Review: AB Sutton Video Book
There's a difference between calling your leather case "classy" and actually delivering a classy design, and as XtremeMac proved with its MicroFlip cases last year, that difference isn't merely attributable to price -- it's about workmanship, attention to detail, and the materials used. But there's a flip side to that coin: underprice a nothing special design and you can effectively appeal to lots of people, while overpricing can limit the appeal of even beautifully made designs.
Today, we’re looking at leather cases from two companies: New York-based AB Sutton is selling the Video Book ($118-138) and Video Slip ($88-123) cases for the fifth-generation iPod, while Hong Kong-based Capdase is selling three different $14 cases for the second-generation iPod nano: the Bifold-Style Classy Leather Case, Belt Leather Case, and Pattern Leather Case. AB Sutton’s cases could have earned our A-level high recommendation but for their extremely high prices, which are justified only by their incredible degree of customization, while Capdase’s designs were spared our C-level rating solely by virtue of rock bottom pricing.
AB Sutton’s Video Book is a new and improved take on the well-worn flip-closed case design, distinguished from competitors by craftsmanship and three neat features. As with Sutton’s other designs, you custom-select everything that goes into the case, including the colors of the glossy kidskin leather, stitching, trim, and the interior fabric, each of which we found to be nothing short of beautiful in our review unit. That said, the leather and fabric were also thin—markedly thinner than in similarly-priced and customizable cases from companies such as Vaja, and no more resilient. Until your iPod’s inside, the case feels fragile, and even thereafter, you’ll feel like it needs to be specially taken care of.
Kidskin leather is creatively used to form two elements of the case: not just the obvious front flap, which folds closed to keep the Click Wheel covered and obscure the case’s clear screen protector, but also the tab that holds the flap closed, and a special fold of interior leather that keeps your iPod snugly inside. Therefore, while your iPod feels only thinly shielded, it does not at any point feel as if it will accidentally fall out. For an additional $20 fee, the front flap can be customized with your color and font choice of a cut and stitched monogrammed letter, or one of numerous starburst patterns.
By contrast, Video Slip is a more practical case, if decidedly simpler, and more impressive for what’s on its back than anything else. It is roughly equivalent to the iPod sleeve on the right side of Video Book, minus the front flap. AB Sutton here permits various types of rear customization for $20 - again, your color and font choice of a cut and stitched monogrammed letter on the back, or one of many starburst patterns. There’s also a ready-to-ship, uncustomized version with a rear card pocket that comes only in green, as shown here, and fits 30GB iPods. We didn’t like the color, but you may feel differently.
Color aside, and as with Video Book’s front and interior, we found these back features of Video Slip to be impressively executed and compelling differences from similar play-through sleeve-type cases we’ve tested. We only had two concerns: the best customizations add additional cost to the already substantial base Slip case price, and there is no additional padding to be found inside. You are paying for what is in essence a thin leather outfit for your iPod, with full top, Click Wheel, and Dock Connector holes that are not optionally covered or protected. With Video Slip, you get a lot more style than protective substance.
At this point, it bears mention that AB Sutton wraps its cases in enough luxury product patina that gift recipients and wealthy iPod owners will be largely impressed despite the cases’ omissions. Prior to delivery of a custom made case, you will receive an order acknowledgement card in the mail along with a felt slip-on case to tide you over while the leather case is being assembled by hand. You later receive a neatly-wrapped box, which when opened reveals a handsome, kidskin leather case with the silky interior of your choice. Receiving Video Book or Video Slip feels like a treat.
For the prices, they should. At an $88 starting price for Video Slip and $118 for Video Book without monogramming - an extra $20 expense - you could buy almost any other iPod case on the market right now, two if you’re willing to compromise customization, and four if you’re just looking for a generic leather case like the ones sold by Capdase. While we can’t tell you that we’d pick the typical Sutton design over a comparable Vaja offering on looks or build quality given their similar pricing, we can say that AB Sutton is currently unrivaled in its ability to create a case precisely to its customers’ demands, and merits some sort of premium for the extra labor that requires. If you’re not on a budget and are insisting on something distinctive and beautiful, Video Book and Video Slip are certainly worthy of your consideration. Of the two, Book rated slightly lower not because of its looks, which we preferred, but rather because we found its front flap less practical and its pricing less impressive than Slip’s.