Pros: Completely waterproof iPod mini protection in a quality transparent hard plastic case, including membrane-covered Click Wheel access. Optional armband works well, looks good.
Cons: Belt clip is only okay.
Though the iPod mini was released at the beginning of 2004, almost a year passed before mini-specific waterproof cases appeared. The first case out of the gates was technically H2O Audio’s SV imini (~$150), which halted initial shipments when its waterproof seal was discovered not to work properly. Then came Eroch Studios’ Lili mini ($34.99, iLounge rating: B+), which worked properly to water-seal the iPod mini, but permitted no access to its screen or controls.
Now OtterBox has released the OtterBox for iPod mini ($49.95), a multi-purpose case that fulfills most of the promise of H2O Audio’s considerably more expensive product – and then some. Like OtterBox’s earlier oPod cases, which we’ve reviewed and liked (iLounge ratings: B+ and A-), the mini version is a hard plastic shell accurately touted as “dustproof, dirtproof, sandproof, and drop-proof,” ready for outdoor activities, and compatible with the company’s optional exercise arm band. But unlike those cases, it’s also fully waterproof, and can be submerged in water without risk to the iPod mini inside.
The OtterBox for iPod mini – which we’ll just call OtterBox from here on out – looks basically like a transparent version of its 3G and 4G predecessors, but with three immediately noticeable differences. First is the case’s top, which no longer splits into two pieces, and connects the front and back halves with a hinge. Second is its bottom, which now uses a sturdy locking clasp to hold both halves together. Together, these two changes (and the case’s less conspicuous internal rubber and plastic seal) create the waterproof environment that protects your iPod mini.
The third change is OtterBox’s screen protector, which no longer needs to be a separate plastic or rubber component given the case’s transparent body, and is therefore just more of the hard clear plastic used for the case’s front. Like the earlier oPods, the new case uses a medium-thickness piece of clear plastic to permit access to the iPod’s controls; here, the controls feel like the 3G oPod’s, which is to say a little less sensitive than you’d optimally like, and requiring a bit of pressure, but still a much better control option than no access at all. While the control system in H2O’s SV iMini is far more technically impressive, it comes at a substantially higher price tag, and taking that difference into consideration, we’d pick OtterBox’s solution any day.
Also like the earlier oPods, the new OtterBox includes a detachable plastic belt clip that’s not as beefy or strong as we would have expected from an otherwise ruggedized outdoor case, but is totally adequate for most purposes. When it’s popped off, you have a more complete view of the iPod mini inside, and can also attach the company’s $14.95 Armband, which we found more than acceptable in our earlier 4G oPod review. Because of the iPod mini’s smaller size and lighter weight, the iPod mini OtterBox is a more comfortable fit on the arm when exercising than the full-sized 3G and 4G versions.
As expected, the most significant feature of the new OtterBox is its truly waterproof body, which worked without issues in our testing. The manufacturer promises that this OtterBox is waterproof to a depth of 10 feet, like the SV iMini and LiliPod, and we sprayed, dunked, and splashed it without incident. None of the cases is rated to a 100-foot depth, like the company’s non-iPod products, so swimming pools, non-scuba ocean applications, and bathtubs are your most likely places to enjoy these cases.
In order to maintain tight control over the case’s potential leak points, the company has limited the flexibility of its opening hinge, making insertion of the iPod mini a very slight challenge. You pop the mini in and slide it on to an integrated headphone plug, then push a little bit more, and lock the OtterBox’s bottom.
The lock feels strong and durable, like the rest of the case, which other than the thinner Click Wheel control circle feels essentially impenetrable. While none of the company’s iPod cases is touted as crush-proof, they’re all strong, and the OtterBox feels at least as durable as the others. However, unlike the 3G and 4G oPod cases, it doesn’t have rubberized corners – most likely for waterproofing reasons – and while it did just fine in our light drop testing, it’s just that fractional bit more scuff-attractive than the earlier oPods.
All of the waterproof cases we’ve seen have one major weakness: headphones. LiliPods don’t include them, and neither does the OtterBox, but H2O’s SV iMini does. One vendor of waterproof headphones is located here, but we can’t vouch for the quality of its products.
Apparently there are some issues related to quality control (and disappointed customers) on waterproof headphones, so many vendors don’t want to take responsibility for selling and then handling returns for them. We’ve tested one pair with problems, ourselves; the iPod had to be turned up to maximum volume just to hear them at a normal listening level, and they couldn’t be heard against significant background noise, which wasn’t good. But our working pair connected without an incident to the OtterBox, and permitted listening over the iPod’s full volume range. They’re far from the most comfortable headphones we’ve ever used, but they work generally.
Thankfully, standard headphones also work perfectly with the OtterBox case, so if you’re looking to use it for above-water applications, you’ll have no problems. Unlike the oPods, its headphone port is at the top of a rubberized nub that sits above the case’s top surface, and works with any 3.5mm headphones you might want to connect.
In sum, the OtterBox for iPod mini is a complete winner. While it’s a bit more expensive than its only available competitor, the Lili mini, it’s also the only waterproof case currently available with complete access to the iPod mini’s controls and screen, and it’s even useful outside of water as an exercise or everyday hard plastic case. Taken in totality, the OtterBox for iPod mini is one of the best and most versatile cases we’ve seen overall for the iPod mini, and comes very highly recommended.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.
Company and Price
Model: OtterBox for iPod mini
Compatible: iPod mini