Review: Incase Leather and Neoprene Sleeves for iPod touch
One month after the release of Apple's new iPod touch, we've had the chance to test thirteen different cases that are in or on their way to stores in the United States. Many of the designs will be familiar to owners of other iPods, but for those who aren't familiar -- and for those who need additional information before making a purchasing decision -- we've created three comparative reviews to give you a big picture look at all of these options. One review focuses on four $20-30 armbands, the next on six $30-35 leather or neoprene cases, and the last on three $15-25 plastic cases.
Clockwise from Top Right: Belkin Leather Folio, Leather Sleeve; DLO HipCase; Griffin Elan Convertible, Incase Neoprene Sleeve, Leather Sleeve
Our second comparative review of the day looks at five cases that are made from leather, and a sixth that is almost identical to its leather cousin, except for its replacement of leather with soft plastic and neoprene. Belkin has the Leather Folio ($30) and Leather Sleeve ($30), DLO has the HipCase Leather Sleeve ($30), Griffin has the Elan Convertible ($30), and Incase has the Leather Sleeve ($35) and Neoprene Sleeve ($30). Since these cases have a lot in common with one another, we’ll quickly sum up their similarities, walk you through a table we’ve assembled to help you quickly understand their differences, and then discuss their individual features in separate reviews.
All six of the cases cover parts of the iPod touch’s sides, bottom, and face with leather or plastic: most of the cases cover all of touch’s sides and back, and only parts of its top, bottom, and face. Every case has a soft lining that varies from velvet to suede or soft neoprene, preventing touch from being scratched inside. And every case provides full-time access to the touch’s headphone port, Dock Connector port, and Sleep/Wake button.
From there, they differ. Two of the cases cover the iPod’s screen with a leather flap, while four of the cases do not; one includes clear film to protect touch’s screen. A different four cases come with a belt clip—none with the ability to serve as a video stand—and each case has at least one classy touch, though the amount of class, and color options, vary from case to case as noted below.
Incase’s new black Leather Sleeve and pink Neoprene Sleeve are highly similar to one another save for their colors and subtle material differences. They both feature the same enclosure shape, non-detachable vertical belt clip, and openings for touch’s screen, Home button, brightness sensor, Sleep/Wake button, Dock Connector and headphone ports. As its name suggests, the Leather Sleeve is made entirely from leather save for its classier velvet, topographic line-etched interior, while the Neoprene Sleeve has a plastic front face and rear belt clip cover, with everything else made from neoprene—no topographic etching is inside. Both cases close with a Velcro-aided top flap, and neither comes with a screen protector.
What’s interesting about Incase’s approach is that it has managed to outclass and out-protect Belkin’s similar Leather Sleeve design with both of these cases: though the Neoprene version does use the old, shiny-looking material, it offsets it with enough plastic—particularly on the front—that your first impression will be “plastic,” not “neoprene.” That said, Incase’s Leather version is better and classier, though it sells at a $5 premium relative to all of the other leather cases we’ve reviewed today, and the Neoprene model.
In each design, Incase properly covers the tops and fronts of touch’s top right and bottom left corners, though it does slightly expose both of the top corners from the back. And despite the similarities between its and Belkin’s high-constrast stitching, Incase’s looks a bit sharper, and its more vivid pink case helps the white stand out more, as well. Price aside, Belkin’s only advantage over Incase is if you don’t like belt clips: the Incase Sleeves have them built-in, but Belkin’s don’t have them at all, and are consequently thinner.
Our only major problem with the Incase design was specific to the Leather Sleeve, and not an issue in the Neoprene Sleeve: the headphone port is a bit problematic. We were able to connect oversized and oddly shaped headphone plugs to touch in the Neoprene design, but the same headphone port hole in Leather Case is too hard for anything other than an Apple-sized connector to connect with. Our suspicion is that Incase will eventually fix this, but we have to review what we see, not what we think we’ll see in the future.
Overall, the first crop of leather iPod touch cases didn’t really blow us away: though we liked three of the open-faced cases enough to generally recommend them to our readers, none was as protective as we’d expect for a $30 or $35 asking price, and each had at least a little something that could really benefit from a superior redesign. The other three cases rated limited recommendations for different reasons; Belkin’s Leather Folio looks good but interferes with normal use of iPod touch’s screen, Griffin’s Elan Convertible has the most protection and best belt clip of the bunch but is still too big, bulky, and otherwise inconvenient because of its flap, and DLO’s HipCase compromises a little too much in looks and side protectiveness. We’re holding out for the next round of leather designs in hopes that they’re better and smarter.