Gadling gear review: Grace Digital Audio Eco Pod

Grace Digital Audio is probably best known for its line of Internet radio devices, but the company also produces a line of waterproof cases for smartphones and mp3 players as well. In fact, we positively reviewed their Eco Extreme case back in 2010, and now are similarly impressed with their new Eco Pod as well.

As an active traveler and avid outdoor enthusiast, I almost always cringe when I tuck my iPhone into my backpack with just a regular case to protect it. With that in mind, I was looking forward to seeing what the Eco Pod would bring to the table in terms of protection, and I wasn’t disappointed by what I found. The case’s solid construction and durable poly-carbonate parts definitely give you the sense that it can take a lot of punishment, while still ensuring that your smartphone or music player will remain safe and working properly.

The interior of the Eco Pod is spacious, offering plenty of room for nearly any smartphone or mp3 player on the market. In fact, it is even large enough to store most point and shoot cameras as well, which give the case added versatility for travelers. The Eco Pod also has space for stashing a pair of earbuds and a handy column for winding the cable. Two elastic bands hold your devices in place, while an audio cable plugs into your phone or mp3 player’s audio jack, passing sound through to a similar audio port on the exterior of the case.

Once the Eco Pod is closed, two large and rugged latches lock into place, completely sealing the inside. With those latches closed tight, the case is water proof and rated to withstand being submerged at a depth of three feet for up to 30 minutes, although Grace Digital Audio is quick to point out that the Eco Pod’s waterproofing is designed to protect electronic devices under normal conditions and isn’t intended to actually be used underwater. Still, your gadgets will be well protected during unexpected rainstorms or from accidental submersion just fine. In my testing, not a single drop of water found its way inside the case, even while running it under a kitchen faucet.
The Eco Pod comes complete with a set of waterproof earbuds that are designed to plug directly into the audio jack on the outside of the case. I’m not a big fan of earbuds in general, but the included set were more comfortable, and provided better sound, than I was expecting, and they worked well for listening to music and taking phone calls, while the device stayed safely locked inside the case. A simple rubber knob, located next to the audio jack, adjusts volume while on the go, and is easy to use, even while wearing gloves.

Grace Digital Audio provides multiple ways for carrying the case while in use as well. An integrated strap with a carabiner on the end easily latches the Eco Pod to the outside of a backpack for instance, while a slot on the case allows it to be worn on a belt as well. I personally found it a bit too large and bulky to be comfortably worn in that manner, although others will no doubt appreciate the option. That same slot can be used with an optional bike clamp, which lets you connect the Eco Pod to your handlebars. I didn’t have the chance to test it on either of my bikes, but I think it would be fantastic on longer rides, where a smartphone’s navigational options could be put to good use.

Hikers and cyclists aren’t the only outdoor enthusiasts that will find this case intriguing however. I think paddlers in particular will find the Eco Pod a fantastic addition to their gear closets, as it seems tailor made for kayakers who want to listen to some music, or take phone calls, while out on the water. The rugged and waterproof case can easily be secured to the deck of their boat, allowing for quick and easy access when needed, while still keeping the gadget inside safe and functioning properly, even in the wettest conditions. The fact that the Eco Pod also floats, doesn’t hurt its functionality either.

For travelers looking to protect their electronic gadgets on the go, particularly smartphones and mp3 players, the Eco Pod is a great, and affordable option. I was very impressed with its build quality and well thought out design, and while it is a bit bulky, it also functions like armor for whatever is secured inside. The MSRP of $49.99 is a small price to pay for protecting that fancy iPhone or Android device from harsh conditions that we can encounter while visiting remote places.