Apple rarely designs a case or armband so superb that it displaces competing alternatives, but this year’s $29 iPod nano Armband came close, leaving little apparent room for third-party developers to do better. Good looks aside, Apple’s Armband protects the whole nano except for its bottom corners, and uses a unique dual-finished plastic face with a tactile Click Wheel cover and an indented Action button. Yet Marware and DLO have both tried to do better, and in certain ways succeeded with new alternatives: Marware has three different Sportsuit-branded options ranging in price from $20 to $30, and DLO has the new $30 Action Jacket for iPod nano.
With one exception, the Action Jacket for iPod nano follows past DLO Action Jacket traditions: it starts with a vulcanized neoprene case that has a clear plastic face, and comes with an integrated, non-detachable belt clip which slips into a loop on a color-matched elastic and Velcro armband. This armband is an inch shorter than Apple’s Armband and equally wide—narrower than the Marware armband that comes with its $30 Sportsuit Convertible. Just like Convertible, you can use DLO’s case with or without the armband, and unlike Convertible, Action Jacket’s strong, spring-loaded plastic belt clip ratchets in 30-degree steps through 180 degrees of freedom.
The Action Jacket and Apple’s Armband take the same general approach to nano body coverage, covering all of the nano’s back, top, and sides, with a bottom-mounted Velcro tab that exposes both of the nano’s bottom corners fully for easy headphone port and Hold switch access. This approach is convenient if you’re fidgeting a lot with those two parts of the nano, but it’s not as protective as Marware’s nearly comprehensive bottom coverage, and not as versatile’s as Apple’s: unlike the official iPod nano Armband, the Velcro doesn’t extend to accommodate the Nike + iPod Sport Kit. You’ll have to leave Action Jacket’s bottom flap entirely open to attach the Sport Kit’s receiver.
That’s not a change from the prior Action Jacket, which had the same approach to bottom protection and accessory attachment. The major difference is face protection: DLO’s prior Action Jackets had Click Wheel coverage, but the new one doesn’t—it’s the only armband we’ve tested so far that leaves part of the nano’s face exposed. Different users have different tastes in this regard, but in our view, additional protection is really important for those concerned about sweat, and Marware’s Sportsuit Convertible design is clearly superior in both face and bottom protection.
The other major differences between the $30 Action Jacket and the $30 Sportsuit Convertible are in colors, versatility and comfort. Both products come in three colors—Marware’s is sold in black, blue, or silver, DLO’s in black, white, or black with pink—and as previously noted, each serves as a case and an armband. You’ll have to decide which company’s color options better match your fashion needs, but Marware’s design is more versatile: it lets you fully detach its belt clip for added thinness, add a handstrap, and work with other Multidapt accessories; Action Jacket, by contrast, has only the rotation of its belt clip in its favor. Both are very nice standalone iPod nano cases, and though Action Jacket’s vulcanized neoprene is a little more rugged-looking than the shiny Convertible’s Orca neoprene, there’s no doubt that Convertible is the better of the two in coverage, if not in fit and finish. DLO’s armband is a hint less comfortable than both Apple’s and Marware’s, as well, thanks to its use of slightly less soft elastic rather than neoprene.
All of this isn’t to say the Action Jacket’s a bad or okay option: to the contrary, given the huge number of cheap, poorly tailored designs that always emerge for new iPods, DLO’s design still stands out from the pack as well-made, good-looking, and a fine value for the dollar. Given how fast Marware and Apple appeared with superb options, though, Action Jacket is a solid B by comparison—added protection or lower pricing would make it a stronger option.
Company and Price
Company: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO)
Model: Action Jacket
Compatible: iPod nano (with video)