Review: Tunewear WaterWear 4G
Pros: A simple, inexpensive way to water-guard your iPod for typical daily exposure to the elements and possible drop/crush damage, while gaining full access to its screen and controls. Includes decent arm strap and armband, smart rubberized headphone connector plug.
Cons: No guarantees of waterproof design mean that “WaterWear” cases can’t be warn in the water without some fear; no belt clip option. Not for use with 60GB iPod photo hardware.
The world of waterproof and water-resilient iPod cases was a relatively small one up until recently. But two companies are in the process of releasing new cases that offer varying degrees of iPod water protection. In a separate review, we look at California-based H2O Audio’s SV-iMini ($149.95), a truly waterproof iPod mini case with a very elaborate control system and included waterproof headphones - a first for all of the waterproof and water-resistant cases we’ve seen. In this review, we look at WaterWear ($24.95) from Japan’s Tunewear, separate iPod mini and 4G iPod cases once described as waterproof but now advertised only as “water resistant.” How do these cases compare with our previously reviewed options? Read on to find out.
Tunewear’s two WaterWear cases are relatively simple iPod enclosures: each is a clear hard plastic shell with a two-piece hinged design. The top half of each case contains an external, rubberized headphone port extender that seals closed at the top with a dangling cap and protrudes inside the case to make contact with your iPod. Other than their colors, the extenders are identical: WaterWear mini’s extender is black, while the 4G’s extender is Click Wheel-matching gray. We liked that Tunewear thought to attach rubber caps to each of the extenders, rendering the cases mostly watersafe even if you don’t have headphones plugged in.
Each case’s top half is connected to the bottom half with a clear hinge that permits both sides to spread far apart, a design that makes iPod insertion and removal considerably easier than with most water-resistant cases. However, by splitting the case in half through the iPod’s center, Tunewear also creates a relatively thick seam in both WaterWear cases right at the bottom of each iPod’s screen.
You insert the iPod first in WaterWear’s bottom half, then pull the top half closed, connecting the headphone extender to the top of your iPod. A seal is created when you lock latches on both the left and right sides of the case. Rubber in the central seam between the two halves keeps water out when the case is properly locked.
Below the latches are two U-shaped strips of heavy plastic that serve only to hold an included black elastic armband, which takes a little fumbling around to attach, but works adequately on small- to medium-sized arms once inserted. The iPod mini WaterWear also includes a single plastic eyelet on its top surface for a nice included plastic neck strap with a quality metal lobster claw clasp attached; the 4G iPod version instead has two eyelets on its top sides for a larger arm strap with two claw clasps. TuneWear’s site mentions and shows a transparent plastic lanyard for the iPod mini, which wasn’t included with either of the review cases we received.
The iPod’s screen and controls are substantially accessible in each of the cases. A fully sealed rubber Click Wheel cover lets you control your 4G or mini iPod with great ease, while the clear front of the each case’s top half makes the screen relatively easy to see. Both screens are slightly obscured by the center of the WaterWear cases, but for the price, most people won’t mind this at all.
Each case features extruded transparent WaterWear and Tunewear logos on its rear, but other than that, they’re unmarked and very simple. There’s no obstruction of your ability to see either iPod from all of its angles, and no belt clips or other mounts get in the way.
There are “waterproof” cases and “water-resistant cases” now available for both the iPod and iPod mini: a waterproof case is guaranteed safe when submerged underwater, whereas a water-resistant case is guaranteed only to resist splashes and rain. Before they were released, WaterWear cases were supposed to be waterproof, but they’re now being shipped and advertised as water-resistant only.
Evaluating the WaterWear cases is somewhat of a challenge in that Tunewear’s currently advertised claims are so limited: unlike Eroch’s LiliPods, the OtterBox for iPod mini and H2O Audio’s SV-iMini, the company no longer claims that either WaterWear will survive extended submersion in water or that it’s safe to any specific depth. At most, the company says that WaterWear is intended “to protect the iPod from temporary submersion into water or liquids and/or protection from dust and sand,” but “takes no responsibility for ANY damage to your iPod (all models) that results from the use of WATERWEAR.” That’s a giant disclaimer, and basically warns prospective owners not to dunk their iPods in water for any real length of time.
Just to test the safety of the “temporary submersion” claim, we did some extended underwater testing to see whether any liquid appeared in our test cases. There were no problems at a shallow depth in either case; both emerged with their innards dry, and neither of our test iPods was damaged. WaterWear’s controls worked perfectly well underwater, and we found the cases to be entirely satisfactory in this regard, again and especially for the price.
However, since the cases are not promised to be fully waterproof, we would caution readers not to repeat the tests we’ve done. Tunewear’s statement of safety for temporary submersion suggests that the sealed case can save you from an accidental drop in the pool, not an extended diving session. WaterWear is thus basically an OtterBox mini-lite case, at half the price and less guaranteed safety, and we don’t get the sense that its rubber seal is designed for long-term water security. However, Tunewear notes that the cases are strong enough to be crushproof, and though we didn’t try to run over them with our cars, they do feel very strongly made with the exception of their hinges. Skiiers and snowboarders would have a much greater likelihood of breaking their ribs than their iPods if a WaterWear case was inside their jackets while on the slopes.
iPod photo Compatibility
In addition to disclaiming any responsibility for water-related damages, Tunewear has also aggressively warned users to avoid using the WaterWear cases with iPod photo hardware unless they’re willing to take the risk of tarnishing the photo’s glossy casing. Recent iPod photo purchasers should note that the warning was crafted before the introduction of Apple’s thinner 30GB iPod photo, which like the now-discontinued 40GB standard iPod fits without an issue in the case.
But 60GB iPod photo owners will find that the case isn’t appropriate for their needs - at least by comparison with other scratch-free water-resistant options that have already been released. It’s tight, and the case seems really to have been designed for use with 20GB and 40GB iPods only. Tunewear’s decision to call the case WaterWear 4G rather than 4G/photo was a smart one.
When compared against other water-resilient cases, WaterWear’s primary advantages are full screen and control access at a lower price, whereas its disadvantages are the lack of a belt clip and Tunewear’s strong disclaimers against the case’s assumed purpose.
Considering the design and pack-ins together, it’s hard to feel that these cases were going as much for premium quality as for a cheap and simple solution to the typical iPod owner’s occasional desire for watertight protection - and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Their $24.95 price tags make both of the WaterWear cases very attractive compromise options for those who otherwise would have passed on some quantum of water protection.
However, they may give some users a false sense of security as to what they are and are not capable of guarding against. Assuming you feel comfortable with the simple included arm band, we think these are pretty good cases if you’re looking to take a jog in the rain or hit the slopes of a ski resort. But we’d definitely pick other options if we were really going to expose our iPods to water for extended periods of time.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge