Safe and sound

Who says MP3 players and other electronic devices can't come out and play? With the right case, you and your toys are covered.

Published June 3, 2006

It's June in Florida, which means you're either indoors basking in arctic winds or outdoors because you're a fan of sweat, sand, water, theme parks or that sauna feel.

Tagging along with you outdoorsy types may be companions that by their nature aren't nearly as fond of the elements: MP3 players, cell phones, handheld computers.

They've become such a big part of your life that you can't imagine going anywhere without them. You need to be able to call someone whenever you feel like it. Check your e-mail. Take a picture. Lie on the beach and listen to 1,000 of your favorite songs. Watch an episode of Lost.

To keep these companions happy, you have to treat them like you treat yourself: Don't let them leave the house without their version of hats and sunscreen.

The trickiest to outfit are MP3 players.

With phones and handhelds, you put them in a case, toss them into a purse or clip them onto your pants and forget about them until you need them. MP3 players are there to provide a constant soundtrack to your life and TV shows on demand when reality isn't that interesting.

The challenge is balancing protection and practicality with fast access.

And with how good you want your companion to look while doing it.

THE BIG DANGERS: For MP3 players, they are, in order, water, heat and shock, either electrical or physical, said Matthew West, president of Family Technology Co., a Tampa computer repair business that also holds computer education classes, including ones for MP3 users.

"Sand and dust and stuff wouldn't hurt," West said. "They make players so resistant to that type of stuff, it's not that big a deal.

"Don't go dragging (them) in sand, but sand's not going to be as bad as water. Water's going to kill it."

FOR FUNCTION OVER FORM . . . : The best case material for protecting an MP3 player against water is rubber, West said. Rubber also helps protect against shock.

Also good for water and shock protection are the utilitarian, hard plastic cases made by OtterBox (www.otterbox.com). An avid iPod user we know swears by them for almost all water-related activities. (The company warns that the cases aren't made for scuba diving.)

For the best heat protection, avoid darker colors, especially the ubiquitous black. "You don't want it to overheat. It's like a little computer in there," West said.

PROTECT YOUR GEAR FROM YOURSELF: Reduce the odds of losing your gadgets with cases that come with a clip, strap or other way to attach them to your clothes, body or bag.

FOR FORM OVER FUNCTION . . . : If fun and fashion are your priorities, don't feel (too) guilty. Any kind of cover is better than nothing.

"It helps protect them from wear, all types of stuff," West said. "Even if you do drop it, it'll help keep it from breaking."

Sharon Fink can be reached at (727) 893-8525 and fink@sptimes.com.