Review: OtterBox Armor rugged case for iPod touch 2G

A waterpoof, rugged case for the iPod touch 2G. (June 8th, 2009)

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Product Manufacturer: OtterBox

Price: $50 US

The Good

  • Not just water resistant, but completely waterproof.

    Protects against shock or dirt.

    Lanyard and belt clip to prevent losing the iPod.

    External headphone port.

The Bad

  • Bulkier than non-waterproof cases.

    No access to power button or external volume control.

While many cases are advertised as shockproof and dustproof, the OtterBox Armor case for the second-generation iPod touch protects against one element potentially more destructive: water. The Armor case does not provide the most attractive aesthetics, as it is specifically geared for durability. Although users can access basic controls, the watertight design requires the device to be removed before pressing the power button or using the dock connector.

The Armor case is noticeably larger than simpler products without rugged protection, although the features that add bulk are also necessary to keep water out. The back panel of the iPod is held by hard rubber to align the device and protect against shock. The outer case is produced from polycarbonate, with enough thickness to maintain rigidity. A hinge is located on the bottom, while a wide latch secures the top.

Inserting the device is straightforward and requires the headphone plug inside the case to be inserted into the headphone port on the iPod. The hard rubber that holds the iPod also surrounds the plug, ensuring enough flex to absorb shock. Although impact resistance was not intentionally included in the testing, an accidental drop from the top of a table did not dislodge or damage the Touch or cause any scratches or dents on the Armor.

Although waterproof protection is not necessary for typical use, a rugged case expands the potential for the iPod touch. For skiing or snowboarding in the winter, users can listen to music while on the slopes without worrying about keeping the iPod sealed in a waterproof pocket. Waterproof bags can be cumbersome and offer no protection against drops or other impacts.

The case was tested while hiking in the rain and brought along for a canoe trip. Although most users typically would not be listening to music through either activity, third-party apps enable the Touch to be used as a map. Topo Maps, developed by Phil Endecott, provides access to the full range of 1:24,000 scale USGS quadrangle maps. The paper printouts are particularly difficult to use in the rain or out on the water. OtterBox includes both a removable belt clip and a lanyard, allowing the device to be attached to a backpack or secured around the neck. The lanyard is great for boating, especially with canoes or kayaks that occasionally dump the occupants and their gear into the water.

The belt clip is designed to be easily detached or reattached, with a knurled tab that releases the lock. When the clip is attached to a belt, the tab is blocked to prevent the case from detaching accidentally. The function worked as it should, although some might prefer the clip to stay on the belt and easily release the iPod.

The waterproof gasket and display membrane effectively kept water out of the case. OtterBox advertises the protection to be effective down to depths of three feet, a claim confirmed by testing. While the Armor keeps water away from the Touch, it is not designed for the pressures exerted by deep water. The touchscreen cannot be used while the case is submerged, although this is a limitation of capacitive technology used in the iPod display and not a problem with the case. The controls functioned well even with rain droplets on the membrane, as long as water does not completely cover the screen area. Simply shaking the water off is effective for restoring touchscreen sensitivity.

The external headphone port works well, even while inserting headphones after submersion with the port left open. Audio quality through the extra plugs was not adversely affected, even when the case is held underwater. A rubber button below the display effectively actuated the home button on the Touch, although the volume must be adjusted from the virtual slider instead of the physical controls.

Overall, the Armor case protected the iPod as advertised and is easier to use than waterproof bags, making it an important accessory for taking the device into bad weather or onto the water. If waterproof or dustproof protection is not needed, the extra bulk and lack of full access to controls could be frustrating. Although power- and volume-button access would be nice, the extra parts could potentially add to the size of the case. Despite the size, the iPod could easily slip into a PFD or jacket pocket.

by Justin King


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