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.
Incase’s Sports Armbands for the fourth-generation iPod nano ($30) and second-generation iPod touch ($35) step away from prior Multifunction armband designs that Incase previously pioneered: like Marware, Incase offered kits with a case, a belt clip, an armband, and something else—generally, a hand strap—to let athletic users wear their iPods however they wanted. Now, for the same prices, you just get a neoprene and Velcro armband with a non-detachable iPod pouch at the center.
On one hand, the change is sad: unlike Griffin’s new AeroSport and DLO’s Action Jackets, these armbands aren’t convenient for your pocket and don’t mount on your belt.
But unlike the last iPhone Sports Multifunction offering, Incase has bothered to actually protect the iPods inside with integrated full-face clear plastic protectors. Better yet, these protectors work without any issue, unlike DLO’s iPod nano version of Action Jacket, and the cases have fewer holes than Griffin’s AeroSports.
Connection of headphones and the Nike + iPod Sport Kit is no issue on the nano version; the touch version is also fully headphone-compatible, and for no particular reason has a Dock Connector port hole on the bottom as well. Though there’s still a large hole in the case’s top, protection is included for the rest of the device; you can press through the sides for volume controls, and through the face for the Home button.
As is typical of Incase’s designs, both of the armbands are visually attractive. The iPod touch version is available in black only, with a dark gray soft plastic frame around the touch’s face, while the iPod nano Sports Armband is sold in both black and blue/gray versions.
Each has the Incase name on the front, a subtle Incase leaf icon frosted into the clear plastic face protectors, and another leaf on the neoprene armband. Reflective gray dots on the armbands are interesting, as well; the company has done away with the ribs found in some earlier Multifunction armbands, and doesn’t have the breathability of Apple’s iPod nano Armband, but the bands are still pretty comfortable. Notably, the iPod touch version has a 17-inch armband—average by competitive standards—while the iPod nano version has a shorter than average 15-inch armband. While this is fine for users with small- to medium-sized arms, those with larger biceps should consider other options.
Omissions aside, our only issue with these cases is their pricing. Incase’s prior designs offered a lot more versatility for the dollar than these do; there are one or two dozen other companies that produce similar non-detachable armband designs that differ mostly in omitting the Incase branding, and typically sell for less—Belkin’s Sport Armbands are a prime example.