Review: iStik: really, really stuck on you

David Braue
23 September, 2008
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There’s something a bit disconcerting about the iStik, which may seem a bit extreme given that it is only two pieces of plastic and eight small round discs of metal.

The disconcerting part comes from the fact that the round discs of metal are, in fact, magnets – and strong ‘rare-earth magnets’ no less. Although I had heard of rare-earth magnets – they’re used by alternative medicine practitioners to treat all sorts of ailments – I had to consult Wikipedia to know just what it was about rare-earth magnets that makes them different than your run-of-the-mill magnets.

The answer is, basically, that they’re made from a really strong alloy that gives them a magnetic field that can measure more than 1.2 teslas (Wikipedia again). Compare this with your normal stick-the-kids’-reports-on-the-fridge magnet strength of around 100 milliteslas, and you see why I got a bit nervous carrying iStik around the house (thank goodness magnets don’t stick to aluminium, such as the iMac’s case).

For someone that grew up keeping magnets away from magnetic things – like floppy disks and hard drives – the prospect of bringing eight strong magnets anywhere near other computer gear was a bit of a worry.

Now, I do realise that flash RAM-based music players like the iPod nano aren’t susceptible to this type of magnetic field, which is what makes the iStik possible in the first place. (N.B.: pacemakers are in fact susceptible to strong magnets, so give this one a miss if you’re going to be anywhere near such a device. You may also want to reconsider putting your nano in your purse or anywhere else near mag-striped credit cards, lest you have to crawl up to the bank and explain that your iStik ate the cards).

Monkey on your back. So, with some trepidation, and giving my iMac and everything else magnetic a wide berth, I loaded the family 3G iPod nano into the iStik and went out to see what it could do.

The iStick is designed to hold your nano in place anywhere on virtually any item of clothing, using aforementioned strong magnets to grip the fabric while you go about your business – and in most cases, your business is jogging.

It’s a pretty straightforward product to test: either it would hold the nano securely in place, fastening tightly and swinging in the breeze as I ran, or it would fail to grip, sending iStik and 3G nano into a quick death dive to face a shard-filled end on the concrete garage floor.

This prospect came to mind as I faced the first obstacle with the iStik: getting the nano inside it. This immediately meant removal of the existing silicone case, but the more frustrating thing is that it also required removal of the protective plastic over the nano’s screen – which I had left on since opening the nano’s box because it wasn’t hurting anybody, really. I also had to strip off the protective plastic on the back, which had also sat unobtrusively protecting the aluminium back.

With the nano stripped to the bone, the iStik case clicked into place around it – although it took two tries to make sure the closures were snapped shut properly and wouldn’t open to drop the nano prematurely. I clipped the iStik to my t-shirt, and started the treadmill going.

Feet of endurance. Now, I’m no marathon runner, and this – if I was dividing correctly while watching the Beijing Olympics – means I run much slower than the 20kmh or so that marathon runners put in. So, if you are in fact a marathon runner, you’ll have to put the iStik through its own paces.

However, I can say that the testing concluded in the affirmative. Over two separate 15-minute runs, the iStik dutifully clamped onto my clothing and, bulldog-style, did not let go at all. I tried it in different places – stomach, shoulder, back – and it kept the nano and its controls close at hand.

It didn’t do much to keep the lame iPod buds in my ears, but if you run at all you’ve probably already dealt with that issue by getting a decent set of headphones.

True to its promise, the iStik held on for dear life as I ran, bobbing around with my shirt as I reached sprinting speeds of up to 17kmh. So, as I said, if you run faster than that, I make no guarantees. It was slightly annoying to have the nano become a constantly present projectile, bouncing around on my shirt, but you do get used to it. If you’re a casual jogger and want an alternative to the standard Apple armband, the iStik is well worth taking for a spin.

Australian Macworld Buying Advice. The iStik is a good alternative to the only other options available for runners: holding their iPod, or squeezing it into one of Apple’s leather cases. The magnets work well, but you need to be very careful where you leave your iPod when it’s in the iStik case – not near your computer, not in your purse, not near external hard drives, and nowhere near a pacemaker (of course, pacemaker wearers probably won’t be jogging much). And, when your workout is over, you can stick it to the fridge.

Rating 3.5
Price iPod nano 2G: $24.95; iPod nano 3G: $26.95; iPod nano 4G: No information yet
Product iStik
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