Belkin’s SportCommand for iPod (RRP of $79.99)is one of those products that, though definitely not revolutionary, makes you wonder why it hasn’t been done before. Essentially, it’s little more than a remote control for your iPod (with dock connector), in the vein of Griffin’s Airclick, or similar offerings found pretty much anywhere.
What makes this Belkin offering unique though is the way that Belkin has customised the normal iPod remote control into something that can be used when active in the outdoors. Belkin’s promo material clearly shows the intended market – essentially Skiiers, Snowboarders, or anyone else intending to get a bit more active with their iPod.
The SportCommand box contains the Remote (with battery, thankfully), a dongle that plugs into the dock connector port of the iPod, a small carabiner and a couple of velcro armbands/straps to get you going. First, the piece that will get the most use – the remote itself – is not your typical piece of apple gadget lust that we all love. It’s functional and actually quite flexible, with large squidgy buttons clearly showing their function with an orange print. I do wonder as to the durability of the printing, but clearly only time can tell. The buttons are easy to use with fat fingered gloved hands, or when stabbing at them at times you can’t look at the remote. The layout has been designed to make most sense when the remote is attached to your arm with the included armbands, so the controls are on a diagonal. This is a nice touch that would really make a difference when out on the hill, hopefully meaning that you know which button does what when using gloved hands, without looking at the remote. The remote is also the piece that sits open to the elements – so Belkin have made the fabric water resistant (not waterproof), which in my thoroughly technical testing under the kitchen tap seemed to be the case.
Below the controls sits what hopefully is a relatively waterproof unit that houses the battery and transmitter to the iPod. Inside this is a small LED which glows green when a control has been transmitted to the iPod. For those concerned about battery usage, the SportCommand turns itself off after 30 seconds of inactivity – but there’s no hold switch, which would have been useful to prevent battery wastage when packed in your luggage or chucked in a backpack. The first press of the remote is used to wake the transmitter up, the second then sends a command to the iPod – so many commands out on the hill will take a double press to actually get the required response from the iPod. Also, as it stands, the only way to stop anything waking the Remote up and using battery up is to take the battery out. This isn’t too hard, but a minor inconvenience.
The rear of the remote has two large metal loops to loop the armband through and has a nice, huge surface area of velcro to securely attach the ends of armband to. There is also a small loop for the included carabiner. This loop/carabiner seems a bit gimmicky, but thinking about it, it’s ideal for keeping the remote at the top of a backpack or camelbak which often have small clips for keeping keys attached to. The armband is a kind of neoprene affair, with the required amount of velcro and some rather large Belkin branding, which irks me a bit. I’d much rather it was plain, thanks.
Finally, there is the receiver dongle that plugs into the iPod. I can’t quite decide why Belkin thought it would be a good idea for a large portion of this to stick out at right angles to the iPod itself, however it is flexible so can be positioned and then held by your iPod’s case, tape or similar to the back of the iPod to keep it a little more slimline. The flexibility of the stem is a neat touch – it makes me much less wary about leaving the iPod with this attached in my backpack or inside pocket, and adds only minimal bulk. I think the flexibility of the receiver is probably the reason why Belkin chose the 90 degree angle – making something that curved around the back of the iPod at all times would mean some more rigid plastic at the base, which when pulled upon could tug at the dock connector port unnecessarily.
The SportCommand is a simple product, and should work well when used out on the mountain, in the hills or even in town if you like using your iPod inside a pack or inside pocket. Of course it is not possible to combine more than two dock connector devices at once – not Belkin’s fault, but it rules out using this remote with the Nike+iPod sport kit, or listening to FM radio while using the remote (which requires the Apple branded remote for receiving FM signals). If someone could figure out a way of using multiple accessories through one port, they would be onto a winner product.
I look forward to testing this thoroughly in the mountains over Christmas- but in the meantime I think it would work well for people wishing to use their iPod in the outdoors, leaving it in a pack or pocket while controlling it externally. Of course you still have to get sound from the iPod into your ears, so where-ever you may wish to chuck it you still have to have a headphone cord running out of the iPod up to your head. That reduces the options for stowing your iPod just anywhere, but thats to be expected. In all, I’d recommend it, as I don’t know of any other options on the market. It hits the major features that you would need in such a product, and any design flaws (without extensive in snow testing) seem to be minimal. A great gift for the iPod-loving skiier or snowboarder this Christmas.
If you want to check out more pictures, I suggest you head on over to this flickr photoset, and I’ll update this review with real world testing come January.