Review: a.b. sutton Handmade Leather Cases for iPod mini
Pros: Undeniably impressive workmanship across four models of iPod mini cases, with substantial customization features (and detailed monogram options) available. Each case includes integrated screen protection, does at least a good job of protecting iPod. Nice packaging, too.
Cons: Pricey, though worth it for customization options. Because of (generally) top exposure and open Click Wheels, cases don’t have optimal protectiveness; Tokyo ‘64 and Mini Clutch are best in this category. No padding.
Most of the cases we’ve reviewed are mass-manufactured, but a few small companies have specialized in producing limited runs of handmade cases. New York’s a.b. sutton is one of them. Right before the iPod mini was replaced with the iPod nano, the company sent us four new Handmade Leather cases: Mini Slip, Mini Fastback, Mini Clutch, and Tokyo ‘64, each made from kidskin leather and showing definite signs of class. Even though minis are on the way out, there are still millions of people who own them, so we wanted to devote a review to all four of the cases.
Each of the cases is embossed with a number indicating its authenticity, and comes wrapped in soft blue paper with an a.b. sutton label - both packaging touches which makes them feel like special treats if you buy them for yourself, or gifts if you’re planning to give them to someone else. As simple as it sounds, you’ll like them even more after unwrapping them than you would if you’d gotten them in some clear plastic blister pack. Then you’ll notice that they’ve each been designed and stitched with professional caliber attention to detail, and that the leather - though thin - looks as nice as any you’ve seen.
Mini Fastback ($65) is an attractive two-tone pink case with a stripe running through its center, interrupted by a clear vinyl screen protector and a hole for the iPod mini’s Click Wheel. The mini’s bottom, sides, and back are entirely covered; only its top and controls are fully exposed. A non-detachable metal belt clip on the back is covered in leather, and inked in gold with the a.b. sutton name. Four colors are available - pate (mustard yellow), linaria (pink), emerald (green-blue), and pomme (green). The company also sells a full-sized iPod version, which we have not received or reviewed, for $85.
Mini Slip ($50) is virtually identical to Mini Fastback, except it’s missing the rear belt clip and central racing stripe. Our unit was blue on the outside, red on the inside, and featured a large cut and stitched cursive letter “T” on the rear, made from silk. In addition to color choices, the letter’s up to you - for the monogrammed version of this case ($65), a.b. sutton offers six fonts and your choice of letters, as well as four other different versions with non-letter patterns ($65). A small leather loop and silver snap at the rear top lets you connect Mini Slip to a keychain. Regardless of whether you pick the $50 or $65 version, there’s a “build your own” option that lets you select the colors of the leather, the silk, thread and trim. This is more specific customization without additional charge than any other leather case we’ve seen.
The Mini Clutch ($65) we received is red on the outside, with a soft striped fabric interior and an integrated clear vinyl screen protector. Turned on its side and viewed from the back, it looks like an envelope, holding closed with two interlocking loops of leather on the case’s rear. Leather on the top and bottom protects almost all of the iPod mini, save the headphone port, Hold switch, and for some reason the bottom left corner of the mini. “Build your own” options are fully available for this case, as well.
Tokyo ‘64 ($75) is the most protective of the cases. It begins with components almost identical to the Mini Slip, except its bottom has a small hole for the iPod mini’s Dock Connector port - sized only for Apple’s cables - and there’s a leather flap for the case’s front. Like the back of Mini Slip, the front of the Tokyo ‘64 has a cut and stitched letter. Our sample used an Old English lower case “k” in golden fabric, which you can again customize with a monogram of your choice ($85). Only four colors of this case (pomme (green), ermine (beige), wood (brown) and essex (dark blue)) are available.
The flap hangs from Tokyo 64’s top with a thin, central piece of leather, which connects to a leather belt loop on the central rear and a silver snap on the rear bottom. The loop can also be used to loosely hold headphones. When the case is closed, the only exposed part of the iPod mini is the significant portion of the top that isn’t covered by the small flap connector.
Beyond what we’ve said above, we have three comments on these cases. First, every one of them looks sharp thanks to precision stitching and detailing, plus the extent to which they can be customized before purchase is unquestionably impressive. Second, though their protectiveness varies from case to case - and all of them could stand to be a little thicker, or padded - we feel relatively certain that people who buy them as customized cases will be pretty satisfied. The only reason we use the word “pretty” is third point: they’re not cheap. In fact, they’re some of the most expensive iPod mini cases we’ve seen. For the same prices, Vaja continues to sell really sharp, albeit modestly less customizable padded leather cases that we’ve really liked. But these are very good alternatives, depending on your needs.
If you’re looking for a slim, highly personalized leather case - and so long as you don’t mind compromising a bit on iPod top and control protectiveness - we’d consider any of these cases to be at least a very good option. Tokyo ‘64 and Mini Clutch rate a little higher than the others because of their superior front and top protectiveness, respectively, but we don’t have a preference on looks for any specific design. We would unquestionably recommend any of them to readers who want something special and are willing to pay a bit more to get it.