Gadgetorama reviews the OtterBox for the iPod nano from Otter Products, LLC.

 

Introduction

Having reviewed and used the OtterBox Armor 1900 PDA case, I was pretty excited when Otter Products, LLC. announced that they would make a case for the Apple iPod nano. I know that people have reported that they’re run their iPods over with their cars, thrown them down on concrete floors and applied other forms of torture and reported that the nano lives on (sometimes just barely) but is this really how you want to treat the gadget you just bought? I did not think so.

So, if you want to take your iPod nano with you on your outdoor adventures (like skiing, canoeing or jogging for example) and you want it to survive without battle scars, you will need to provide it with some protection. The more arduous the activity or the harsher the conditions, the fewer cases can actually do the job. And this is where Otter Products comes in: If you’re looking to protect your nano from dust, dirt, sand, water and more, the OtterBox iPod nano case may just be the answer.

The Case

The case comes in a blister pack (Figure 1). Aside from the case, you get a lanyard, a belt clip that comes preattached to the case and an illustrated instruction booklet.

As soon as you take the case out and put it next to the nano, you will notice that the case is quite large. There is also something about it that suggests that it can withstand a lot of abuse.

As you can see in Figures 2 and 3, the case is made of clear (front) and translucent plastic (sides and back) for the most part. The hinge, belt clip and bottom of the case are of a grey plastic. At the top is a big latching mechanism that locks the case shut. The hinge is at the bottom with the headphone jack. The case is 13 centimeters tall, just under 6 centimeters wide and 2.5 centimeters thick (just under 2 centimeters without the belt clip). The case weighs about 100 grams (it goes up to just under 120 grams with the belt clip).

OtterBox blister pack
Figure 1: OtterBox blister pack
iPod nano in OtterBox
Figure 2: nano in case

As with other OtterBox products, the iPod nano case is meant to offer protection against water, sand, dirt and dust. It does so by ensuring that when the case is closed, it completely seals in your nano. A close look at the contact areas between the two halves of the case will reveal a silicone gasket that runs within a groove on one side. The other half has a lip that presses down into the silicone to achieve the seal.

Unlike cases for PDAs, the OtterBox for the iPod nano really only requires access to the clickwheel to control virtually all aspects of operation. As such, the case does not come with the PODs that the Otterbox Armor 1900 has. Instead, the clickwheel is accessible through a membrane. Above the membrane, you have a clear plastic window that lets you see the nano’s screen.

Open the case up and you will see a passthrough headphone jack on the bottom that plugs directly into your nano (Near the top in Figure 3). I’ll explain more about it a bit later in the review. You will also see that the inside is lined with a grey rubbery lining that cradles the nano and prevents it from moving around the case. It should also provide some degree of shock protection.

On the back, the case has a removable belt clip which can double as a cable management system.

The case feels solid and is well made. I only found one flaw with it: There is a small but still somewhat distracting scratch on the inside of the screen. It is almost oval in shape and about 3 millimeters at its widest.

Using the Case

To put your nano in the case, you will need to open the latch at the top of the case. The case is hinged on the bottom but only opens about 35 degrees. When you slide your nano into the case, it will plug into the headphone connector at the bottom. Then, you just close the case and the latch. Plug your headphones into the bottom jack and you are all set.

Inside view of OtterBox
Figure 3: Inside view
Lanyard closeup
Figure 4: Lanyard closeup
Back of case
Figure 5: Back of the case
Case underwater
Figure 6: Swimming with the fishes

The locking latch is very effective. It requires a moderate but not unreasonable amount of force to open and it closes with a very satisfying click. I tried to hit the clip both directly and with glancing blows and I tried to see if it would open if it hooked on clothing or my belt. No such luck! I also never experienced any accidental openings during my six week review period. Once the case is closed, it’s closed until you decide to open it!

The case is now closed and the nano is sealed in. It’s time to see how the two work together. As mentioned earlier, the clickwheel is covered by a membrane. In my last nano case review, I expressed the concern that covering up the clickwheel with a membrane to protect it could reduce its ease of use. Much to my surprise, this is definitely not the case here. The clickwheel remains as usable as ever. Very little additional pressure is required and it remains such as sensitive and easy to operate.

The membrane is recessed about 3 or 4 millimeters. It feels quite tough but I would still be careful not let anything sharp too close. Unlike the membrane on the Armor 1900, this membrane cannot be replaced if it is damaged.

On the bottom of the case, there is a headphone jack where you plug in your headphones. It might appear strange at first that there is a passthrough headphone jack. Its purpose becomes clear when you realize that it is used to ensure that the case remains waterproof even if no headphones are plugged in.

The case does not provide access to the Lock switch or to the dock connector. The former is not too much of an issue (at least for me) but having to take the nano out of the case to gain access to the dock connector any time you want to sync it or charge it is more frustrating. The Armor 1900 showed that it is possible to offer access to connnectors without compromising waterproof capabilities. It would have been nice to see a similar feature here.

So far, we know that the nano should be well protected but we have not looked at how of the most important question: How does it sound? I could not tell the difference when using the case and not using it. In other words, the passthrough headphone jack did not cause any discernible audio quality loss.

Time for a few tests

I started my tests with some drop tests. I’ve already dropped the nano while in other cases (almost never on purpose, I will admit). Most of the time, I have the nano attached to my belt. So I simulated "accidents" where it fell to the ground from that height. A few drops on a carpet first to build up my courage and then I dropped the case (and nano) on our hardwood floor. In the end, the floor came out of it as the loser. The case ahowed no signs of any distress. Not entirely satisfied, I also dropped the case onto a caramic tile floor. Same result. According to Otter Products, LLC., the case is drop-proof against drops from 4 feet to a concrete floor.

One amazing thing about the Armor 1900 is its ability to withstand crushing weights. The OtterBox for the nano is not built like its bigger brother but it did withstand about 10 kilograms of weight that I put on it without any issue. But I chose not to push it further than that after Otter Products confirmed that it was not built as tough as the Armor 1900 case.

Once again, the Gadgetorama Hydrotesting facilities (the bathroom sink) were then called into action. With only a little trepidation, my nano in its OtterBox headed into the water. Unlike the Armor 1900 case which floated, it sank straight to the bottom (Figure 6). This definitely surprised me. I left it in for about five minutes, flipping it back and forth and shaking it in the water. I then pulled it out and checked on my nano. Completely dry.

For my next test, I sent my nano back to the bottom of the sink and left it there for about an hour. When I pulled it out, the results were the same: The nano was completely dry.

Both tests were done without headphones plugged in to test the passthrough headphone jack. It performed as expected. Combine it with a set of waterproof headphones and you should be all set.

A word of warning: While the case is waterproof, it is only so to a depth of 1 meter (or about 3 feet). It is definitely not designed to withstand pressures experienced by scuba diving (Otter Products LLC tell you so themselves). Combine that with the fact that the case does not float and there are definitely situations where the case will not be as effective as I would hope: If I’m out canoeing and I accidentally drop it, it go straight to the bottom. Even if I could find it again, it likely would not survive the water pressure.

Other Features

The case comes with a belt clip that works relatively well. The clip is big enough to accomodate most belts. A curled lip at the end of the part of the clip that straps on to your belt prevents it from sliding off accidentally. I did not have any issues with the case popping off despite fairly active activity (running up 6 flights of stairs or running) and keeping it on me all through an office day (lots of sitting down, standing up, walking about).

When on your belt, the nano is flipped upside down so that the headphone jack is at the top. The set up quite comfortable and does not get in the way most of the time. The one thing that I missed from other clips is the ability to rotate the iPod on the clip. This would have been useful particularly when I sat down.

The clip is very easy to remove from the case. You lift up a flap and slide it off the case. Putting it back on, it locks in with a solid click.

The belt clip can also provide cable management for your headphones when not in use. When you are not using your headphones, you can wrap them around the belt clip. The clip remains usable even in this case.

If you don’t like using belt clips, Otter Products also provides you with a lanyard. Its ends are capped with t-shaped plastic pieces. When the case is open, you slide one of the T arms into a slot and then push the T down so that the trunk of it fits into a perpendicular slot. Do the same on the other side, close the case and you are set (Figure 4). Because the case has to be open to pull the lanyard off, I found that a fair amout of force would not pull the lanyard out.

Unlike the belt clip, when you wear the lanyard, the nano hangs right side up with the jack at the bottom. So if you look down at it, the screen will be upside down.

If neither the belt clip or the lanyard appeal to you, there is an optional armband accessory available for $14.95 USD from Otter Products, LLC.

The OtterBox Warranty

Otter Products, LLC. products come with an unconditional lifetime warranty. If the case fails for any reason (not related to operator error), they will replace the case. If you take good care of your case, it will be with you for a very long time.

What I liked

  • Solid protection
  • Membrane covered click wheel does not affect usage
  • Waterproof and dust proof

What I did not like

  • Bulk
  • Case does not float
  • Lack of access to the dock connector
  • Belt clip won’t let you rotate iPod

Summary

The OtterBox for the iPod nano provides a level of protection that most cases can only aspire to. But as with other Otter products, there is a trade-off: Bulk. The OtterBox is not built to be dainty; it is a rugged case designed to deliver rugged protection. It might not suit your every day needs (although it will work just as well if not better than most cases) but if you left your nano at home before because you were afraid it might not survive your adventures, the nano case might just be for you. There is only one thing that might prevent you from taking it everywhere with you: It does not float. Other than that, it will take good care of your iPod nano.

Rating

4 out of 5

Where can I get it?

You can purchase the Otter Box for the iPod nano for $39.95 USD directly from Otter Products, LLC.. Other accessories (such as the armband) can also be purchased from Otterbox’s web site. And Otter Products, LLC. also makes cases for the iPod video, mini, shuffle and still more.