WaterFi Will Let You Swim Laps With Your iPod Or Nike+ Fuelband [Review]

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There is an ocean of fitness trackers out there, but not many you can take into the ocean with you. There is still a large pool of sports MP3 players out there, but not many that can go swimming. We take for granted the reason for this sad set of affairs. Water may be the giver of life to this planet, but it is the supreme enemy of gadgets everywhere.

Waterproofing by Waterfi
Category: Fitness
Works With: Nike+ Fuelband, iPod Shuffle
Price: $224.99, $139.99

That’s an annoyance even for the best of us. How many times have you been jogging, only for your MP3 player to get shorted out in the rain, or for your headphones to short out from your own sweat? And it’s doubly annoying for swimmers like me, who not only can’t take an iPod into the pool with us when we’re swimming laps, but who can’t even track our swims using fitness trackers like the Nike+ Fuelband.

That’s where WaterFi comes in. A Californian company, WaterFi specializes in taking other company’s gadgets and waterproofing them with a dual-coated, patent-pending process. WaterFi’s promise is that their process will make any gadget utterly resistent to even the most through dunking, but how well does it work in practice?

WaterFi was kind enough to send Cult of Mac two of their products for review: their waterproofed iPod Shuffle swim kit and their Waterproofed Nike+ Fuelband. But how well does it actually work?

The Waterproofing

It all works in the pool!

It all works in the pool!

This is going to be a slightly odd review, because we’re going to be reviewing two very different products at once: WaterFi’s waterproofed iPod Shuffle and their waterproofed Nike+ Fuelband. Since the merits of these products sans waterproofing are well known, we’re not going to touch too much on how these products work in their default configuration, and instead talk more about how they work submerged in good old H20.

The answer is “shockingly well.” We’ve all seen videos on the Internet of gadgets, say, sprayed in a hydrophobic coating to make them temporarily waterproof, but many of these sprays break down. Not so with WaterFi’s secret sauce, which resisted everything we threw at it.

It’s hard to discount how magical this all feels…

For example, we submerged the iPod Shuffle in water for days at a time, then pulled it out and listened to some tunes without a single problem. The Nike+ Fuelband went in an over-chlorinated pool with us for months at a time, and never stopped tracking our calories burned once.

It’s hard to discount how magical this all feels, just diving into a pool with an iPod shuffle stuffed up underneath your swim camp, swimming laps while you listen to podcasts. It’s also liberating even if you don’t go in for watersports: you can, for example, pour a bottle of water over your head during a marathon and not worry about your entire body suddenly cascading with sparks as every gadget on you systematically shorts out.

But there are some caveats here.

The Caveats

We’re a huge fan of WaterFi’s waterproofing process, but one thing that is worth keeping in mind is that you may have expectations of a waterproof gadget that WaterFi can’t match.

Just because WaterFi waterproofs something doesn’t mean they can change its feature set.

For example, with the Nike+ Fuelband, I was delighted to be able to swim with it in the pool. I’d previously reviewed the FitBit Flex, and was disappointed that it couldn’t track my swimming. But even waterproofed, the Nike+ Fuelband simply isn’t calibrated to track things like laps and strokes, or even to really measure how many calories you’re burning during a swim. It’s all calibrated by Nike to measure steps-based activities, so even after an hour swimming laps, the Fuelband will tell you you’ve burned fewer calories than an hour’s walk. That may seem obvious in retrospect, but it’s something worth keeping in mind: just because WaterFi waterproofs something doesn’t mean they can change the base featureset.

There are also some design tradeoffs that come with waterproofing, especially with devices like the iPod Shuffle. Because WaterFi’s waterproofing process needs to get into every crevice to work, buttons tend to be a lot “stickier” than you’re used to on these devices. The Shuffle Clickwheel, for example, loses all the tactile sensation of “clickiness” with the WaterFi coating, making the experience of actually punching up a song on the Shuffle not only a bit harder, but a little less satisfying as well. This loosens up over time, but it never feels quite “right.”

Waterproofed, the iPod Shuffle is only as good as the seal of your earbuds.

Waterproofed, the iPod Shuffle is only as good as the seal of your earbuds.

Then there’s the matter of headphones. The iPod Shuffle comes with WaterFi’s own brand of waterproof earbuds, which have a short cord made for swimming. They work, but they are very fiddly, and if you dislodge them or get even a small amount of water between the headphone and your eardrum, it sounds exactly like listening to music underwater. In our tests, we found them to be the worst aspect of the waterproofed iPod Shuffle: we just couldn’t get them to sit right in our ears. This seems to be a fairly Amazon ($39.95) with swimmer’s earbuds, but it does make swimming with an iPod a rather fiddly and occasionally disruptive affair.

Finally, waterproofing doesn’t come cheap. On Amazon, you can pick up a 2GB Shuffle for $49.99. A waterproofed one will cost you a hundred bucks more. A Nike+ Fuelband that has gone through WaterFi’s waterproofing process is a little better of a deal, but it’s still a $75 premium.

Conclusion

WaterFi’s technology is pretty incredible, especially if you’re a swimmer. These are guys who know what they are doing, and if you want your iPod Shuffle, Nike+ Fuelband, iPod nano or Kindle Paperwhite waterproofed, these guys will do it for you.

Realistically, though, you need to examine what you really want when you go WaterFi. Just because something is waterproof doesn’t necessarily mean it will work better in the water, just that it will function without breaking in the water. In our tests, that meant the Nike+ Fuelband couldn’t really track our swimming, because it wasn’t programmed to, and the iPod Shuffle was ultimately only as good underwater as the seal of our earbuds.

The question about whether or not to go with WaterFi ultimately has a lot to do with how much insurance you want against water damage. The premiums WaterFi charges are high, but if you pay them, you can be guaranteed you won’t ever lose your gadget to water damage. That’s pretty special, but unless you live a very wet lifestyle, it might well not be worth the premium for you.

WaterFi is a fantastic company that is giving swimmers options, and I applaud them for that. But until companies like Apple and Nike start designing their products with swimmers in mind, there’s only so much WaterFi can do.

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Product Name: WaterFi Waterproof Nike+ Fuelband & iPod Shuffle
The Good: More waterproof than you can believe! Excellent repackaging, completely reliable.The Bad: Waterproofing is expensive. Buttons can be ‘stickier’ after waterproofing than before.The Verdict: Great insurance against a very wet lifestyle, but be realistic about your expectations.

Buy from: Waterfi

Cult of Mac rating: Good

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  • rwmcgrann

    I’d love to see Apple buy this company or use a similar technology. It would have saved me a few hundred dollars when my girlfriend washed my phone 2 months ago. They will need this type of technology if they go into the wearable technology market.

About the author

John BrownleeJohn Brownlee is a Contributing Editor. He has also written for Wired, Playboy, Boing Boing, Popular Mechanics, VentureBeat, and Gizmodo. He lives in Boston with his girlfriend and two parakeets. You can follow him here on Twitter.

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