Review: Belkin Carabineer, Flip and Folio Cases for iPod nano
Pros: Early leather cases for the iPod nano, each available in four colors at reasonable prices, but varying considerably in protectivity. Folio does a good job of protecting most of the iPod nano’s body when closed.
Cons: Case designs seem rushed and not fully fleshed out in certain particulars; none is especially stylish by comparison with Belkin’s best earlier iPod efforts. Two of three cases unnecessarily expose far too much of the nano’s scratch-attracting body, while third exposes fewer parts, but still ones that could easily have been covered. Belt clips are non-detachable.
iPod peripheral maker Belkin has previously been best-known for its electronic add-ons, but as we’ve noted in our recent string of iPod, mini, and shuffle reviews, it’s also been selling cases of literally every sort for some time now. In an effort to provide early support for the iPod nano, the company is now in the process of rushing three new iPod nano leather cases ($24.99 each) to market, each with slightly different characteristics. They’re expected to appear in stores in October.
Of the three offerings, the Carabineer Case is the least protective. Offered in four exterior leather colors (white, blue, pink, and black), each with a gray interior, our review unit is pink in color with gray stitching. Carabineer covers the iPod nano’s entire white or black front acrylic face, which also partially wraps around its metal sides and mostly covers its back. In a design decision that we fear will be duplicated in numerous iPod nano cases, way too many holes are left: one each for the nano’s screen, Click Wheel, Hold switch, and four corners, plus almost all of its bottom, and for no particular reason, a circular one around its rear Apple and iPod logos. All of the holes are reasonably but not beautifully tailored and stitched.
You insert your nano through the bottom of the case, then latch it closed with a gray loop of fabric that integrates with a small bottom metal eyelet and a silver snap on Carabineer’s back. You can then choose whether or not to insert a large included metal carabineer hook through the fabric loop.
We are generally fans of the carabineer hook concept - the idea is that these hooks attach to your belt or a bag, and let you carry your iPod (particularly a small one) without holding or belt clipping it. But we always remain concerned about carabineer designs that omit protection from portions of the iPod.
As many past cases have shown, there are ways to safely cover an iPod’s screen and controls without precluding access to them, and all of its body (save its headphone port) can be covered as well. Given the nano’s susceptibility to scratches, we were disturbed that this case had so many unnecessary holes, particularly the pointless one on the iPod’s back, but also the ones on its corners and Dock Connector.
While we like Carabineer’s price and generally liked its style, it’s nowhere near as protective as it could have been. We’ll be waiting for something with the same hook feature and a substantially more protective body.
Belkin’s Flip Case begins with a leather body almost identical to the Carabineer Case - when open, it covers all of the same parts of the iPod nano, and leaves basically all of the same parts exposed. In other words, there’s a big hole on the back for the Apple and iPod logos, holes on all four corners, and when open, holes for the screen and Click Wheel. As with Carabineer, black, white, blue and pink versions are offered, each with a gray interior, and our review unit is white in color with white stitching. Again, all of the holes are reasonably but not beautifully tailored and stitched.
The differences are these: Flip Case lacks Carabineer’s metal hook and gray fabric loop, and instead has a large flap of leather hanging from its bottom, ready to fold up and cover nano’s entire face at any time. A magnetic clasp on a tab folds over Nano’s top and holds closed on Flip Case’s rear; the leather flap of each color of case’s outer side includes a gray, non-detachable belt clip that you can wrap your headphones around while not in use. This belt clip adds to Flip Case’s thickness, more than tripling the bulk of nano’s naturally thin body.
As with some of the prior leather cases we’ve tested for other iPods, Belkin’s belt clip is designed to attach to your clothes and open the nano upside down for easier viewing. Because a notch is cut into one of its corners, it does so here without disrupting the nano’s headphone port, even if you’re using larger headphones.
Flip Case scores extra points for giving users the ability to keep the front of the iPod nano completely protected when closed, but as with Carabineer, nano’s side corners are unnecessarily exposed at all times, even when Flip Case is shut. Half of the Hold switch is also covered by the magnetic clasp tab, while the other half isn’t - this should have been so easy to tailor better, and the circular exposure of the nano’s rear logos continued to perplex us in this case.
We’re also a bit dubious of the value of a belt clip for the tiny nano - particularly one that’s non-detachable - so you’ll have to determine whether this is something you need or care about prior to making a purchase. The ability to wrap your headphone cords around the clip is nice, but it’s just as easy to do so around a case this small without a clip.
Of the three cases, Folio strikes us as Belkin’s best design compromise. Like Flip Case, it uses a flap of leather that opens and closes to reveal nano’s screen and controls, plus a magnetic clasp on a tab that holds the case closed on its back. But unlike both Flip and Carabineer, this case doesn’t unnecessarily expose the nano’s sides or back when closed. The case is fully protective on its right side at all times, and open on the left side for nano insertion, covering that side when closed. Best of all, there’s no huge hole to expose nano’s Apple and iPod logos.
However, Folio is not quite as good on its top or bottom as Flip Case, leaving about half of the nano’s top exposed - partially for no good reason - and part of the Dock Connector port, as well. There’s adequate room at the headphone port for your headphone plug of choice, but the other holes are unnecessarily large. It’s our feeling that nano cases, like A1QP’s iKeychain for iPod nano, should cover the nano’s entire top, sides, back, and most of its bottom; Folio comes closer than Belkin’s other cases, but still isn’t ideal.
As with the other cases, Folio comes in four colors: white, black, blue and pink, all with the same soft gray fabric interior; we tested the baby blue and black versions, which had blue and gray stitching, respectively. Each case includes a non-detachable, 360-degree swiveling belt clip that’s covered in matching leather.
Like the Flip Case, the result is that Folio roughly quadruples the nano’s thickness, which will put off some people. In our view, detachable clips should be options on all iPod nano cases; many people buy the nano for its slimness and don’t want an option that adds so much bulk.
Our only other issue is Folio’s plainness. Belkin has shown in its leather NE series of cases (particularly its Sports Leather Case, iLounge rating: A-) that it’s capable of adding stripes, contours, and style to a plain leather design, but Folio has none of that pizzazz. It’s a clean, functional leather holder for the iPod nano, and for the time being, that will suffice to satisfy many people. That said, we fully expect to see better from Belkin and others in the near future.
As a general rule, we haven’t liked cases that unnecessarily expose portions of an iPod’s body, and the nano has at least as much of a need for protection as its predecessors, arguably more so. None of Belkin’s first crop of leather iPod nano cases is all it could have been in this regard, and each one has additional idiosyncracies that preclude us from giving it as enthusiastic a recommendation as we might have hoped. The best of the cases is Folio, which looks pretty good and protects most of the nano when closed, but adds quite a bit of thickness and isn’t nearly as stylish as Belkin’s top leather iPod cases have been.
Given what we’ve seen from Belkin’s nicest looking prior NE designs, we’re convinced that a bit of extra development time would definitely have helped these cases a lot. Exposing the backs and corners of Flip and Carabineer could have been avoided, screen and Wheel protection could have been added to Carabineer, Flip’s belt clip could have been made detachable, and Belkin could have scored some additional style points for all three cases by incorporating the two-toned stripes and other nice aesthetic touches it’s included in earlier cases. Their omissions make Carabineer a case we can’t really recommend, and Flip a case we’d recommend only to that limited group of people who will both like the belt clip and not mind exposing all of their nanos’ corners.