Review: Tune Belt iPod Armband Carrier
Pros: Inexpensive way to bring an iPod along when exercising.
Cons: Design problems create concerns about stability and potential scratch and shake damage to iPod, as well as limiting access to iPod and controls when in use. Not a great fashion statement, either.
A Sack, a Strap, and a Purpose
Two years after the iPod’s release, most third-party accessory designers have chosen to accentuate the uniquely sleek curves and thin profile of Apple’s digital audio player - often with premium-priced offerings. But one company has taken a different approach. Using surfer-friendly neoprene rubber and one-size-fits-all design principles, Tune Belt has released the iPod Armband Carrier as an inexpensive case that straps to your arm during fitness activities.
Do You Remember the ‘80s?
Velcro. Light-reflective strips. A zipper. Black rubbery fabric. Even today, most athletic clothing includes at least one of these items, but a decade or two has passed since it was fashionable to wear anything with all four of them together. Enter the iPod Armband Carrier, which incorporates all four in a somewhat less hip variant on Body Glove’s slicker cellular phone cases.
It’s hard to fault an inexpensive accessory for lacking style, but the Armband Carrier - like all of Tune Belt’s accessory pouches for other devices - has a certain fanny pack-style heft that you’ll either tolerate or dislike. Regardless, the use of neoprene has its benefits: the thicker, more rubbery version of Spandex won’t be damaged by light rain and splashes of sweat like untreated leather cases, and more importantly, you won’t be inconvenienced if you have to wash the Armband Carrier or throw it away after repeated usage.
Ample Space for any iPod
Three components of the iPod Armband Carrier add bulk to what might have been a thinner accessory. A full-sized front flap covers the front of the iPod and includes a zipper pocket for earbuds. The Carrier’s arm strap consists of fat neoprene fabric loops with a hard plastic piece to adjust arm tightness.
Then there’s the central iPod compartment. On the bright side, the pouch is large enough to hold any current-model iPod, but the hitch is that there’s a bit of wiggle room if you insert a 3G version, and it’s more pronounced in the thinner 10, 15, and 20GB models. While this wouldn’t be a major issue with digital audio devices that lack moving parts, iPods’ hard drives are susceptible to damage if shaken, and the Armband Carrier may leave users of 3G iPods feeling slightly uneasy. (Notably, there is enough room to snugly insert a 3G iPod inside of a case such as the iSkin eXo, though that will add to the weight on your arm.)
In order to accommodate different iPod key layouts, a small half-sheet of transparent plastic inside the Armband Carrier provides soft screen protection, while the bottom half is left open to expose any sort of wheel and button controls your iPod may have - an adequate but not glamorous one-size-fits-all solution. The iPod is actually inserted upside down so that its screen can be read easily by eyes looking down at a bicep.
Tune Belt doesn’t provide holes as openings for the top or bottom ports on the iPod; instead, they left only a single tiny slit for the headphone jack on the bottom of the Carrier. We felt tinges of discomfort as we tried to probe the bottom of the case for the iPod’s headphone port, rubbing metal against metal in the process. A hole would have been a better idea.
We tested the Armband Carrier on two people, one male and one female, to get a sense of how the device held up under real-life usage. For purposes of comparison, we also tried iRiver’s well-designed “Arm Band Carry Case” (MSRP $12.99) for their iFP-100 series flash players.
Without going into unnecessary detail, suffice it to say that iRiver’s Case differs from Tune Belt’s Carrier in several significant ways. First, iRiver’s compartment is a snug, form-fitting soft plastic that grips and protects everything except the top of the device, providing easy access to its buttons and screen. Next, iRiver’s Case matches the style of their device. And third, it is cheaper than Tune Belt’s product. Given the size of the two audio devices, the latter fact may seem like comparing apples and oranges - no vague pun intended - but at the very least it strongly hints that low price, protection and good looks don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
The final and critically important difference is the armband itself. iRiver’s band is a superior design in all regards, using plastic, elastic, three metal hinges and two interlocking metal clasps to lock the armband firmly but comfortably on your arm. As previously mentioned, Tune Belt’s band assembly consists merely of two loops of neoprene held together by a single adjustable piece of plastic. An extra piece of elastic does a passable job of keeping the second neoprene loop from flapping in the wind.
While running, both users found that iRiver’s design held the player quite firmly to the skin from the start, while the male user thought that the Tune Belt band wobbled a bit until moist enough to stick to his skin. The female user initially found the Tune Belt loose and wobbly, but quickly tightened the band enough to feel comfortable with its stability.
Yet the female user came to the harsher overall conclusion, pronouncing the iPod too heavy and bulky to consider strapping to her arm, especially for long-distance running. She also took strong exception to the Armband Carrier’s front flap, which denied her the ability to easily see the screen or adjust the controls while running and working out. Even though she’d set up a playlist, she noted that a remote control is a “must” when using the Armband Carrier, and indicated that she wouldn’t use the Carrier again without one. Or even with one, if she was running.
The male user - this reviewer - didn’t find the iPod too heavy for his arm, but also didn’t find the Carrier to be a comfortable or stable enough way to hold it there, particularly while running. Both users strongly preferred iRiver’s design, especially its tighter fit and easier access to screen and controls.
A Tough Conclusion
With all due respect to Tune Belt, and having made every attempt to objectively look at the accessory’s pros and cons, we felt forced to reach the conclusion that this particular one-size-fits-all design won’t be right for as many people as it could be with a bit more attention to the specific details of the iPod. Some users may find the Armband Carrier attractive at its price point, but we think we’d wait for a flapless, more contoured second generation version with a better armband.