Apple took a lot of flak from many people - including me - about the iPod's initial high price of $400. Although the snazzy MP3 player was certainly well designed, other devices, such as the Archos Jukebox, boasted more storage and lower prices. However, when I finally broke down and bought my own 5 GB iPod, I realized that the specs tell only part of the story; the real secret to the iPod's success is its size.
Attentive TidBITS readers will note that just as Adam can be obsessed about data backups, I'm obsessed with the size of devices: laptops, Palm devices, and now the iPod. I use it far more than I expected I would because it's so easy to carry around. I find myself listening to it when I'm working, even when it's just as easy to use iTunes on my PowerBook, so I can continue to listen to music as I walk around the house or office.
However, the iPod's smooth, minimal design can also be a drawback: I either have to carry it in my hand or put it into a pocket (which isn't always comfortable, and increases the chances of scratching up the exterior) when I'm on the move. Exercising also becomes a bit of a hassle: I like to keep my hands free when I go running, and running clothes seldom offer good pockets. Clearly, I wasn't the only person longing for a better solution, which is why several companies now sell iPod cases. After doing some online research, I contacted three manufacturers and asked to try their iPod cases. I also managed to look at Apple's new iPod case, which ships with the 10 GB and 20 GB models.
iGlove -- Like the iPod, the iGlove from Software & Things was designed with simplicity in mind. It's a one-piece black leather pocket that the iPod slides into from the top, with a circle cut out of the front for access to the iPod's controls. A plastic window protects the iPod's screen; a leather-covered metal belt clip is mounted on the back. The iGlove's stitching faces outward, which provides a tighter fit for the iPod and also offers a few millimeters of shock-absorbing bumpers around the edges to help protect the iPod during a fall. My only irritation with the iGlove is that the raised stitching around the circular controls makes me have to use my fingernails to press the buttons around the iPod's scroll wheel. The iGlove costs $27; a model without the belt clip is available for $25.
XtremeMac iPod Case Bundle -- With four different bundles of iPod accessories, XtremeMac wants to make sure you and your iPod are covered no matter what your needs. Each of the four bundles contains a case for the iPod, a swivel-style belt clip (like those frequently used with cell phones), and a mesh pouch for holding the iPod's earbud headphones; this basic package costs $30. For $40, you also get two adhesive-backed swivel mounts for clipping the iPod to a wall, desk, or monitor case, and a neck lanyard for wearing the iPod like a Macworld Expo admission badge. The $50 Essentials bundle, which is what I received, adds a charger that plugs into your car's power adapter. And finally, the $90 Ultimate bundle includes all of that plus XtremeMac's iShare earbud splitter, a set of audio cables, and an audio cassette adapter that lets you route the iPod's music through your car's tape player and speakers.
If you're looking for case variation, XtremeMac offers 16 different styles, from colored leather to suede to denim to camouflage (including a style that comes with a place for a small photograph). An oval hole at the top of the cover provides enough room to open the large front flap without unplugging the headphones; this becomes important time and again, because you can't do anything else on the iPod without lifting the flap. However, I like that the flap is flexible enough so that I can pull it all the way around (sans headphones) and lay it mostly flat against the back while the iPod is connected to my PowerBook via the FireWire cable.
To protect the iPod's face, the case uses a sheet of clear plastic with the required circle cut out to access the navigation controls. It took me a bit of fidgeting to match the circle with the controls, but because the plastic is fairly thin, the controls are easy to use even when the iPod isn't perfectly lined up.
The swivel-style belt clip is very secure, requiring that you insert the case's round knob into one of the included swivel mounts at a 90-degree angle; to release the case, you rotate to the same angle and push a button that unlocks the mechanism. When attached, the case can spin freely. I ended up using the belt clip mount most often; the lanyard is a clever alternative, but I found the iPod too heavy to carry around my neck.
I wasn't able to use the car adapter to charge the iPod because my car is apparently one of the few American vehicles that doesn't have a cigarette lighter or charger. And while the small mesh bag sounds like a good way to store your earbuds, the opening was just small enough that it was annoying to get the earbuds in and out of the case. Also, the bag clips to the side of the case, which made the whole package feel more bulky than necessary.
Super Dooper iPod Case -- This ballistic nylon flip cover case, by WaterField Designs, nicely solves the problem of what to do with the iPod's headphones: a pocket on the underside of the case's cover has a wide opening to store the earbuds without adding much to the bulk of the overall unit. The pocket is soft to protect the iPod's face, which is otherwise uncovered, unlike the other cases I examined.
However, I'm not as impressed by a slit in the top that provides access to the iPod's inputs. It's a narrow eyelet, which means the FireWire port and Hold switch are always partially covered. This is good news for people with 5 GB and early 10 GB iPods that lack a FireWire port cover, but in practice I find it irritating. You can use the FireWire cable's end to push aside the "eyelids," but it's unnecessarily cumbersome. Worse, it makes the Hold switch tough to toggle, a feature I use all the time to make sure I don't accidentally skip a song by bumping the iPod.
The rest of the Super Dooper iPod case is fairly well done, with Velcro patches at the bottom to hold the flip cover in place and a swivel-style knob that clips into an included belt clip. The back is made of a tight mesh that allegedly helps dissipate the heat generated by the iPod (I've never noticed it as a problem), and also lets some of the device's mirrored rear finish shine through. Although actually putting an iPod into the case can be a bit of a challenge - an "escape hatch" (WaterField's terminology) opens to slide the iPod into place - once secured, the iPod enjoys a snug fit. The $40 Super Dooper iPod case comes in three colors: red, blue, and white.
Apple's Designer iPod Case -- There's no polite way to say this: unless you buy an iPod with the case included, steer clear of this overpriced add-on. There are no openings to access the iPod's controls (presumably because the 10 GB and 20 GB iPods also come with Apple's iPod wired remote control), and I've heard reports of the attached clip mechanism breaking easily. Apple offers it for $40 - alone, not with the remote control - which is $40 that you could better apply toward buying more music.
Case Closed -- After I purchased my iPod at last January's Macworld Expo in San Francisco, one of the first people I showed it to was frequent TidBITS writer Chris Pepper, who lifted his own scuffed and scratched iPod and said, "Get a case." Of the three cases (since Apple's fell out of the running quickly), I find myself alternating between two. The iGlove is a great general-purpose case for tumbling around in my bag and when listening to the iPod at my desk; I like its protection and open access to controls. However, when I'm exercising, I take advantage of the XtremeMac's swivel mount and belt clip (which attaches acceptably to my running shorts) and all-enclosed design. Not only is my iPod still in good condition, it's much easier to carry around everywhere I go.
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