Review: DLO HipCase for iPhone
Wrapping up our look at leather iPhone cases today, we're taking a look at four designs that didn't fit neatly into one of our other leather case categories: Boxwave's Designio Vertical Flap Leather Case ($44/$30), DLO's HipCase for iPhone ($35), and two Macally cases called mPouch ($20) and mSleeve ($20). Though each case will be somewhat familiar to iPod, PDA, or cell phone users, they're all a little generic as iPhone case options. [Editor's Note: In mid-July 2007, DLO released two new colors of the HipCase, photos and additional details for which have been added to the original review below.]
Boxwave’s Designio Vertical Flap Leather Case is basically a traditional PDA-style flip-open leather case, unique only in that it’s available in black, red, green, blue, pink, orange, or white colors. Its front and back are lightly padded, and its interior has a leather holster for the iPhone, with open spaces for iPhone’s screen, ear speaker, and proximity sensor. As with most Boxwave products, the Designio Case is confusingly priced at a $44 regular price, with a near-permanent $30 “web special” price, and the overall look and feel quality level is fine for $30, but not great. Slots on the inner flap are large enough to hold SD memory cards and a business card, signs that this case wasn’t really developed with iPhone in mind, but rather another device.
On a positive note, Designio works decently when you’re trying to use iPhone as a speaker phone—leather at the bottom modestly obscures the speaker and microphone down there—and other than the fact that you’ll need to pop open its front flap, it doesn’t inhibit use of iPhone’s other features, save for the standard phone. Because of the way its hole has been cut for iPhone’s proximity sensor, the case sometimes causes the iPhone to have problems turning the screen off and on again when you try to put it up to your face, which we consider to be a critical issue for any case that’s designed to be kept on iPhone during use. While this caused our rating to be pretty low, the case’s leather quality, detachable belt clip, and general design make it a better buy than the company’s other, less impressive Designio Leather Sleeve.
Of the four cases mentioned here, DLO’s HipCase for iPhone is the nicest looking. Now available in three versions, one with a nearly black dark brown exterior leather with light brown interior and stitching, one with a brown exterior, and one with a black nylon exterior, it’s basically designed to mount your iPhone on a belt in a horizontal position, like some traditional cell phone and sunglass cases. A flap on the top is sealed with Velcro, and you need to insert iPhone with its volume buttons and ringer switch facing upwards, so that the headphone port faces right and is accessible. The leather- or nylon-covered metal rear belt clip is not removable or adjustable.
Unlike many of the other iPhone cases we’ve seen with a similar concept, however, HipCase provides no access to iPhone’s screen or controls; you’ll need to remove the iPhone to do anything except listen passively to music through its bottom speaker or headphone port. If used with Apple’s included iPhone Stereo Headset, you can play or pause music, accept phone calls, or skip forward in tracks with the Headset’s integrated button, but that’s it; the Dock Connector is covered, and you’ll only see track details peeking through the central bottom hole in HipCase’s face if you activate the screen. We don’t consider this to be an especially practical case unless you are just looking to mount the iPhone with a reasonable amount of protection, only to fully uncloak it for use, but if that’s your usage model, you’ll like the quality. It’s just a bit too expensive for the value it offers, which is the reason for our limited rather than general recommendation.
The mPouch from Macally is one of the more nonsensical iPhone cases we’ve tested. Like the Designio Leather Case above, it’s based on iPod and PDA flip-style cases with leather flaps that open to reveal the device’s screen. But mPouch is not well suited to iPhone in either concept or implementation. Both its front and back have gray leather pull-off pieces that serve as a snap-closed belt loop and a Velcro iPhone stand, respectively, the latter when combined with a matching Velcro tab on the case’s bottom.
mPouch’s major problem is that the stand is useless. Leather covers iPhone’s bottom speaker and microphone, so the case is not able to let you prop the device up as a speakerphone. Similarly, videos don’t play back in the vertical orientation the case mounts on, so the stand feature isn’t useful for that, either. It doesn’t help that the leather’s been sloppily cut in a way that obscures the ear speaker, as well, but then, as the microphone’s covered, you can’t use iPhone as a regular phone while inside mPouch, either.
The best things that can be said for the case are basically generic: you can access iPhone’s screen and Home button when it’s opened, connect your earphones though a hole in its top, fit a business or credit card inside its top flap, and access its Dock Connector port. But it’s obvious that someone just reshaped a 30GB iPod case to fit iPhone’s dimensions, and didn’t think about how the device actually worked, or would fit properly inside. While this isn’t a great case, and makes use of the phone less convenient, it doesn’t mess with iPhone’s proximity sensor like Boxwave’s Designios, and therefore will always be fine for use with Apple’s included iPhone Stereo Headset.
Macally’s mSleeve looks like the Phantom of the Opera’s simple PDA case. Made from black leather, it covers all of iPhone’s body save for its left top and side, which are half and four-fifths exposed, respectively. This provides access to iPhone’s headphone port, volume controls, and ringer switch, but not its screen, Sleep/Wake switch, or home button. The leather’s stitched firmly enough on all other sides to provide a firm grip on the iPhone inside, but the leather isn’t hard-reinforced on any side, and hangs a little loose; don’t trust it to keep coins or keys from getting inside.
mSleeve isn’t a fantastic case design, but it rates better than mPouch because it does what it’s supposed to do: you know going in that you won’t be able to use iPhone’s features unless you pull it out of mSleeve, and also know that this isn’t a case with a belt clip or other mounting option. It’s basically designed to let you cover iPhone in leather, toss it into a briefcase or pocket, and carry it along so long as nothing dangerous is in the same general area. For $20, it’s not a great buy, but it’s a bit better than “okay” in our book.
Photos of the latest two HipCases, in brown leather and black nylon, are shown above.