I’d seen ads for OtterBox cases for iPods and PDAs, but since I’m obsessively careful with my 4G iPod, I never thought about getting one for myself. Then I got a Nano for my wife and watched in horror as she popped it in her purse — loose. Oh the humanity! Amazingly the little thing held up pretty well, but I couldn’t handle the thought of seeing the screen all scratched up. After all, these things scratch if you breathe on them the wrong way, and I knew she had been lucky not to scratch it already.
One of the perks of my job is that I sometimes get to try out cool gear if I promise to write about it. Not that it happens all the time, but I’ve had the pleasure of testing a few cool iPod headphones so far. Sticking with the iPod theme, I sent an email and very soon the nice people at OtterBox set me up with an OtterBox for iPod Nano. Even though we’re talking about my wife’s iPod, I had to try the thing for myself. This review, therefore, is a combination of my own experience with the OtterBox and those of my wife.
Water-, Dust-, and Drop-Proof
So what exactly is an OtterBox? Too small to hold an actual otter, these sturdy little cases are designed to keep your gear safe, dry, and clean. Made for iPods, PDAs, PCs, and even Zippo lighters and cigars, they are designed for people who take their gadgets to harsh work environments, outdoor activities and/or swimming, and even for people who are just perpetually clumsy. These are not sleek, form-fitting cases meant to keep a few scratches off of your gear. They are rugged, hard plastic cases that protect their contents from the elements as well as rough handling. Figure 1 shows the OtterBox for the iPod Nano like the one I tested.
Figure 1 OtterBox for the iPod Nano
The website and literature for OtterBox claims that they are "Waterproof, dustproof, dirtproof, sandproof, and drop-proof." I have no reason to doubt any of that based on my experiences with one. Essentially this is a fully-sealed suit of armor for your iPod. You hook it up to a special headphone jack inside the case, close it, lock its latch at the top, and your iPod is enclosed in a hard plastic case lined with shock absorbing material. There is a pass-through headphone jack that accepts standard mini headphones while ensuring a waterproof seal around the entire unit, and the click wheel is covered by a special protective membrane. Using the iPod via the covered clickwheel is pretty much like using it out of the case — the feel is slightly different, but the functionality is exactly the same.
Once your iPod is secured in its OtterBox, you can take it hiking, boating, running, to the jobsite, and even swimming — if you use waterproof headphones. (Since waterproof headphones can’t always be found at your local Best Buy, OtterBox has recently become a distributor of H2O Audio waterproof headphones on its website.) The case passed all of my tests with flying colors: I dropped it, splashed it, submerged it, shook it, and poked at the click wheel membrane, and I couldn’t come up with anything (short of actual abuse) that this thing couldn’t handle. There’s no reason for me to believe that this little thing can’t take whatever accidents or rough conditions you can dish out.
A few words of caution, however. The OtterBox is only waterproof to three feet, so don’t plan on doing any diving with it. And it doesn’t protect your iPod from any temperature extremes that your iPod isn’t already rated for, so I wouldn’t plan on taking it to work in the steel mill (not that listening to music while surrounded by molten metal is a good idea anyway...).