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Review - Jacket for iPod
Monday, January 23rd, 2006 at 2:00 PM - by
If you want evidence of the iPod economy's ability to move markets, look no further than the fashion industry. Late last year Kenpo became the third company to offer a jacket with iPod integration, following in the footsteps of Burton and O'Neill, while earlier this month Levi's announced that a new pair of jeans would debut this year with an integrated iPod pocket and controls.
Kenpo Jacket for iPod
Kenpo distinguishes itself by being the first to bring iPod integration to more casual wears. Snowboarding jackets are great if you participate in winter sports or live in more frigid areas, but they tend to be overkill and bulky looking for people living in most parts of the U.S.
Available in black or sliver with bright yellow trim, the Kenpo jacket sports clean lines and a relaxed appearance. The jacket is relatively light weight but the fleece lining makes it surprisingly warm, capable of keeping us toasty as temperatures hovered around 40 degrees F without the need for extra winter layers underneath. The outer shell provides protection from precipitation, while three zippered outer pockets protect your belongings.
iPod integration is covertly tucked away inside the jacket. A typical inner pocket is replaced on the jacket's left side with a lined pocket for your iPod barely bigger than the iPod/iPod mini itself (you may need to leave your case at home). A controller that plugs into your iPod sits in a pocket next to that, while a larger pocket for storing earphones, extra wire, or anything else is available below.
Inner iPod pocket and controller.
Five buttons controlling Play/Pause, Track Forward, Track Back, Volume Up, and Volume Down functions are discreetly located towards the end of the left sleeve. The controls are colored just a couple shades lighter than the jacket's outer shell, keeping things inconspicuous, and are ever so slightly reflective, meaning even in low light conditions selecting the right action is easy.
The secret to Kenpo's iPod jacket is the ElekTex controller from Eleksen, an ultra lightweight, super thin, bendable material that integrates circuitry capable of registering pressure.
Locked and loaded.
Because all it takes is a push to toggle any of the jacket's iPod controls, the controls themselves lock out after a seven second period of inactivity. Unlocking the controls requires pressing the Track Forward button for three seconds, after which all the controls become usable. It sounds simple enough, but in application proved often to be cumbersome. Say you run into a friend who wants to talk to you: rather than yanking out your earphones as you normally would, you want to take advantage of your new jacket's capabilities. But hang onor rather, tell your friend to hang onbecause you'll need a few seconds to unlock the controls and then pause the music.
Similarly, look at a scenario where a track that doesn't suit your mood starts to play. You spend a few seconds again unlocking the controls, then skipping to the next track. You're not sure immediately what the next track is (since there is no display on the jacket's sleeve), so you wait until the track gets going to decide you don't want to hear that one either. But wait! The sleeve's controls have since locked themselves out again, so you must wait another few seconds to unlock them and skip to the next track. All the while you could have just reached into your pocket and changed the track immediately yourself, the old fashioned way (pardon the pun).
Ideally, there should be a way to disable the auto-locking "feature" of the controls, or better yet, a way to customize how long it takes to lock and unlock them.
Here we also see perhaps why Kenpo is the first company to produce a more casual jacket with iPod integration. Burton and O'Neill's jackets seem to make more sense, after all when you're bundled up on the slopes and wearing big gloves the last thing you want to be fiddling with on the lift is your unprotected iPod, but when you're roaming around town such protection and indirect accessibility is less necessary.
Fortunately, the Kenpo jacket is well enough constructed that if its looks strike your fancy, the iPod integration is simply a nice a perk to have when you need it, assuming the jacket's $275 price tag fits your budget.
There's one more caveat potential buyers should be aware of: when connected to the jacket's controls, iPods are unable to enter deep sleep mode. This is not a result so much of a shortcoming in Eleksen's technology, but rather a byproduct of Apple's engineering (any remote connected to the iPod, even Apple's own, prevents the iPod from entering deep sleep mode). This means if you leave your iPod in your jacket for a day or two without use, don't be surprised if next time you pick it up the iPod's battery has trickled itself empty.
The Bottom Line
Kenpo's jacket is warm and attractive but fails to make a strong argument as an iPod controller. While users who could see themselves benefiting from its functionality shouldn't hesitate to consider it, those looking for a new jacket with a little iPod extra may not find the investment worthwhile.
The Kenpo jacket currently ships with a 9-pin connector compatible with 3G, 4G, and iPod mini models. A dock connector version for 5G and iPod nano models will be available free of charge in the near future to current jacket owners.
Just The Facts
Pros: comfortable casual jacket, good construction, discreet iPod integration
Cons: iPod controls can often be cumbersome, iPod can't enter deep sleep mode when connected
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