Review: iLeath Leather Print Case
Pros: A novel idea: the first iPod case to offer digital photo integration into front flap, above average leather, provides above average protection for iPod inside.
Cons: Fit and finish lacking in several regards, texture differs between various pieces, color of digital photos is offset by color of leather material, no belt clip, price a bit high given imperfections.
If you read iLounge reviews with any regularity, you already know that many of the accessories we receive for review are great ideas that for one reason or another weren’t ideally executed. Case in point - no pun intended - is the new Leather Print Case we tested from Paraguayan iPod case maker iLeath. Created in the flip-open PDA style, the Leather Print Case’s most distinctive feature is a digital photograph of your choice attached to the front flap. In this feature and most others, iLeath’s case does a passable but not great job, and could really benefit from a bit of retooling and polishing.
(For those interested, iLeath also sells five embroidered cases at a lower price of $24.99. Other than the absence of the front flap’s digital photograph, these cases are identical to the case design we tested.)
Each iLeath case uses the same one-piece, flip-open front body design most people identify with PDA cases; the only differences are in the colors and sizes of the cases. We received and tested three third-generation iPod cases that were identical but for color: the best was black, followed by creamy off-white, and mustard yellow. Photograph panels are separate pieces of fabric stitched on to the front flap. Notably, we aren’t certain how a person can order a photo-ready case in any color but black, as the company’s web site doesn’t permit case color selection. It’s possible that the company chooses a color match suited to your photograph, or permits users to submit requests via e-mail.
iLeath sells cases fit for original iPods, and both thicknesses of third-generation iPods. For reference, fourth-generation iPods do fit in these cases, though the alignment of the protective leather is for obvious reasons a little awkward.
While the quality of iLeath’s leather appears to be pretty good, the texture of the material is a little different from component to component. Externally, the majority of the case uses wrinkled natural leather, while the digital photo panel uses a more taut piece that resembles matte-printed photo stock, and the interior (save for a wrinkled piece that holds the iPod) is entirely pressed. Unless you get a black case, the pieces of leather will differ in color, too: the pressed interior will be black and the front photo panel will likely be off-white.
As iPod case designs go, iLeath’s attention to the iPod’s body is not especially impressive. The interior of the case is mostly fine - a thin piece of clear vinyl protects the iPod’s screen, while a hole shaped to the four buttons and Scroll Wheel provides access to all the controls. Stitching is a little uneven, but not offensively so, and the soft Paraguayan leather does a good job of covering the iPod’s sides and back. It’s not the best leather we’ve seen, nor is the case well-sculpted to the iPod’s sleek form - in fact, the back juts out into a rectangular panel, while the front is oddly tapered. Overall, the Leather Print Case looks like a slightly oversized and uneven wallet. But it holds the iPod firmly enough and shields its sides well enough that we’re not concerned about its general protectiveness.
Ancillary parts of the design will prove acceptable to most users, though none are really well implemented. An unusual Velcro tab hangs off the case’s bottom, poking up in front of the Scroll Wheel to hold the case’s front flap closed. The tab doesn’t interfere with Scroll Wheel usage most of the time, but it could have been better integrated into the bottom of the front flap, or less conspicuously implemented. iLeath’s front flap has two slots for business cards, a frequent enough component of these PDA-style cases, though it’s not an especially useful feature. And finally, rather than a belt clip, the back of the case has an integrated (non-detachable) soft leather belt loop, which may appeal to some users, and not to others. We don’t mount our iPods on our belts, and didn’t find the loop to be either offensively large or especially useful, but your personal needs may differ.
The major problem with the case’s external design is that it features two too-tiny holes: the headphone jack hole is sized solely for Apple’s official jack, and not the Remote, while a Dock Connector hole is an almost comically small slit. Each of these holes actually precluded us from using our favorite accessories with the case; despite the bottom hole, we couldn’t even get Apple’s tiny Dock Connector plug to lock in to the iPod when inside.
But another problem - depending on your needs - is the signature feature of the case, the waterproof digital photograph that is ink-screened on to a leather panel, then stitched on to the case’s front flap somewhat awkwardly. The idea would have worked substantially better if the photographs were printed directly on to the flap, or sewn on in a way that seemed less of an afterthought.
Our three sample cases featured three digital photographs, and while they’re entirely acceptable, they’re not stunning. On the positive side, the resolution of the pictures looked surprisingly good on the samples we received. You upload your photos to iLeath at a resolution of 325 (wide) by 530 (tall) pixels, which while far below the standards of typical digital cameras actually works well with inks that soak into leather. Pixelization wasn’t evident, even in fine and high-contrast lines, and colors blended together quite well wherever intended.
We tested iLeath’s claim that the photos were waterproof, and found the claim to be accurate; the ink didn’t bleed or come off, perhaps because of a thin laminate spray after the printing process was complete. However, neither the leather photo nor the case itself seemed truly waterproof in the sense that it would resist warping when exposed to liquids, so we’d caution buyers to apply a full leather waterproofing treatment before exposing the case to the elements.
And there were some other issues with the photo patch, as well. Dominantly white pictures became light gray, owing to the use of slightly off-color leather as the imprinted material, and the flat leather itself isn’t a texture match for the rest of the case. More disappointingly, the unusual taper of the case’s front flap led to some awkward alignment of the rectangular photos, detracting a bit from each case’s professional appearance. Again, integrating the photo directly into the flap rather than attaching it afterward would have alleviated this issue.
With the release of so many iPod accessories in recent months, attention to detail has come to be a major distinguishing factor between good and great products. After testing iLeath’s cases, we felt that although the company offers a unique case customization option, some of the particulars of the case design haven’t been tuned enough to the iPod’s body, or made internally consistent enough with other case parts. For a $44.99 price, we would generally expect a bit more from a case.
That said, the iLeath Leather Print Case isn’t horrible - it’s protective and useful enough to be better than just acceptable, and some users will like the photograph concept, even if it is imperfectly executed. And there are ways that you can plan and/or design your own iLeath case so that you have fewer of the issues that bothered us: pick a black case and a dark photograph, as that color combination will work better than anything lighter, don’t plan to use any Dock Connector accessories with the case, and use Apple’s included headphones (or ones with a similarly small headphone plug). If these aren’t realistic limitations for your needs, our advice would be to skip this case and wait for the next, and hopefully improved revision.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge. A consumer electronics fanatic who practices intellectual property law in his spare time, Jeremy’s recent book Law School Insider has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.