Review: Apple Computer Leather Cases for iPod and iPod nano | iLounge

Review

C+

Company: Apple Computer

Website: www.Apple.com

Model: Leather Cases for iPod

Price: $99

Compatible: iPod 5G, nano

Apple Computer Leather Cases for iPod and iPod nano

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By Jeremy Horwitz

Editor-in-Chief, iLounge
Published: Monday, March 27, 2006
Category: Cases - iPods + Accessories, iPod 5G (with Video), iPod nano

Pros: A classy, fine Italian leather case sold in sizes to fit fifth-generation iPods and nanos, offering considerable protection and including a novel iPod removal ribbon at the top. Precision-fit to the specific model and capacity of your iPod.

Cons: No access to iPod’s controls or screen while inside - a major contrast with virtually all of the flip and play-through style premium leather cases we’ve seen. Other than the ribbon and its class factor, lacks for pack-ins or other novel features. Expensive given its limitations. Both cases we tested, especially nano version, could activate Click Wheel’s volume controls upon iPod insertion or removal; unless corrected in later manufacturing runs, breaking-in period may be necessary.

Rarely is an iPod protector as controversial as Apple Computer’s new Leather Case for iPod ($99) - a fine Italian leather sleeve also sold in a version sized for the iPod nano ($99). True to form, Apple has embraced a simple design: the Leather Cases use black, reinforced leather outside, and matching black microfiber inside, together precluding full-time access to the iPods’ screens or controls. If you want to remove your iPod, you tug a ribbon inside the case, and the 5G or nano gently slides out. In part because of pricing, but also because of their simplicity and looks, the Leather Cases have inspired sharp reactions from readers, most of which could be summed up as negative. Having actually tested the cases, our perspective is somewhat - but not entirely - different.

Months ago, we decided to transition our case reviews into the capsule format you see below, narrowing our focus to five almost entirely objective criteria. Why? The iPod case market has grown to accommodate hundreds of different designs, with prices ranging from $10 to $1000, and having paid between $69 and $599 for 42 million iPods, owners clearly possess varying tastes and budgets; one person’s ideal case is another person’s joke. Because our readers span the opinion spectrum, we try to consider many different perspectives before concluding that a case is really bad. And as with all of our reviews, our case reviews aim to provide you with enough factual information to make your own educated decision at the end, regardless of whether you ultimately agree with our conclusions.

Build quality is one of the Leather Cases’ biggest strengths: as with almost all of Apple’s products, the Leather Cases have been manufactured virtually beyond reproach. They’re precision-stitched and cut - clean in every detail from edge seams to iPod insertion, and fit their respective iPods to a T; as explained below, the nano version in particular is perhaps even a bit too snug right out of the box. Each case is embossed with the Apple and iPod logos on its front bottom, “iPod” slightly larger than it appears on the back of actual hardware. Apple’s leather looks, feels, and even smells very nice, and the case’s iPod removal ribbon is silky and attractive. Only one point is lost here, specifically for resilience: like today’s iPods, it’s not difficult to scratch the leather using only your fingernail. On a positive note, however, no matter how snug they are, the cases themselves won’t scratch your iPods, and will in fact keep them almost entirely safe from scratch damage.

The most obvious flaws in the Leather Cases’ design are here: they’re nowhere near as easy to use as most of the cases we’ve tested. With the exception of its well-regarded iPod nano Tubes, Apple has unfortunately leaned towards case designs that preclude users from accessing their iPods’ screens and controls without some struggle. The Leather Case continues that trend: full-sized iPods have only their headphone ports and Hold switches exposed; iPod nanos have only their headphone and Dock Connector ports exposed, each for a base score of four.

Apple’s web site uses photographs to suggest that it’s easy to expose your nano’s screen once inside. This is actually misleading: the nano’s bottom-mounted headphone port means that you need to insert that iPod upside down during music playback, precluding you from accessing the screen unless you almost fully remove the case. Full-sized iPods can do this, but there’s almost no point; you can’t fully see or use the controls without removing that iPod, either. Premium leather cases from companies such as Vaja achieve a much better compromise in this regard.

There’s one other issue we had with both of the cases - leading to a point deduction here - though it’s far more common in the nano version than the 5G one. If you plug your headphones in, press play, and insert your iPod into the case - the way it has to be done because of both cases’ lack of play-through controls - the cases are initially tight enough to sometimes automatically change the volume on the iPods’ Click Wheels. On the nano, which is inserted upside-down, the volume decreases. Full-sized iPods, inserted right side up, occasionally increase in volume. Because the cases can be broken in during the first day to eliminate this issue, we don’t consider it serious, but it’s a little annoying: be careful with your headphones until you’re sure the case has loosened up a little.

Our special features category awards points for detachable pack-ins and design/conceptual innovations. Since the Leather Cases include no pack-ins - belt clips, lanyards, or the like - zero of the five possible points are awarded there. One point is awarded for Apple’s novel ribbon removal system, which now provides a smart, easy way to pull an iPod out of a case with only one hole on its body. We also award a second point for Apple’s decision to use a high-quality leather rather than the cheaper, low-grade material we’ve seen in inexpensive cases. Though you pay for the privilege, we appreciate that Apple hasn’t given up on producing options for different types of users.

Other than the quality of their materials, the single biggest strength of both Leather Cases is their protectiveness: like the inexpensive packed-in sleeves that now come with each new iPod and nano, Apple has designed these to fully cover all of your iPod except for one surface: the full-sized version exposes only that iPod’s top, and the nano version only that iPod’s bottom. Of course, we’ve seen more protective cases than these - ones with hard plastic, metal, or wood bodies, and with complete coverage - but by leather case standards, Apple’s done a good job.

The biggest challenge for our review system is to quantify the actual value of any expensive case: we rate “fair value” cases as 5’s, and either add or detract 3 points for aggressively under- or over-priced cases, with 2 points of reviewers’ tilt to make small additional bonuses and deductions for great case designs. We strongly believe that reader opinions will diverge strongly on the appropriate value of these cases, but it’s our opinion that for their target market, they’re a bit more expensive than buyers would prefer - especially the smaller nano one, which could have rated even lower - and don’t merit bonus points on account of their sleeve-style, non-play through designs. It also remains to be seen whether people will be willing to pay as much or more for an Apple-branded premium case as for, say, an $88 Coach leather case.

All in all, Apple’s Leather Cases for iPod are nice for what they are, but they don’t attempt much. If an austere black sleeve for your iPod strikes you as classier than a completely customized premium, play-through leather case (with both screen and Click Wheel protection included) from Vaja, you’ll find that both can be had for about the same price, though Apple’s ship much faster and are more widely available in local stores. We know which we’d prefer, but could understand if others valued the availability and simplicity of Apple’s design instead.

A Note From the Editors of iLounge: Though all products and services reviewed by iLounge are "final," many companies now make changes to their offerings after publication of our reviews, which may or may not be reflected above. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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