Drop your cell phone, camera, or MP3 player in the drink, or even accidently expose it to an ill-timed splash, and it could become little more than a pricey paperweight. But a new crop of handheld devices aims to change all that. Armed with waterproof gaskets and housed in rough-and-tumble enclosures, they claim to withstand everything from a legitimate dunking to a good old-fashioned tumble to the cockpit floor. We checked out three of the latest to hit store shelves to see how they fared. ** **
Casio G’Zone Boulder $295; www.casiogzone.com
The Specs: Here’s a flip phone with a 2″ color screen that boasts 207 minutes of talk time or 212 hours on standby. It has a 1.3-megapixel camera with flash, video capture and playback, Mobile Web 2.0 with music/video on demand, an electronic compass, flashlight, and Bluetooth-enabled speakerphone.
The Highs: Casio used military specs when designing the Boulder, subjecting the phone to repeated drops and dunkings and exposing it to humidity, dust, and salt fog. Its innards are protected by a bed of silicone rubber, and it has a case made from reinforced-plastic coated with polyurethane. Water-resistant filters and O-rings allow the phone to survive up to 30 minutes underwater at a depth of 1 meter. Cool features include an electronic compass and a camera flash that doubles as a flashlight. Surf the Web, text message, download music, and enjoy GPS functions if you activate Verizon’s VZ Navigator service. It has a tactile grip in wet conditions and a screen that’s readable in sunlight.
The Lows: The sound quality is poor-a hint of echo and a crackle to the speaker. People we called found it better on their end. To ensure the camera’s water-resistant personality, you also need to make sure two access seals, for the charger and microSD card, are in place. Like a normal phone, it sinks like a rock.
The Verdict: Despite below-average sound, the Boulder is the ideal choice for the boater who can’t worry about babying a cell phone.
** Freestyle Audio SoundWave** $90; www.freestyleaudio.com
The Specs: A 1.8-ounce enclosure is little bigger than a key fob, waterproof to 10′, and shock resistant. The 2GB flash memory holds up to 600 songs, sports 18 hours of playtime per charge, and has an FM radio tuner with presets. Supports MP3, WMA, and DRM files.
The Highs: The SoundWave hooks to a computer through a USB connection, which also recharges the battery. Transferring songs is easy using Microsoft Windows Media Player; iTunes users (Windows or Mac) must first convert files to the MPEG/MP3 format, which adds a few steps. We took the SoundWave from a hot tub to a waterbike to a wakeboard. In each case it worked as promised, with an elastic armband to hold the player in place and waterproof clip-on ear buds. Volume range was sufficient, whether listening to digital music or radio. We threw it in the water, and yes, it floats.
The Lows: For those accustomed to the ease of an iPod, the SoundWave’s navigation can be frustrating. Rubberized buttons have raised labels, but the black-on-black color scheme makes them hard to see. The waterproof ear buds sound tinny.
The Verdict: A great option for those who must have music on the water. Just don’t expect exceptional sound quality, and don’t tune out your surroundings while you’re tuned in.
** Olympus Stylus 1030 SW** $350; www.olympusamerica.com
The Specs: This 3.7″-by-2.4″-by-0.84″, 6.3-ounce, 10-megapixel digital camera with 3.6x optical zoom, 5x digital zoom, and 2.7″ LCD display captures still images in JPEG format as well as video in AVI Motion JPEG.
The Highs: Olympus touts the 1030 SW as being shockproof, able to survive a fall of up to 6.6′, waterproof to 33′, freezeproof to 14 degrees Fahrenheit, and able to withstand 220 pounds of crushing force. It has a durable metal body along with waterproof seals and gaskets. It’s a survivor for sure. We took it below the waves and dropped it on a hard concrete pool deck. Above or below the water, it takes pictures and video like any other premium digital camera. A total of 29 shooting modes cover everything from nighttime portraits to action shots to underwater movies. Pictures upload seamlessly to either Mac or PC via a USB connection. The lithium-ion battery allowed the camera to capture more than 250 images before needing to be recharged.
The Lows: It forgoes a viewfinder for an LCD screen, which can be difficult to see in bright sunlight or underwater. The lens also occasionally suffered from water spots if we didn’t remember to wipe it.
The Verdict: A high-end digital camera made even better by a rugged exterior and its ability to shoot high-quality underwater photos.