Year after year, iPod armbands from major developers have remained virtually unchanged, but 2008 is different: for the first time in many moons, most of the latest armbands for iPod nano and iPod touch models have actually diverged from their predecessors. Today, we’re looking at a total of nine new armbands from four companies: Belkin, DLO, Griffin, and Incase. Each company has a fourth-generation iPod nano armband and a second-generation iPod touch armband; Griffin also has a 120GB iPod classic version. They run between $20 and $35, a fairly significant price spread given that they all do pretty much the same thing.
The most unchanged offerings in the bunch are DLO’s Action Jackets for iPod nano 4G and iPod touch 2G ($30 each), which are virtually identical to their iPod nano 3G and iPod touch 1G predecessors save for two things: tailoring and holes. In short, the iPod touch version of Action Jacket is as impressive as last year’s version, while the iPod nano version takes a major step down, even though DLO was clearly trying to do good.
Once again, both Action Jackets come in multiple pieces: you get a neoprene case with an integrated clear plastic protector, plus a detachable armband. While the iPod touch version also has a detachable belt clip, which is used as an alternative to the 17-inch armband, the iPod nano version has a non-detachable clip that serves to mount the case on the smaller 16” elastic armband. Both have clear, touch-through face protectors; the nano one also comes in a black and pink version.
Only one thing has changed this year in the iPod touch version: the prior brightness sensor hole on the front of the case has been eliminated, a change that we actually prefer given that it helps the iPod avoid that much more sweat or moisture intrusion, and doesn’t seriously impact use of the device inside. Surprisingly, however, DLO has preserved the Sleep/Wake button hole at the top, which is bizarre given that it has merely marked both the volume and Home buttons on the case, keeping all of these controls safe while letting you know where to push through the soft neoprene body. The only major holes are on the case’s bottom: one for the headphone port, the other matching it on the other side, offering no benefit. If DLO could seal the case’s remaining unnecessary holes, Action Jacket would be even more impressive than it already is.
The iPod nano version tries to parrot the design, offering similar coverage and omissions, down to the presence of a small hole for the Hold switch at top. While there isn’t any special accommodation for the Nike + iPod Sport Kit Receiver, a popular add-on for athletic users, the bottom Velcro tab can be opened and the armband worn upside-down; the neoprene case design grips the nano enough to keep it snug inside. DLO’s integrated belt clip in the nano version ratchets through 180 degrees of freedom, as well.
There’s only one major, and ultimately fatal issue with Action Jacket. The iPod touch’s clear plastic face protector works without a problem, but the iPod nano version has major problems with the Click Wheel’s scrolling and volume functionality—regardless of whether you’re using a nano that’s been updated to the more Click Wheel-sensitive 1.0.2 firmware. We found the Click Wheel almost entirely non-responsive with the updated firmware, and even less responsive with its predecessor, which is a real shame given that DLO actually added coverage to the Wheel this year to make the case more protective. It was just the wrong thickness or type of plastic, apparently.
Overall, though we continue to highly recommend the iPod touch version of Action Jacket, which offers a nice case and versatility for its $30 asking price, the iPod nano version of Action Jacket rates a D+ because of the show-stopping Click Wheel impediment it creates. Another redesign will hopefully be in the works for the future.
For iPod touch 2G
For iPod nano 4G
Company and Price
Company: Digital Lifestyle Outfitters (DLO)
Compatible: iPod nano 4G, iPod touch 2G