Pros: Everything short of waterproof iPod protection in a quality hard plastic case, including screen protection and membrane-covered control access.
Cons: Is water resistant but not waterproof, price is on the very high end for a plastic case.
If Eroch Studios’ LiliPod pioneered weather resistant iPod cases, a new competitor called oPod surely takes three steps forward in that category – and only one step back. As the first iPod product from Otterbox, maker of crush proof and waterproof cases for PDAs and tablet computers, the $49.95 oPod comes impressively close to accessory perfection, falling short only in a single but key area: unlike other Otterbox products, it’s only guaranteed to be water resistant, not waterproof, and our testing confirmed that limitation. But in every other way, the oPod outstrips the LiliPod, and thus Otterbox’s offering is a potentially great alternative for certain users.
Our previous review of the $35.00 LiliPod was positive, not glowing. The LiliPod is a white plastic waterproof case that completely encloses any third-generation iPod, providing access to its headphone port only through an integrated rubber adapter. With a design modestly adapted from waterproof cigarette travel cases – white plastic ones rather than clear ones, at that – a LiliPod lets you hear whatever your iPod’s playing, but critically gives you no access to the screen or controls. As an added limitation, the integrated rubber headphone adapter is incompatible with the iPod’s remote, so unless you have a perfectly programmed playlist (and set the volume properly in advance), you might have to suffer a bit with the iPod’s output once it’s locked inside.
By contrast, Otterbox’s oPod design is substantially and impressively tailored to real-life use of the third-generation iPod. Available in five colors (white, pink, green, blue, and yellow), the oPod gives the user full but protected access to the iPod’s controls and screen, plus two different ways to connect to your body: an included, detachable belt clip, and an optional neoprene armband for athletic use ($14.95). (We did not receive or test the armband, which apparently will be shipping to customers shortly.)
Our review unit consisted of six pieces: front and back plastic shells, the detachable plastic belt clip, two soft inserts for proper iPod spacing, and three interchangeable headphone port seals. The front shell uses heavy plastic at all points except the iPod’s screen and controls, which are covered by a membrane of medium-hardness transparent plastic tailored to the shapes of the Scroll Wheel and buttons. oPod’s white plastic back shell is rubber lined on the inside as a sealant and hard rubber cornered on the outside for anti-drop protection. You pick a headphone port seal corresponding to the type of headphones you’re using, and as you can see from the accompanying photographs, the oPod’s interior is generously spaced at the top to fit almost anything you’d want to plug in. The two shells lock together with a hinge at the top, comfortably sealing the iPod in without potential for scratching or other damage.
It’s a great design, and dramatic improvement on the chief failings of the LiliPod. When properly spaced inside the oPod with the inserts, the iPod’s touch-sensitive controls are surprisingly easy to use – even moreso at times than in Lajo’s silicone rubber eXo 2 cases – though occasionally a second tap on a button will be necessary. Though steam and water can fog the plastic membrane slightly, we always found it easy to wipe the outer screen and see what was going on. And finally, the headphone seals are easy to choose and replace, as the included instructions clearly explained which one appropriately matched a specific type of cable.
Our only issues with the design are two small ones. First, the detachable one-piece plastic belt clip, while adequately resilient, isn’t the strongest looking we’ve seen for the iPod. Given that Otterbox emphasizes the damage resistance of most of its products, we imagine that people will buy oPods chiefly to protect against potentially abusive conditions, and though there’s nothing wrong with the current belt clip, an even beefier one couldn’t hurt. Second, for reasons explained below, it would be nice if there was a LiliPod-style fully rubberized headphone port extension option, as the current headphones seals aren’t a perfect solution.
Officially, Otterbox states that the oPod is “dustproof, dirtproof, sandproof and drop-proof,” which makes the case better than most for users with active livestyles, and enlisted iPod lovers who happen to be stationed in deserts or jungles. But waterproof, it’s not. Otterbox accurately describes the oPod as “water resistant,” and touts it as rain and pool safe, which we agree that it is, so long as it’s not being submerged under water.
Our test iPod emerged perfectly dry when it was splashed under a shower head for an extended period of time, with water coming from all angles. And it even did a pretty good job when dropped into a full tub of water, floating on the surface without dampening the iPod inside. We held the oPod under water, and it even seemed to be doing pretty well there until we pressed on the membrane. At that point, small air bubbles came out from the headphone seal area, and near the bottom in an apparently tiny gap in the rubber seal down there. Not surprisingly, when we opened the case, there was a little bit of water inside.
Critically, these small holes in the rubber were not big enough to let typical dust, dirt, or sand in, and since sealing the case creates an air pocket inside, typical rain, showerhead, or “oops I dropped it in the pool” water resistance aren’t really problems for the oPod. Only the “I want to use it in the pool/lake/ocean” sorts of applications are ones that users should avoid.
Value and Conclusions
From a value standpoint, the oPod can be seen in two ways: at $49.95, it’s the same price as the well-regarded and strong iPod Armor metal hard case from Matias, and $15 more expensive than the waterproof LiliPod, thereby representing the high end of the iPod hard case price bracket. (The value equation would have been easier on the oPod if the $49.95 package included the neoprene armband.) But it’s also the only 3G iPod hard case to offer such a complete degree of protection while permitting both screen and control access. As a consequence, we think that oPod’s value to a given consumer will depend on his or her particular needs: only the LiliPod is truly submersible (and includes a Lanyard necklace), only the iPod Armor has the looks and resilience of metal, and only the oPod lets you use the iPod’s controls while inside. All three of these products are quality hard cases, but otherwise, they’re different strokes for different folks.
As is, the oPod is a highly functional but not truly waterproof “action” case, which like the LiliPod – but for entirely different reasons – falls just shy of our top “Excited” rating. Regardless, we feel very confident that Otterbox will have an unmitigated hit on its hands if it releases a truly water tight next generation oPod product. Anything this good demands a successor.
[Editor’s Note: Otterbox will offer iPod mini and 1G/2G compatible versions of Otterbox in the near future.]
Jeremy Horwitz is a consumer electronics fanatic who practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school -ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPod 3G