Review: Belkin Flip and Kickstand Leather Cases for 5G iPod
Models: Flip Case 5G, Kickstand Case 5G
Price: $30 each
Compatible: iPod 5G
Pros: Early leather cases for the 5G iPod, each available in two colors. Both cases properly protect the iPod’s screen and controls, as well as its entire back and most of its sides. In addition to good (though familiar) exterior looks and build quality, Flip has an especially nice-looking interior, and works with any headphones you may attach. The more innovative Kickstand serves as a carabineer-laden case while you’re walking around, and a desktop mount for watching your iPod on a table when you’re sitting down.
Cons: Flip’s design exposes iPod’s corners and a bit of extra area around its Dock Connector port; its belt clip is non-detachable, and its front flap makes practical use of the iPod’s video capabilities more of a challenge. Kickstand’s design exposes iPod’s corners and virtually entire bottom, plus has a somewhat awkward seam running horizontally through its center; open bottom design is a problem when you’re trying to connect anything to iPod’s bottom (such as in a car), small headphone port hole not right for attaching larger headphones.
The rush to release cases for Apple’s new iPods has become something of a Wild West gunfight, and Belkin has been developing a reputation as a quick draw artist. Only weeks after the release of the fifth-generation iPod, the company has already delivered to us the first reviewable final samples of two new leather cases called Flip and Kickstand (each $30), both showing interesting evolutions over similar cases it has released for past iPods.
We look at both cases with our new capsule review system, which spotlights six critical factors in each case’s design: appearance, build quality, ease of use, special features/innovation, protectiveness, and value for the dollar. They will be unveiled in public at this week’s Podcasting & Portable Media Expo in Ontario, California, and released for purchase in early December.
Appearance: Flip evolves the traditional leather “flip-open front” PDA case with distinctively textured side panels and color acccents. Two versions are available - one predominantly white, one predominantly black, both with gray suede-like interiors and rubber Dock Connector rings at the bottom. The white case has beige sides and a matching belt clip, while the black one’s sides and belt clip are both black. Each case has a small silver-lined hole on its bottom left side that, together with a grey peg, serves to hold the front flap closed; when the flap is opened, a gray NE (“NeuElements”) patch can be seen on the flap’s inside, along with a clear medium-strength vinyl screen protector at the top of a leather iPod sheathe. Other than coloration, the only distinctive touch in each case is its side panel design, which has a series of textured hole-like dots in the leather rather than the typical case’s slats of flat leather. We’d call the case nice-looking, but not especially distinctive.
Build Quality: Our sample case looked and felt professionally tailored at all points inside and out, and its stitching was the same. Interestingly, it’s most impressive on the inside - the suede-like interior feels good, and nicely uses padding inside of its iPod sheathe to accommodate either 30GB or 60GB 5G iPods. The front leather flap uses similar padding on its outside, which adds to the sense that this is more than just a cheap case.
Ease of Use: Like all PDA-style designs, you can’t see the iPod’s screen or use its controls while the Flip case is closed - an issue that for some users may matter more with the video-ready 5G iPod than with 4G and earlier iPods. If you bought your iPod to watch video all of the time, this mightn’t be the case for you. Once you open it up, the iPod’s controls are fully exposed - no protection, which is fine for a flip-closed case - but the screen is covered.
Special Features/Innovation: As with earlier Belkin belt clipped cases, this case includes a cord managing belt clip, an added feature of modest value. The clip cannot be removed from the case, an option we prefer. This case’s primary benefits are its looks, nothing else.
Protectiveness and Value: The Flip Case is like most other PDA cases we’ve seen: even when closed, it exposes the iPod’s corners, a portion of the iPod’s top next to its headphone port, and a generous amount area around the iPod’s Dock Connector port. On the bright side, it’s easy to connect any headphones or bottom-connecting accessories to your iPod while in Flip, but some companies have chosen in the past to do more to completely protect the iPod. We think the same will be the case with this model, as well. Value? $30 isn’t an objectionable price for a good leather case for the iPod, and our feeling is that if you like the looks of this design and don’t mind its open corners, you’ll feel well-satisfied with this, especially every time you open it up.
Appearance: Initially, you may not understand why there’s a horizontal split in the center of the leather Kickstand case - you can’t insert your 5G iPod in the center and then close the case on top of it. But there’s a good reason: Kickstand is designed to serve as a hook-laden leather case on the go, and a simple iPod stand whenever you’re near a flat surface and want to watch videos. Available in black or white leather, the fold-open design uses clear vinyl protectors for the iPod’s screen and Click Wheel, two silver snaps on the back top and bottom, and a gray fabric loop with a snap that attaches to the bottom snap when you’re walking, or the top snap to hold the case open for table viewing. An aluminum carabineer hook goes through the loop for easy belt or bag carrying; there is no belt clip, and Kickstand’s back is otherwise bare.
Overall, the case looks a hint better than alright, with a few rough edges around its holes and none of the puffed leather exterior we liked on Flip. There are parts of the leather that are a bit wrinkly, and look less attractive than Flip. Our favorite part - the gray, suede-like interior found in Flip - is entirely covered when the iPod is inside, and the case overall feels a little less expensive than its price might suggest.
Build Quality: While it doesn’t feel poorly made, Kickstand is a little - and we underscore little - rough around the edges of its holes, a fact accentuated by its central “flip-open” seam and simple design up top. We’re in no way concerned that the case will come apart, but there were rough thread edges around its screen, and elsewhere.
Ease of Use: In some ways, Kickstand is substantially easier to use than Flip - its always-exposed screen and Click Wheel are both positives, and some (not us, particularly) may like its always-exposed Hold switch as well. We also liked the carabineer hook, and are actually coming to prefer these detachable hooks to belt clips; Belkin’s is large and easy on the fingers - another benefit. Using the Click Wheel through the vinyl isn’t hard, and though there is a mild prismatic effect through the screen protector, seeing the screen isn’t hard. We think that improving the clarity (and reducing the scratch susceptibility) of continuously exposed screen protectors should and will be a major goal for iPod 5G case makers - Belkin’s material is better than some of the cheap stuff we’ve seen other case makers use, but we think there’s still a ways to evolve on this.
But there are two things that are really not great about this design. First, the headphone port hole is small - not right for larger headphone plugs. And second, Kickstand becomes useless if you’re going to mount your iPod in your car with certain mounts: you need to undo a metal piece on the case’s bottom to expose the Dock Connector, and since there’s nothing else holding your iPod inside, gravity will immediately make it slip out of Kickstand partially or entirely. This is a fine case for walking around, but not for car-use.
Special Features/Innovation: The biggest innovation of Kickstand is a fairly significant one: it can optionally serve as a way to mount your iPod for easy viewing on a table. When the iPod’s not in the case, you fold it horizontally, attach the fabric loop and snap to the case’s top back snap, and drop your iPod into its bottom half for unobstructed screen viewing. Assuming you still want to listen to your mounted iPod with headphones, this is a nice idea, and Belkin deserves credit for thinking outside the box to make it possible. Kickstand’s carabineer hook design is a carryover from the company’s earlier iPod nano Carabineer case, and works well here, too.
Protectiveness and Value: Our biggest problems are with Kickstand’s protectiveness - in our view, and despite some valiant efforts, it’s not a good pocket case. Though it does well with the iPod’s front and back, and alright with its sides and top, it exposes almost all of the 5G iPod’s bottom, and its side corners, as well. The center seam doesn’t always stay entirely closed, either, so don’t expect to toss this into a bag with anything sharp and keep your iPod totally safe. This case really should be worn on a belt or bag, not elsewhere.
On value, as noted under Appearance and our review of Flip, we’re okay with a $30 case when it looks and feels pretty sharp, but Kickstand falls a little short. There are certain things that just seem a bit off - the look isn’t that great, but it’s not bad; the rough fabric edges; the awkwardness of the open bottom both for protection and use in your car; and the small headphone port hole that some people will find problematic. All of these factors led us to rate the case lower than we might otherwise have wanted. We really like the idea of a case with play-through controls and screen viewing, and the idea of a convertible stand option is a good one, but the execution here is off. So we wrestled with B- and C+ grades on this one, ultimately deciding that its pricing and innovation made it recommendable on a limited level - to those who will really take advantage of the convertible and carabineer options, and don’t mind making some compromises to get them.