I have two confessions:
1) I used to hate on iPhones something fierce. Now I own one and love it.
2) I used to deride anyone who ran with an MP3 player. Now I rarely run without music.
Not too long ago, I had a phone, and I had an MP3 player. I tried a couple of times to use a phone as my MP3 player, but it just never worked. In the end, I settled on a player that supported music subscription service, which is far more economical than actually buying the music in digital or physical forms, provided you download more than an album a month (which I do). But when my last MP3 player was phased out by the manufacturer, I realized it was time to combine the two functions. Smartphone tech has blown up over the past couple of years, so I figured I’d take a shot. I tried it out on my Samsung Captivate, and boy did it suck. I used a Rhapsody app, which crashed my phone repeatedly. When the phone finally quit on me, Jen talked me into an iPhone. I’m not sure if I’ll ever go back at this point. I’ve had no problems with using the Rhapsody app, and iTunes works just fine for music you actually own.
One of the clear draws of the iPhone/iPod has been the wide propagation of peripherals. For crying out loud, you can’t go to a Walgreens without finding a whole endcap of products. Enter LifeProof, which makes cases that are water/dustproof and impact-resistant. Anyone who knows me will vouch for my ability to destroy phones. I drop them, drown them, throw them into oblivion, and sweat profusely into them when I run. In fact, I deposited so much salt in my last MP3 player that it actually warped and broke a portion of the casing.
So LifeProof made sense for me. Additionally, they make armbands compatible with the case, so it made even more sense, considering the transition to using my phone as an MP3 player as well. I picked up the iPhone 4S case and armband back in Feb/March, and I’ve put each through the ringer over about 1000 miles or so of winter/spring/summer AK running. I’ll address the case (~$80) first and the armband (~$40) system second.
The case’s nearest competitor has to be OtterBox, which uses complementary silicon sleeves and ruggedized plastic skeletons to provide impact resistance. But unlike OtterBox, LifeProof is completely waterproof, and much lower volume. One my main complaints about OtterBox is that they take slim-engineered technology and double the volume to the point that you can barely fit it into your pocket. LifeProof’s impact-resistance likely falls short of OtterBox, which makes sense. Put a boy in a bubble and he can live through just about anything. Put a boy in a bubble wrap, and he can survive some bumps and bruises and that’s about it. LifeProof’s slim case is supposed to be able to take a drop of a couple of feet, but that’s contingent on the phone falling on its edges. The face is protected only by a thin sheet of plastic, so I’m confident that a good hit on the faceplate will shatter the glass.
Once you snap the case together and screw in a little widget that secures the headphone port, you have a completely functional, waterproof iPhone. Before you go scuba diving with your phone, you are supposed to to do an hour-long dunk test, which I’d advise you do if that’s your angle. For me, I just need the phone to survive a good rain and my sweat, and I can vouch for the case’s performance under those parameters. After 1000 miles, I’ve had no issues with moisture finding its way inside the case. I’ve also managed to drop it a few times with no ill-effects. 80 bones seems steep, but worth safeguarding your investment if you ask me. I think a new iPhone 4S runs about $600 off-contract, so you have to do your own math. For me, running with it all the time and being pretty clumsy, it’s a no-brainer.
The armband emerges as one of the better-designed systems I’ve seen. It’s got thin neoprene, and addresses a complaint I’ve had with every single armband I’ve ever used: buckle slippage. Most systems, as you tighten them, are apt to cause the buckle to slip from its intended orientation, which is uncomfortable and annoying. LifeProof uses a metal buckle and semi-rigid, thin neoprene to keep the buckle from slipping. With the phone in its case, it simply mounts to a bracket on the armband, which makes it the slimmest armband setup I’ve used outside of an old Rio MP3 setup. If you don’t have Bluetooth headphones, you have to screw a little adapter cable into the headphone port, which keeps the system water proof. Instead of plugging your headphones straight into the phone, you plug them into the adapter cable.
I do have three complaints about the armband. One is that after a month of use, I tore a surface layer of the armband neoprene while tightening the armband. It didn’t go all the way through, but still, it’s either a design flaw or an isolated case, and unsatisfactory if you ask me. My second complaint is that the bracket can dig into your arm, depending on how you orient your setup. On a long run, I actually caused some bruising on inside of my arm, which wasn’t too comfortable. Finally, unless your earbuds are also designed for talking or you have Bluetooth headphones, it’s a pain in the butt if you have to to take a call in the middle of a workout. Maybe it’s not a problem for you, but some calls I have to take regardless of what I’m doing. So I would have to stop my run, unscrew the adapter cable, call the person back, then screw everything back together and continue on my way. I solved this by getting a Bluetooth earbud setup, which I will address in a separate gear review.
In the end, going with a LifeProof setup will set you back about $120, and while far from perfect, it’s the best setup I’ve seen in nine years of running with music in my ears.