guaranteed to greater submersion depths. For this low price, we don’t hesitate to highly recommend OtterBox for iPod shuffle, but there are a fair number of people who might be willing to pay more to get more.