IPod & IPhone Case Roundup: Working up a Sweat

Music and exercise go together like peanut butter and jelly. Unless, of course, you don't like peanut butter and jelly, in which case they go together like...two other things that go well together. Anyway, if you've ever worked out with an iPod, you know it only takes one small mishap to turn that enjoyable experience into a disaster--all you need to do is drop your iPod just once.

Fortunately, the marvels of modern technology have come up with many ways to keep your iPod safe while you're engaging in your workout routine. This week, we present to you a roundup of four cases that you might consider for your exercising and iPod needs.

Incase Sports Armband

The light weight of the 3G iPod nano makes it an ideal workout companion, and the US$30 Incase Sports Armband lets you not worry about holding onto your nano while you're out on your daily run. This neoprene armband features a Velcro strap for securing to your arm and a flexible-plastic window through which you can access the iPod's controls.

The Sports Armband is one of the more comfortable armbands I've used, thanks to the fact that it doesn't use bulky plastic buckle that can pinch your arm. Instead, a buckle is embedded in the case's body; the armband itself is also soft and stretchy.

The case's design lets you access most of your iPod nano's features, primarily through the screen protector at the front, which lets you view the iPod's screen as well as use all the Click Wheel buttons. Two small holes at the bottom of the case let you access the iPod's headphone jack and hold switch, though don't expect to work the fine controls of the latter while you're on the run.

The biggest downside of the Sports Armband applies to those who use the Nike + iPod Sports Kit: since you can't access the nano's dock-connector port while the case is on, you won't be able to use the Sports Kit with this case. But if that's not a deal-breaker for you, the Sports Armband may very well serve your exercise needs.

XtremeMac Sportwrap

Sure, nanos and shuffles may be more common as workout iPods, but there's no reason your iPod touch, iPhone, or iPod classic should be left out of the mix. That's where the $30 XtremeMac Sportwrap comes in. This neoprene armband fits any of those three devices, securing it to your arm with a Velcro strap.

The front of the case is a flexible-plastic window the size of the iPod/iPhone's face. You can use both the Click Wheel of a standard iPod and the touch-sensitive iPhone/iPod touch screen through the cover, though it can be difficult to do so while running. The back of the case has a slit for inserting the device, and four small holes for accessing different features, depending on which iPod/iPhone you're using. On the iPhone, the case lets you access the Sleep/Wake button, headphone jack, speaker, and microphone; on the iPod touch, it lets you get to the headphone jack and the Sleep/Wake button; and on the iPod classic, you get access to the headphone jack and hold switch. On the iPhone, you won't be able to get at the physical volume buttons, but you can use the volume slider on the touchscreen.

I ran into only one significant annoyance while using the Sportwrap: the screen protector can adhere to the face of the iPhone and iPod touch, making it annoying to take out of the case. Other than that, the case is a comfortable, well-made armband for those that don't mind running with their larger iPods.

Griffin Streamline

Like the Incase Sports Armband, the $30 Griffin Streamline for iPod nano is an easy way to mount your third-generation (3G) iPod nano for your workouts. Made of a hard but flexible plastic case with a elastic Velcro armband, the Streamline features a transparent-plastic face that shows off your nano to good effect and a neoprene pouch to keep your nano safe.

Other than a small slit at the top to slip the nano in and a small hole at the bottom that allows access to the iPod's headphone jack, you can only interact with the iPod through the screen protector. It works well enough, though there's a lack of tactile feedback that can make it challenging. The case is comfortable, though the elastic is a little harser than the neoprene of some of the other cases--something to consider primarily if you're wearing it against bare skin.

Keep in mind that you won't be able to get at your iPod's hold switch while the nano is in the case, and the dock-connector port is similarly inaccessible, a problem if you want to use the Nike + iPod Sports Kit. If those limitations don't bother you, the Griffin Streamline is a perfectly serviceable case, though it doesn't stand out in any particular way.

nekFIT

If you don't like armbands, then your options are often limited when it comes to iPod cases for working out. The most innovative solution we've seen to this dilemma is the $34 nekFIT . Constructed of a metal bracket with a pair of plastic arms that kind of resemble the ends of eyeglasses, the nekFIT attaches to any iPod shuffle or nano with a stretchy silicone strap, and then rests on the back of your neck.

At first blush, the nekFIT might seem unwieldy, and it is a little weird when you first put it on. But provided you get the right fit (they include three interchangeable brackets for small, medium, and large necks), it's actually not that uncomfortable. A firm plastic lip on the bracket prevents the iPod from banging around too much, and you can bend the arms slightly to contour the fit better to your neck. There are also a pair of hooks for you to wind your headphone cable around to keep it out of your way. The nekFIT doesn't offer much--if anything--in the way of protection for your iPod, but you can easily access all of the iPod's ports, so you can attach any sort of headphones you like, or use the Nike + iPod Sport Kit without trouble.

I tried the nekFIT with three separate iPods: a second-generation (2G) shuffle, a 2G nano, and a 3G nano. Both the 2G shuffle and 2G nano fit securely and comfortably; nekFIT has even designed the raised ridges of the silicone strap to fall on the Click Wheel's Previous and Next buttons, so you can easily switch tracks by touch. The 3G nano didn't seem to fit as well, however. With either nano, using the Click Wheel's scrolling function is a little trickier than usual, since you can't scroll around the entire wheel, but rather must adjust volume, and scroll menus, in fits and spurts. (Of course, you won't be using the interface to pick out a particular track while your iPod is on the back of your neck.

Overall, the nekFIT is a clever idea, though it's not for everybody. But for an alternative to the usual armband for working out, the nekFIT might help take the weight off your arm.

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