Review: Belkin Eco-Conscious Leather Sleeves for iPod nano 4G + iPod touch 2G
Leather iPod and iPhone cases fall into three major categories these days: "play-through" designs that let you see the device's screen, "flip-style" designs that inconveniently cover the screen and controls with a flap that needs to be opened every time you want to use them, and "sleeves," which are little more than gloves that require you to slide the entire device in and out to use it. Today, we're briefly reviewing 17 new cases for the iPod nano 4G, iPod classic, iPod touch 2G, and iPhone 3G from eight different companies. This combined review looks at Belkin's Leather Sleeves for iPod nano 4G ($25) and iPod touch 2G ($30), its Eco-Conscious Leather Sleeves for iPod nano 4G ($25) and iPod touch 2G ($30), and Incase's Leather Sleeve ($30) for iPod nano 4G.
The reason we’re covering all of these cases in the same review is that the iPod nano cases are exceptionally similar to one another, while the iPod touch cases are related to the same-named nano cases. Each of the nano cases proceeds in the exact same way: they cover the nano’s metal body entirely, fully exposing the Click Wheel, headphone port, and bottom left corner, while covering the screen with a clear plastic shield. All of the cases expose the nano’s top-mounted Hold switch, as well.
From there, they differ a bit. Belkin’s Leather Sleeve for iPod nano 4G is made from a glossy, thin leatherette, and comes in both pink and black versions, each with with soft lining and Velcro tabs to keep their iPods inside. While the stitching is very similar to Incase’s, the case feels a bit thinner and cheaper, and the leather doesn’t look as nice as Incase’s; the back is flat, and has no belt clip, which some users may prefer. Otherwise, it could have come from the same factory, and also exposes the nano’s top right corner.
The Eco-Conscious Leather Sleeve uses vegetable-tanned black or walnut leather rather than chemically stained leather, and has a felt interior rather than microfiber. The combined look is a bit rough and bohemian, like a chalkboard eraser mixed with a racing glove, but the effect’s apparently intentional; this case has no contrast stitching, and has the same dull knife shape as the 4G nano, with the same openings as the standard Leather Sleeve. Choosing one over the other is purely a matter of personal taste, but we prefer the look of the standard version.
Incase’s black-only Leather Sleeve is facially difficult to distinguish from Belkin’s same-named case. There’s a little bit more of the same contrast stitching, an Incase leaf logo on the face, and a more interesting looking back with a non-detachable belt clip, permanently pointed such that the nano’s headphone port faces upwards. You’ll have to decide whether you want the belt clip, but the case looks a little sharper than Belkin’s, and uses what appears to be better-quality leather, as well. It has rougher tailoring around the Click Wheels of the nano, but otherwise, it’s attractive and well-made.
We weren’t as impressed by the iPod touch 2G versions of the Leather Sleeve and Eco-Conscious Leather Sleeve, primarily because they made little attempt to cover the device’s face or top, but also because of some other little oddities. The Leather Sleeve is actually leather on the front and back, with neoprene on the sides and bottom. By comparison, the Eco-Conscious Sleeve is leather on the front, bottom, and back, with a lot of felt on the sides and interior. We were surprised that our touch’s glossy back didn’t get torn up from the felt, which felt like a light Brillo pad by comparison with the smooth suede and suede-like fabrics we find inside most leather cases.
With both of these cases, you slide the iPod touch into a sleeve, sealing it inside with a Velcro tab, using holes at the bottom to access the headphone and Dock Connector ports. Both cases work with oversized headphone plugs, but they’re spottier on Dock Connector accessories; the standard Sleeve mostly fits into Universal Docks, but the Eco-Conscious one doesn’t. On the flip side, the Eco-Conscious case covers the touch’s Home button and exposes the Volume buttons, while the standard Sleeve exposes the Home button and covers the Volume ones. For fabric cases, they just don’t protect as much as they could, and they’re not aggressively priced in a way that makes up for their omissions.
Of all of the cases in this collection, our top picks would be Incase’s Leather and Neoprene Sleeves, though Belkin’s leather nano versions aren’t far behind; the iPod touch ones seem comparatively incomplete. While we think that both of these companies could stand to have better control over their tailoring, leather and fabric do present some interesting challenges for devices as small and thin as these iPods; our gut feeling is that subsequent cases will do even better.