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).
Kensington’s FX 300 is the least expensive of these options by a factor of more than 2:1, and it’s also the least impressively designed as an iPod accessory, but we’d still pick it over iMainGo. Basically, Kensington has utilized flat panel speaker technology from NXT to create a single-surface audio source that outputs iPod sound from the case’s face without any visible speaker grille.
Rather than trying to create an iPod-specific solution or loading the case up with bells and whistles, the case comes with only one thing – a matte-finished metal carabiner hook, which dangles from its lower left corner, or comes off if you don’t want to use it. Inside are a compartment for two AAA batteries, which deliver around 10 hours of play time, a cable that attaches to any iPod’s headphone port, and a mesh half-pocket that holds any iPod you want to carry around.
The front of the FX 300 has a dial that turns the power on and the volume up or down, nothing else. Absent a power light, the only ways you’ll know it’s draining the batteries are if there’s music coming out, or the volume knob isn’t all the way to the left.
FX 300’s approach couldn’t be much more different than the iH19’s: once the case is zippered, you get zero iPod control, and hook aside, there’s no mounting hardware to place this on a bike – you attach it to a belt loop or bag, press play on your iPod, and turn the speakers on, up, or off at will. That’s it. It’s also relatively small – thicker but only longer and wider by an inch or less than a full-sized iPod – and doesn’t distort audio when at its peak, very listenable volume.
With one exception, FX 300 looks and feels like it’s worth its $30 price, just as iH19 looks and feels like it’s worth its $70 price.
What are the other compromises? One is sound quality. FX 300 blends the iPod’s left and right audio channels together, creating a monaural speaker rather than a stereo one, a compromise which many people will find acceptable given the price and simplicity of the design. Another is protectiveness. Despite its very similar-to-iH19 hard shell design, the case isn’t advertised as water-resistant; there aren’t any speaker holes that water can seep through, but the front volume and power dial isn’t water-tight.
Ideally, FX 300 would have offered iMainGo-like iPod access, a change that would have been trivial and without substantial added cost to implement, and very beneficial given the control limitations of the present design.