Every generation of iPods gets a familiar but “new” set of armbands, and the late 2007 iPods aren’t any different: XtremeMac’s new SportWraps, Griffin Technology’s new Streamline for iPod nano (video), and Gecko Gear’s Nano Sports Armband are all successors to earlier products we’ve looked at; the new versions each sell for $30, and have some noteworthy differences from the ones that came before. The iPod nano versions compete against Apple’s official iPod nano Armband, which has made major strides from earlier versions, and now rates as one of the company’s best armbands ever.
XtremeMac’s made the biggest changes to its SportWraps, which are no longer armbands with detachable cases: now, they’re just armbands with iPod compartments inside. And they now come in two sizes: one for the third-generation iPod nano, and one unusually designed to fit the iPod classic, iPod touch, or iPhone. Most companies have released separate armbands for each of these models, but a couple have tried to shoehorn the iPhone and iPod touch into the same holder, with mixed results. Both SportWraps sell for the same price, but the iPod nano version is smaller, and definitely better tailored to the iPod that’s inside.
In each case, you get a black neoprene armband that has thick gray piping on its edges, XtremeMac badges on the front and end of the armband, and a clear soft plastic face for access to the iPod’s screen and controls.
The armbands are identical in length, measuring the same 17 inches as Apple’s iPod nano Armband, and using pads of soft Velcro to let you make adjustments. Both attempt to cover the majority of the iPod inside of the neoprene carrier, exposing a little of its back, and leaving holes for its headphone port and Hold switch.
The iPod nano version does just about as well at its tasks as Apple’s iPod nano Armband. Though the case is optimized for use without the Nike + iPod Sport Kit, you can flip the nano upside down inside, and attach the Kit’s receiver to the nano’s bottom, exposing a bit more of its body in the process. Apple’s design is a little smarter in this regard, and its armband is more breathable, but XtremeMac’s design is a little softer on your arm, and not as brightly colored. The official iPod nano Armband also benefits from Apple’s nicer face protector, which gives the Click Wheel a matte cover rather than a glossy one that’s less friendly to sweaty fingers.
We weren’t as impressed with the multi-iPod/iPhone version of SportWrap, primarily because it doesn’t feel especially well suited for any of the models that it’s designed to fit.
Four headphone port-slash-Hold switch/Sleep/Wake button holes have been placed on its back, but none is perfectly aligned to those parts of the iPhone or the iPod classic. The clear front screen generally does fine with the iPhone and iPod touch’s controls, but commands feel labored when it’s being used with the iPod classic. And though the iPhone and 160GB iPod classic fit, they bulge inside; the case was clearly designed for the iPod touch and the thinner 80GB iPod classic. It goes without saying that the case doesn’t provide special holes for use of the iPhone’s ear speaker or camera, and though there are workarounds, the holes that are there are not especially well-suited to use of the bottom speaker and microphone, either.
Are any of the armbands we’re looking at today worthy of their $30 asking prices? Yes: the SportWrap is best, followed by Streamline, and then the Gecko Nano Sports Armband. But with excellent alternatives such as Apple’s iPod nano Armband and Marware’s SportSuit Convertible out there—the latter offers a case with complete coverage, plus belt clip, handstrap, and armband—for the same price, it’s hard to see these options as being quite as superb.