We won’t claim to be excited by the latest iPod speaker genre – the hybrid iPod case and speaker combination – but since there are now multiple options out there, we’re doing brief comparative reviews for the three most prominent products: iHome’s iH19 ($70), Kensington’s FX 300 ($30), and Portable Sound Laboratories’ iMainGo ($70).
The iHome iH19 was the most expensive, but prior to our review, it dropped by $10 in price, which is great, because it’s also the best-sounding, and overall, the best thought-out of the bunch. Described as a water-resistant stereo sport case for iPods, the iH19 comes in black (iH19B) or pink (iH19P) versions, each with silver accents, and includes three interesting features: two relatively large integrated speakers, a Dock Connector cable inside, and an iPod track, play/pause and volume controller on the front. A blue light indicates that the power’s on, a feature missing from the outsides of its competitors. You can carry iH19 with an integrated strap, attach it to a bike, stroller – be very careful with the volume – or other bar/pipe attachment, and set it on a flat surface for stationary listening – it’s the only one of these options designed for easy attachment to anything else.
When you’re indoors, iHome keeps the speakers running off of an included wall adapter – again, it’s the only one to include such an item as a pack-in – and when you’re on the go, you can power it with four AA batteries, which are inserted into a compartment inside the zipper behind the speakers.
The case zippers closed to envelop your iPod, which is accessed solely via the front-mounted controller unless the zipper is re-opened; a compartment in the case’s back half holds the iPod in with elastic, providing substantial but not complete access to its controls and screen. Headphone and power ports on the top are covered against splashes until you lift up the cover; you can attach a shuffle (externally only) using an included cable to the aux-in audio port, or flip the Hold switch to prevent accidental button presses.
iH19’s positives and negatives are obvious from the first moment that it’s in use. For its price, and given its size, iHome has equipped the unit with legitimately good-sounding speakers – ones which deliver truly stereo-separated, reasonably balanced sound lacking only a bit in the treble department relative to comparably-sized speaker options. The company’s inclusion of a Dock Connector cable for the iPod results in both proper adjustments of the speakers’ volume, and the ability to recharge your iPod whenever the case is connected to wall power, which can’t be done with either of the other cases.
And though it shouldn’t be submerged in water, iH19’s sturdiness and water resistance enable it to be used pretty much anywhere, whether you’re carrying it to a beach, mounting it on front of your bike, or bringing it indoors. The hard plastic/vinyl shell isn’t scuff-proof, but your iPod is very well-shielded inside, thanks to foam padding and hard plastic lining.
With one major exception, this is a fully realized case and speaker combination, providing great convenience at a reasonable price.
That exception is the key way in which iMainGo bests iHome’s design. We are not fans of iPod shuffle-style controls, and actively dislike the idea that we’re forced to accept such limited access to an iPod’s music library simply by virtue of encasing it alongside speakers. Having such controls on the unit’s front isn’t necessarily a great idea, either, as those who bike-mount iH19 can’t conveniently change tracks or volume. iMainGo’s design, which features a transparent protective rear window, is on balance the better approach for a case like this; if a shuffle-style remote were necessary, mounting it on the top would probably have been smarter, as that location also works for those who aren’t bike-mounting the system.
A minor issue is the case’s size. It’s roughly twice the thickness and two inches wider than iMainGo, a factor which allowed iHome to include such substantial speaker drivers, but one which makes this case noticeably bigger than both of the other options shown here, and other hybrid products of this sort that are available.