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Don't Look Now, but These Levi's Sound Great
Date: 2006-08-24 18:46:03
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Levi’s new iPod-ready RedWire DLX jeans will be available next
month in many sizes for both men and women.

Poised to be one of the runaway fashion trends of the
back-to-school season, the Levi’s iPod-enabled jeans due to hit stores
next month are expensive trailblazers in the world of wearable

Sporting a white joystick control masquerading as a watch
pocket and a customizable docking cradle tucked away in a side pocket,
the RedWire DLX jeans are roomy, comfortable pants sure to delight
countless iPod owners willing to spend $250 on pants.

Parents of teens, learn this response now: "When I was a
kid, Levi’s didn’t cost as much as a stereo. What’s wrong with wearing
those old jeans and using that iPod armband I bought you last year?"

While no one has ever accused me of knowing two things about
fashion, the white topstitching buttons and rivets on these jeans - not
to mention the eye-catching joystick --are a bit gaudy.

The Levi’s design team is unlikely to take insult at this
fashion critique from a 41-year-old who is a few decades beyond the age
of the targeted consumer. In fact, 17-year-old singer Teddy Geiger,
whose album ’Underage Thinking’ has landed him in the Top-40, will be
featured in Levi’s print advertising for the jeans. If you don’t know
Geiger’s music, you may be too old for these jeans.

With the style section of this review completed, it’s time
to turn to the jeans electronic features.

The RedWire system has five components: a dock, a connector,
the RedWire conductive ribbon, the joystick and earbuds. Interestingly,
the RedWire is red for the women’s jeans, however the ribbon for the
men’s jeans we tested was blue.

The jeans come with six interchangeable docking cradles for
the various iPod models. We tested with the 4th generation iPod, the
iPod video (5G) and the nano and found the docks to be perfect fits.

A connector snaps into the cradle, allowing for the transfer
of data from the iPod’s 30-pin connection to the RedWire ribbon. The
ribbon threads through a hole in the back of the iPod side pocket up to
the joystick.

Featuring quick and flawless controls, the joystick rotates
in four directions to remotely control the iPod to track forward and
back and adjust the volume up and down. Pushing in the joystick will
play or pause the song selection.

The joystick does not control the iPod beyond the playlist
level. To select a different playlist, the user has to use the iPod’s
controls. For this reason, there’s plenty of extra RedWire ribbon so
that taking out the player to look at the screen does not turn the
wearer into a tethered marionette.

The joystick is sewn into a watch pocket-shaped piece of
denim. Behind the denim is a hard plastic backing that includes a jack
for the headphones. While the jeans’ ’slim slouch’ tailoring offers a
comfortable fit, the same cannot be said of the earbuds.

The square headphone compartment has a clip that fits into a
slot in the jeans above the joystick. The unit features retractable
earbuds and a retractable audio jack. Two buttons on the side of the
compartment whip the wires back into storage. While the earbuds wires
don’t always retract fully, the feature worked surprisingly well during
more than 50 repetitions.

The biggest disappointment of the RedWire system is the
earbuds themselves. Modeled after the ones that Apple ships with the
iPod, the earbuds have no padding. The fit is awkward and uncomfortable
- however the sound is better than that produced by Apple’s earbuds.

Luckily, there’s nothing unusual about RedWire’s audio jack,
so once my ears couldn’t take it any longer I replaced the headphones
with some Etymotic Research earphones. Jeans never sounded this good
when I was a kid.

Aside from the earbuds, the other design flaw has to do
with the RedWire ribbon. In order to wash the jeans, the RedWire system
- and the iPod - must be removed. Taking the system out is not a
problem. The joystick patch easily unsnaps and once the ribbon is
unhooked from its connection to the docking cradle, it can be gently
pulled up through the pocket system.

Getting the ribbon back in place is another story. There’s
an inch-long enclosed path that the ribbon must pass through in its
behind-the-scenes route from the watch pocket to the iPod storage
pocket. If you’ve ever tried to put a drawstring back into a pair of
sweatpants - that task is easier than getting the ribbon through the
short, narrow passage.

In all, it took 10 minutes to re-thread the ribbon. My guess
is that each time it might get easier - but I was too frustrated to try
it again.

While Levi’s designers have left room for improvement, the
jeans are an impressive initial offering. With any luck, Levi’s will add
to the RedWire collection with additional styles and products. One path
the company could take that would make parting with $250 a little easier
is to offer future products that are RedWire ready, allowing users to
transfer the RedWire system from one pair of pants to another, less
expensive pair.

A RedWire denim jacket would be high on my list of future
products, as would RedWire jeans that sport a more traditional Levi’s

Levi’s would be wise to improve the earbuds if it offers
future RedWire fashions. Had the headphones been a little more
comfortable, these jeans would have earned 3.5 stars.

By Tom Rose/
Friday, August 18, 2006
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