Review: Case-Mate Carbon Fiber Leather Cases for iPod classic, touch + iPhone
When a company figures out the generally right shape and materials for a case, it's only natural to offer later follow-ups with tweaks that might broaden the design's appeal. That's the story behind Case-Mate's Carbon Fiber Leather Cases for iPod classic ($50), iPod touch ($50), and iPhone ($90), which are based upon the company's earlier Signature Leather Cases for each of Apple's devices. Case-Mate has preserved the shapes and basic features of each case, but replaced their outer leather with something new.
That “something” is carbon fiber-styled leather, a material we haven’t seen before in iPod or iPhone cases, and there’s no doubt that it’s interesting: whether through a nylon coating or “infused carbon,” the leather has a vaguely metallic glint, a plastic feel, and an overall look that evokes fast cars and motorcycles. It covers as much of the classic, touch, and iPhone as did the prior Signature Leather Cases; there is literally no difference in shape, protection, or accessory compatibility here. Consequently, you can refer to our earlier reviews (iPod classic, iPod touch, iPhone) for all of those details. The only change is to the iPhone case, which no longer has a belt clip nub and screw on its back, as explained further below.
Reactions to the new material will vary from person to person: to fans of real carbon fiber, this synthetic leather alternative is a close but not quite accurate approximation, while those who don’t like carbon fiber won’t see much to get excited about here. Each of these cases still has the weight and slight pliability of a soft leather skin wrapped around a hard shell, and our editors split between opining that these cases were a modest visual upgrade or downgrade from Case-Mate’s original Signature Leather versions. This is a nichier material, and made less generally appealing by a higher price tag: you’ll pay a $20 premium over the standard Signature price for the iPod classic or iPod touch cases, and even more for the iPhone version. While a small premium isn’t surprising for a more complex leather casing, $20 per case feels like a steep jump here given what you’re actually getting.
The iPhone version of the Carbon Fiber Leather Case is a different story. Unlike the standard iPhone Signature Leather Case, the Carbon Fiber Leather Case for iPhone is described as the “Carbon Fiber Leather Case/Holster Combo,” and bundles both the case and a matching belt clip holster together in a $90 set—a $40 premium over the same combination of case and holster offered in the company’s Signature leather. This is the reason that the included iPhone case has no belt clip or nub of its own; if you want to wear it that way, you need to keep the holster attached at all times, adding to the case’s weight and thickness. Since the Carbon Fiber Leather iPhone case isn’t sold separately from the holster, the only way to get an iPhone case in this material is to pony up $55 more than you would for the Signature case; since we weren’t fans of the Holster before, we can’t get excited about the carbon fiber look or pricing here, either.
It’s worth a brief note that these cases remain good but not great in overall protection. Each case has a completely open top and substantially open bottom, as well as exposed top sides. The iPhone and iPod touch cases expose the entirety of each device’s screen and Home button, with the touch version covering more of the rest of the iPod’s face than the iPhone version. Each case includes a simple rectangular screen protector and cleaning cloth; the iPod classic version doesn’t cover that model’s Click Wheel. Ideally, Case-Mate would use somewhat more protective film covers or leather moldings on its cases’ fronts, but the company definitely does better than some of its competitors in overall coverage.
Even given the caveats above, there’s no doubt that the carbon fiber look has its fans, and that some people will be willing to pay a little bit more for a case that’s close enough to the real thing in appearance and feel to pass casual inspection. While a little too expensive to merit the stronger B+ rating of their Signature Leather predecessors, the iPod classic and iPod touch versions of this case are still pretty good and recommendable; only the iPhone version, sold at too great of a premium and bundled with the unnecessary holster, misses our general recommendation mark. It’s still worth considering if you’re a really big fan of carbon fiber, don’t mind the big belt clip, and are willing to shell out for both parts.