Review: Piel Frama Luxurious Leather Case
Pros: Highly attractive outside leather, sturdy belt clip and overall good protection when case is closed.
Cons: PDA-style case design with some functionality compromises, including small Dock Connector hole and small exposed areas at iPod’s top sides. Plastic rear belt nub and no internal screen protector are surprises. Outside of designer label offerings, the most expensive leather case we’ve seen by some margin.
Depending on your experiences, the phrase “hand-made” can call to mind positive, negative, or both kinds of images. Spanish case maker Piel Frama therefore took a gamble when it embossed the following text on the inside of its leather iPod cases:
“The product you have just acquired has been hand-made by Piel Frama leather craftsmen, so each piece is unique.”
iLounge has seen hand-made cases that look almost ready to fall apart, and hand-made cases that look like the result of skilled, quality labor. Thankfully, Piel Frama’s new Luxurious model leather 4G and iPod photo cases (90 Euros/$118, express shipping included) fall into the latter category.
In recent months, leather iPod cases - particularly flip-open PDA-style ones - have taken a back seat to silicone and hard cases, as many smaller companies have opted to make cheaper but more easily iPod-contoured products. Thankfully, the makers of premium leather cases are still in the game, and producing interesting updates of last year’s successful iPod cases. These premium cases are higher-priced than almost any other iPod cases we’ve reviewed, but use better quality materials and are intended to satisfy the needs of more discriminating users.
Piel Frama’s new Luxurious cases are similar to the company’s standard versions (50 euros/$65 US), which we previously reviewed here. The only differences are the new cases’ external leather and belt clip systems.
All of Piel Frama’s cases follow typical PDA case conventions, using a sheathe to hold the iPod’s back, sides, and bottom, with a flip-open front lid that protects the iPod’s top and front surfaces. The lid gives the user the option of full-time coverage and protection of the iPod’s screen and controls, or the ability to access them by simply opening a snap at the case’s rear bottom. Two credit card slots and a “money pocket” are included in the inner lid; all three are thin and best suited to cards.
As PDA case design is now formulaic, the distinguishing physical characteristics of such cases are few in number: materials, construction, and design of the iPod-specific parts for controls, screen, and port access. On all three counts, Piel Frama has done a good job. In order to guarantee appropriate fit, the luxurious cases are specifically sized for 20GB 4G, 40GB 4G, and photo iPods respectively; the one we tested was specific to the 40GB fourth-generation iPod.
Across its standard and Luxurious lines, Piel Frama’s most distinctive characteristic remains its leather quality. Here, its exterior glossy black cowskin leather is formed into a crocodile-skin texture sharply distinguishable from lower-end PDA-style cases; the outside appearance is dark, masculine, and elegant. A brown cowskin-based “ostrich” case is also available, and Piel Frama continues to offer less expensive untextured 4G cases almost identical to the 3G ones we reviewed last year.
Build quality is similarly impressive; none of the tell-tale signs of inexpensive manufacture, such as loose strings, rough edges, or awkward stitching were present. The case is fairly reinforced on all sides against scratch and drop damage, too. Though leather is naturally a less aggressive anti-drop protective material than the hard plastic and metal cases we’ve tested, the Piel Frama design is better built to help an iPod survive these issues than many leather competitors. With the exception of two thin slits at the case’s bottom corners, two small exposed areas at the iPod’s top sides, and the headphone port hole, the case’s precious cargo is well-protected at all points.
Piel Frama’s attention to the iPod’s specifics remains generally good. The case’s top leaves only an appropriately-sized hole in the middle, permitting use with different types of headphones, and covering the iPod’s Hold switch. Its bottom has a decent but not great hole for the iPod’s Dock Connector port, with a bit too little width for common third-party iPod accessories. On the bright side, the case covers that hole almost entirely with a lid clasp that extends from the bottom of the lid over the port hole to a metal snap on the case’s bottom rear.
Screen and control access are also good. There are holes for both, each cut a little generously, but on flip-open cases, this doesn’t matter as much except for cosmetic reasons; when the lid’s covered, the iPod’s protected. We were a little surprised that Piel Frama didn’t include an integrated screen protector inside the case, but again, the screen’s protected when the lid is covered.
Piel Frama also includes a detachable belt clip with the 4G case. Though the rear integrated black plastic nub is low-profile, adding little thickness, we prefer the detachable metal nub used on the company’s standard cases - though similarly functional, the new nub looks less expensive. We continue to like Piel Frama’s clip, which is a thin and attractive black piece that looks and feels well-made. Though we don’t clip our own cases, we commend Piel Frama for bothering to use a nicer-looking clip, as the look of these parts is more often than not an afterthought in design, and typically fatter and cheaper looking than the one included here.
We had only two other issues with the case: leather-matching, and price. The leather-matching issue is relatively minor: while the outside leather is textured in a crocodile or ostrich pattern, the inside leather remains untextured and basically identical to the interiors of the company’s standard cases. Three different leathers - glossy dark exterior, matte black iPod sheathe, and natural tan interior - contrast a bit with the fully matching leather parts that some other companies offer. This isn’t a huge surprise or detractor from the overall quality of the case design, but it’s worth noting that the 40 Euro price premium is basically buying a different outside shell, little more.
And that premium - $53 - isn’t modest; either. Piel Frama’s $118 asking price is more than twice as expensive as Vaja’s custom made PDA-style iPod cases, which are fully color-customizable and similarly well-made. Admittedly, Vaja doesn’t have crocodile or ostrich textures, which turn out to be the Luxurious Cases’ biggest selling point. The look of those leathers almost justifies the added expense.
Overall, our feelings about Piel Frama’s Luxurious Cases are quite positive. If you like the way they look on the outside, you’ll certainly be satisfied by their internal build quality and iPod protectiveness. Just be prepared to pay for the privilege.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.