Review: Speck Products Mini Arm Band
Pros: Works just like Apple’s official Armband but includes protective case for iPod mini, is compatible with other popular iPod cases.
Cons: There are better cases and better-looking armbands, though Speck’s combination of the two is the best to date.
Six months ago, iLounge reviewed Apple’s iPod mini Arm Band, a $29 accessory that attaches an iPod mini to your arm with a plastic clip and vulcanized neoprene band. Now Speck Products has released the Skin-Tight Armband, a $29.95 clone of Apple’s product that differs from the original in only three ways. Since our review of Apple’s accessory was buried in our longer iPod mini Power Users’ review, we’re reprinting most of it here to provide context, and will highlight the differences in Speck’s product below.
Apple iPod mini Arm Band: Our Earlier Comments
No accessory released in the last two years has tested our capacity for verbal restraint quite like this particular accessory, which we chafed at having to buy for review. We initially recoiled at the thought of a $29 price tag for a neoprene band and plastic iPod mini-holding clip, minimalism taken to an extreme.
Yet we have to admit that we actually like Apple’s Arm Band more than we thought we would, though we continue to think it’s a terrible value for the money, even by Apple standards, and has a minor problem. To focus initially on the positives, the minimal look actually works really well - it makes the iPod mini stand out on an arm, and from a design standpoint, Apple nailed the essentials: it holds well on the biceps and really clasps the iPod mini surprisingly well.
The holding clip’s secrets are its perfectly manufactured iPod mini form-fitting shape and the tiniest soft plastic bump to hold the device in place when inserted. And the white plastic is both durable and slightly disarming: its rear actually houses four screws and a metal harness to hold the neoprene belt and plastic clip together, more of an effort than most iPod armband makers bothered to make. Apple’s vulcanized (baked) neoprene has a better feel and look than the cheaper standard neoprene used in other case, and multiple strips of Velcro create a more than adequate lock on your arm. The word “iPod” is embossed in the band for a subtle extra touch.
Besides its price, our only issue with Apple’s armband is its protectiveness. Unlike many older iPod armbands, which subject their users to the constant fear of iPod shaking, slippage and droppage, the iPod mini Arm Band holds the mini as tight as you make it, but it doesn’t afford any front, side, or bottom protection against the elements or scratching. Most people won’t care, and truthfully, we don’t anticipate that the mini is going to fall out or get scratched ragged by anything except classical “user error.” But for $29.00, we can’t help but think a screen protector of some sort would have been nice. Better yet, we’d like Apple to just lower the price tag, but then, we won’t hold our breath on that.
The Skin-Tight Armband
Six months after Apple’s release, Speck has released a similar Armband accessory with only three major differences: a pack-in, size, and colors. Speck has tossed in a bare version of its translucent plastic Skin-Tight Mini Skin case, which while typically sold for $19.95 also normally includes a lanyard necklace for that price. As the earliest case released for the iPod mini, it’s a case we liked, though it’s subsequently been surpassed by offerings from iSkin, DLO and Lajo, amongst others. It lacks screen and/or Click Wheel protection, and because of its use of Kraton plastic, it’s not the best feeling of the rubber-style iPod mini cases. That said, it’s still a good and reasonably protective case.
Unlike Apple’s Armband, Speck’s Armband was designed to hold an iPod mini while inside of a case, and so the size of Speck’s clip is slightly larger than Apple’s. Two small finger grip tabs have been added to the bottom edges of the clip to let users slightly bend the sides to remove their encased iPods. (They’re also supposed to hold your headphone wire over to one side or the other of the clip, but we found that the feature only worked with Apple’s pack-ins; thinner wires didn’t stay put.) We personally liked the size change the most of Speck’s choices, given that we were initially concerned about the protective qualities of Apple’s product. By making its Armband large enough to accommodate a case, and even including one, Speck provides a little extra security that Apple’s Armband just does not.
It bears brief mention that Speck’s Armband grips an iPod mini quite well while inside, and gave no indication while worn of looseness. While it lacks the Apple product’s soft plastic bump to hold the mini in place, it doesn’t need one: the case plastic achieves the same function. For reference, we also tested the Armband with other cases, including Lajo’s exomini series, which only fit in the “-fb” (flat back) versions, and iSkin’s iSkin mini case, which fit perfectly.
Finally, Speck’s changed the colors of their Armband from Apple’s white clip and black band to a clear clip and army green band. The clear clip looks good, revealing an internal metal band holding piece similar to Apple’s; the green band is passable at best, though identical to Apple’s from a construction standpoint in that it layers thin sheets of vulcanized rubber on top of a regular piece of neoprene inside, and is also the same length. Of course, the word “iPod” has disappeared, replaced by an embossed Speck Products logo, but otherwise, it’s almost the same product.
Overall, Speck’s product represents a better value than Apple’s, by offering a package that combines added protectiveness with the same general functionality and style. Like Marware’s SportSuit Convertible, which is slightly more expensive and less stylish, it’s on the fine edge of our excited rating because it’s not quite the perfect case or perfect looking armband, but it looks pretty darned good and works pretty darn well. At the moment, it’s as good as an alternative as we’ve seen in its category.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge. A consumer electronics fanatic who practices intellectual property law in his spare time, Jeremy’s 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.