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Partners for your Pod

Apple's iPod has long since won the portable music market. Now here are the best ways to protect your investment, share your music and stick it in your ear.
Steve Morgenstern
From the Print Edition:
Tom Berenger, July/Aug 2007

It seems funny to me that Apple, whose computer business encourages abandoning lockstep adherence to Microsoft's overwhelming dominance and embracing a quirkier, less mainstream choice, celebrates its own standard-setting hegemony when it comes to portable audio. The company that urged us all to "Think Different" owns no less than 75 percent of the portable music player market. It has sold more than 100 million iPods, an astonishing tribute to the public's apparent desire to "Think the Same."

And a large part of the iPod's appeal today is the cottage industry of add-on goodies that's sprung up around Steve Jobs's pride and joy. Just as Windows users have a lot more games and gear to choose from than Macintosh enthusiasts, 70 percent of new cars now offer iPod connectivity options and more than 4,000 iPod-specific accessories have hit the market. Sure, music sounds just as good on a player from Archos, Creative, SanDisk or Samsung. But only iPod owners can buy a colorful kid-proof case, an alarm clock that wakes you up to your favorite digital tunes, or a sport coat designed to literally put your music at your fingertips.

Case Study
The very first purchase the proud parent of a fresh-faced new iPod should make is a way to protect it from the bumps and bruises inflicted by a cold, cruel world. Sadly, iPods are beautiful to behold but woefully fragile when assaulted by car keys, pocket change, ballpoint pens or a stiff breeze.

You don't need me to guide you through the acquisition of a basic iPod case. There are thousands of choices to suit your self-image and preferred price tag, from luxe designer cases by Prada and Marc Jacobs to the equally protective $20 clear plastic number at your local Radio Shack. Personally, I have a soft spot for the leather cases made by Vaja (www.vajacases.com). I've had several, and the workmanship and leather quality have always proved excellent at a reasonable price for what you're getting (cases for full-size iPods run from $50 to $90). The company also makes cases for a host of other electronic devices, including mobile phones, laptops, PDAs and non-iPod MP3 players.

Of course, the downside of any case is that in swaddling the iPod in a protective cover, it obliterates the beautiful slender design. That's why my favorite solution is the Invisible Shield from ShieldZone. According to the company's Web site (www.shieldzone.com), the clear plastic film used in its products was originally designed to protect the leading edge of helicopter blades. Whether that's highfaluting hype or gospel truth, I can testify that this stuff takes a hellacious beating without looking any the worse for wear. Essentially you're using a die-cut plastic sheet to cover and protect the entire body of the iPod (front, back and sides). The company offers a different model for each iPod, so the holes for controls, earphone jack and docking connectors all line up perfectly. The only negative here is the need for manual agility in applying the shield. You have to spray on a thin layer of goop, then align the plastic pieces just right and smooth the surface down with a credit card to eliminate bubbles. I have to admit, I was leery of undertaking the project, afflicted as I am with a dexterity deficit. Once I got going, though, I found it pretty easy, and since the plastic pieces don't stick irrevocably the first time you place them, trial and error, seasoned with some patience, produced nearly flawless results, if I do say so myself. And the reward for my efforts: a year-old video iPod that looks absolutely pristine, even after banging around in my glove compartment and computer bag, without ever seeing the inside of a traditional iPod case. The iPod shields sell from $12 to $25, depending on the model. The company also makes Invisible Shields for a wide range of other products, from cell phones and laptops to computers for bicycles and wristwatches.

The Tadpole from ifrogz (www.ifrogz.com, $25) is another noteworty choice. This colorful, rugged silicone case effectively kid-proofs an iPod so your little one can enjoy music and videos without endangering an expensive piece of equipment. The Tadpole has large handles, comes in six cheerful colors, and even lets you customize the iPod click wheel cover with dozens of designs, from eyeballs and Elvis to sports gear and kittens. The cases sell with and without a plastic screen cover, but why anyone would go without when you're handing the iPod off to a sandbox-savvy small fry is beyond me. The only downside I can see: you have to remove the iPod from the case to dock it and load new music. On the other hand, this does protect the electronic connector from peanut butter and jelly encroachment.

If you're the rugged outdoor type, check out the H2O Audio cases. I'm especially impressed with the company's waterproof cases, which are submersible down to 10 feet when paired with H2O's compatible waterproof headphones (and fine for poolside splashes or rainy-day jogs with standard headphones). Inserting the iPod couldn't be easier, and pressing down on the latch mechanism creates a rugged seal with a single snap. All the iPod functions are available thanks to carefully placed exterior buttons that line up with the standard controls plus a waterproof scroll wheel. The waterproof cases are available for iPods large and small, at prices ranging from $40 to $90, at www.h2oaudio.com.

Finally, you might be the sad owner of an iPod that has already suffered the scars of battle. Cheer up, my mournful friend—surprisingly effective help is available thanks to RadTech and a product called Ice Creme ($21, www.radtech.us). The Ice Creme kit comes with solutions, polishing cloths and applicators to rub out scratches from the acrylic iPod front surface and the metal back plate. Frankly, I couldn't care less if there are scratches on the back of an iPod, but a gash across the front screen breaks your heart every time you load up a track or watch a video. Ice Creme did an amazing job of removing even substantial scratches from one of my abused iPods. A combination of chemical wizardry and elbow grease will fully restore a moderately scratched and scuffed iPod in 45 to 60 minutes, according to the company.

Get an Earful
Once you've shielded your iPod from the elements, the next step is tossing those little round Frisbee earbuds that came with the device and upgrading to a more comfortable, musically inclined pair.

If you're trying to stick to a budget, Sony's Fontopia earbuds (MDR-EX51LP) sell for $40 in stores or online (www.sonystyle.com), fit nicely, and sound far superior to Apple's standard equipment. For a few twenties, the Creative Zen Aurvana buds (list-priced at $100 but available at Amazon and elsewhere for under $80) are more comfortable and offer more satisfying bass response than similarly priced models from other manufacturers.


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