Review: Belkin NE Sports Leather Case for iPod
Pros: An attractive modern leather case that achieves a good compromise between protectiveness and practicality, with nice highlights of color and a collection of versatile included accessories. Strong, if not ideal belt clip is fully detachable, including a screw-in metal nub. Good Dock Connector port hole.
Cons: Wisdom of using this as a sport case with included armband or wristband is questionable based on leather material, top corners aren’t protected as well as we’d optimally like, control access is fine but not ideal.
Having recently had the opportunity to check out the entirety of Belkin’s very large case lineup, we wanted to bring you reviews of all ten of them in a timely fashion. Over the course of the next two days, we’ll look at five cases per day, moving quickly through the good and bad points of each one. Today’s cases are all for full-sized iPods, and though most are designed as one-size-fits-all offerings, are better suited for black-and-white 20GB and 40GB fourth-generation iPods, or 20/30GB color ones, than thicker 40GB or 60GB color models.
When we first saw prototypes of Belkin’s NE series of cases, the styling of the Sports Leather Case series ($34.99, street price $20 and up) was what really caught our attention. Though our review unit has a black leather body with white pinstripes and a gray racing stripe down its front center, the company also sells a white leather version with an orange racing stripe. Both models include three extra parts - an armband, a hand band, and a removable plastic belt clip. The bands are black and gray on our review unit, and two-toned gray on the white version. The rear belt clip is dark gray plastic, without a spring mechanism. A screw-based belt clip nub on the back can be removed to flatten the case out.
Like several of Belkin’s other leather cases, the Sports Leather Case uses a single clear PVC cover for the iPod’s screen and controls, a solution that’s pretty easy to see through and reasonable - not spectacular - to use your iPod through. Both the bottom Dock Connector port and top headphone port are generously exposed for attachment to accessories, while the top Hold switch is covered by one of two Velcro-tipped leather tabs that hold the iPod in place at all times. When they’re closed, the only other parts of the iPod that are exposed are its top corner sides and the small central portion around its headphone port. On protectiveness, this case rates pretty well - a little better than the company’s Deluxe Leather Case (iLounge rating: B+), but a little extra leather at the top wouldn’t have hurt.
The rear of the Sports Leather Case is interesting because it’s intentionally multipurposed. If you remove the central metal belt clip nub, you can attach a simple elastic and Velcro hand band vertically through the center, or a slightly more deluxe elastic and Velcro arm band, which loops around with a hard plastic O-ring. We found the arm band to be soft and pretty comfortable - wide enough not to cut into the arm - and the hand band to be okay, not a preferred way of wearing a full-sized iPod. The belt clip is similarly fine, but nothing extraordinary.
Our biggest question about this case is a conceptual one - are you really going to want to run or work out with a grain leather case, subjecting its body to moisture and the elements? We tend to think not, and the fact that Belkin offers so many sports branded cases at this point (mostly rubber, plastic, and neoprene options) underscores this point. That said, we can’t really knock Belkin for tossing in what amounts to a bunch of extras just in case you’re that sort of user. We think of this as a “sporty” leather case rather than a sports case, and would use it for our iPods without any of the add-ons.
Since our preferred way of using any iPod case is without a belt clip, it’s great that the Sports Leather Case makes that possible: removing the belt nub renders it thin and easy enough to take pretty much anywhere. Though it does leave small parts of your iPod exposed to potential scratch damage, it’s protected enough on all sides to resist harm from drops, and provides convenient access to all of the iPod’s main ports.
If you’re willing to risk a few scratches, we’d call the Sports Leather Case one of the best overall leather cases we’ve seen - quite reasonably priced and versatile enough to accompany you anywhere you might want to take it. Mostly on protection and control access, we were on the edge of A- and B+ ratings for this one, but awarded bonus points for appearance. You’ll find the vinyl a less than perfect way to access the controls, and the leather a less than perfect match for athletic endeavors, but the build quality good, and the style so spot-on and modern that you’ll probably be willing to overlook the case’s relatively small flaws.