Review: Speck Products Active Sport Case and Armband for iPod nano
Speck's Active Sport Armband for iPod nano ($35) arrived just in time: Apple launched the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, and we wanted a really good armband to use along with it. Several days later, we also received the company's iPod 5G version of the Armband, as well as two other versions - so-called Active Sport Cases for iPod 5G and nano ($25), each minus the armband and plus a top-mounted metal carabiner hook for attachment to a belt loop or bag. Because of their inherent similarities, we're reviewing all four products in one review, with separate ratings and notes to indicate differences where appropriate.
All four of the Active Sport designs start with the same body concept: a reflective dark silver iPod carrier with soft gray neoprene inside. We’ll say up front that we found these designs to be extremely attractive while providing a bit of added safety for those who exercise outdoors at night; so long as you’re not in an iPod-snatching neighborhood, you’ll like what Speck’s done to draw attention to you in the dark.
Each carrier always offers screen, face, side, and back protection for the encased iPod - the screen in particular receives a semi-soft, integrated clear guard that’s protective but not ideal for video. Unfortunately, none of the cases offers Click Wheel protection or comprehensive top and bottom protection - each iPod’s headphone port and Dock Connector are always exposed, along with at least a little extra portion of its top. In other words, you’ll have to rule these cases out immediately if your sports of choice involve being out in the rain or splashing copious quantities of sweat on the iPod’s body, but use during drier and lower-impact sports will be fine.
Other than size, there’s only one major difference between both of the nano cases and their 5G equivalents. None of the cases has a perfectly tailored Click Wheel hole, but the ones on the nano designs are a little more uneven and slightly encroach on the iPod’s controls. This is a small imperfection, and one that shouldn’t interfere much with your use of the nano, but we have to note it anyway.
The Active Sport Armbands are the most impressive-looking of the bunch, but also the least protective. In addition to their central iPod carriers, they feature armbands with additional reflective material, two-tone gray rubber, white mesh, and white edging; the nano and 5G versions are both large enough to fit virtually any user’s bicep. Soft gray Velcro lets you resize each armband to your liking, while the soft white mesh interior makes each version feel unusually comfortable on your arm. Speck’s logo is found only on the armband, a subtle and tasteful same-color extrusion at its visible end.
Our only problem with these armbands is their lack of complete protection - unlike the Active Sport Cases, the top of each iPod is entirely exposed in these Armband designs. The nano version fully exposes that iPod’s bottom, as well. Thankfully, the armbands hold each iPod tightly enough while on your arm that you’re highly unlikely to lose your music player while exercising, but these designs don’t match up with the best workout cases we’ve seen for iPods - the more protective and versatile SportSuit and Sport Case designs previously released by Marware and Incase. That said, we did enjoy using the nano case during our testing of the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, and found the 5G version equally sharp-looking and comfortable.
Speck’s Active Sport Cases are cheaper and offer a little more protection for each iPod. Their iPod carriers are almost identical to those in the Armbands, but their backs continue the reflective material and gray design rather than using the white mesh and edging of the armbands. They also have largely (not completely) protective top flaps that seal shut with Velcro, leaving a loop of reflective material to hold their included O-ring style carabiner hooks. You can detach the hook to pocket your iPod, or attach it to wear the iPod at waist or bag level - obviously, its suitability for your workout needs will depend as much on its aforementioned omissions in protectivity as on whatever you’re wearing while you work out.
Like the Armbands, both Cases provide full-time access to your iPod’s Dock Connector and headphone port - the nano version with a fully open bottom, and the 5G version with reasonably sized holes for both Dock Connector hole and headphones. You’ll have to stretch the 5G case’s bottom to connect oversized accessories, but neither case renders oversized headphones incompatible. The nano version works well with the Nike+iPod Sport Kit, assuming you’ll be using it for walks rather than runs.
We’re not going to say that we think any of these Active Sport designs is practically ideal - because they offer only partial iPod protection, each will be better-suited to dry-weather, low-sweat use than workouts that can get your iPod wet. But like most of Speck’s other cases, they look good enough and have enough functional novelty - here, their reflective bodies - that you might not mind the moisture risks. Universal workout cases they might not be, but eye-catching, they surely are. Our number ratings below are for the Case version; both the Case and Armband rate the same flat B, recommended level grades.