Belkin SportCommand

Belkin SportCommand iPod accessories for the fitness-focused set are nothing new; in the past six months, we’ve seen the Nike + iPod pedometer kit, and a watertight case from H2O Audio that lets you listen to your Nano while swimming in the deep blue sea.

Belkin’s SportCommand is more general in its applications; it’s a wireless controller that allows you to navigate through songs and adjust volume without having to lay a finger on your iPod’s scroll wheel. The SportCommand consists of two items: a flexible, battery-powered remote and a receiver that plugs into the charging port on the bottom of your iPod, iPod mini or Nano. The remote is covered in a water-resistant grey fabric, and sports five buttons — volume up and down, track skip and rewind, and play/pause — arranged in a cross shape. At the bottom is a plastic battery compartment — pop in the lithium cell and twist the cap to seal it from the elements.The remote can be strapped to your arm with the included velcro band, or hung from a belt loop with the carabiner clip. There’s also a strap extender for those who are broad-of-bicep or prefer a
Lara Croftian strapped-to-the-thigh look.
The receiver consists of a plastic rectangle (the size of a postage stamp, and around 7mm thick) that attaches to a dock connector with a short white cable. Annoyingly, the dock connector protrudes from the iPod at a right angle, making the receiver-and-player combination an awkward shape.
The remote will control your iPod whether it’s stashed in a pocket, backpack or thick jacket. Before strapping it on and going in search of those exercise endorphins, you’ll need to do a bit of playlist preparation in iTunes. There is no way to navigate through iPod menus using the remote, so you’ll need to have a list of songs on your player that will last the length of your workout. Belkin quotes a range of 50 feet (around 15 metres) within which the remote will control your iPod. This is quite impressive, but given you’ll still need to plug headphones into the player in order to hear your tunes, it’s a feature that is unlikely to be taken advantage of. Wireless headphones are an option if you want to avoid getting tangled up in cables, but you’d need to invest in a model with a receiver that plugs into a standard 3.5mm audio socket. Wireless headphones built for iPods tend to use the dock connector, which is occupied by the SportCommand.

With its durable construction and flexibility, the SportCommand is most appropriate for activities that involve getting cold and wet, such as snowboarding. However, it also makes sense to use the remote for sports like cycling, where you don’t want to be fiddling with a teeny Nano clickwheel while steering your bike one-handed into oncoming traffic. In order to evaluate the SportCommand, we grabbed a pair of roller skates and an iPod Nano and headed to the park. We queued up an appropriately upbeat playlist on the Nano, slipped it in a back pocket and strapped the remote to our right arm. In a bonus benchmarking opportunity, the fact that we hadn’t roller skated in several years allowed us to analyse how the remote would fare in the CNET.com.au “trip and stack it into a tree” test. (If you watch the video on the right, you’ll notice the battery compartment on the remote acquires a significant dint halfway through.) Skating back and forth along the path, the main thing we noticed was that the buttons on the remote needed to be pressed quite hard in order for commands to register. The velcro strap also made our arm a little itchy — we recommend wearing the remote over clothing instead of strapping it to a bare bicep. It’s also a good idea to feed the headphone cable under your garments, to avoid your arms getting caught and ripping out an earbud. The big, clearly marked controls on the remote were a pleasing alternative to the controls on the Nano — no matter how good you are at multitasking, squinting at an LCD and scrolling though songs as you skate, bike or board is a recipe for a ride in an ambulance. Overall, we think the SportCommand is best suited to cold-weather sports, where you would be more concerned about protecting your player from the elements. Although the remote made our skating safer, as it removed the need to take our eyes off the road, the fact that we still had to attach ourselves to the player via headphones negated some of the joys of having a “wireless” device.

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