Review: Incase Designs Leather Sleeves
Pros: Fashionable exteriors with good quality leather and stitching, especially in the Flame and Fabric versions of the case.
Cons: No screen or control access, lack of protectiveness for corners and top of iPod, not useful in car because Dock Connector is covered.
Incase is aggressively expanding its iPod mini fashion case lineup. In June, we reviewed and liked Incase’s distinctive Handcrafted Leather Sleeve, which was on the expensive side at $39.95 but reminded us of a throwback to 1980s shaggy leather. A month later, we reviewed and generally liked Incase’s co-branded DC Shoes Sleeve for the iPod mini ($24.95), a simple case design that distinguished itself primarily with white camouflage ballistic nylon fabric.
July also saw Incase’s introduction of four leather iPod cases branded with musician John Mayer’s signature and metal guitar pick ($24.95), identical to the DC Shoes case save for the fabric and dyes. Now Incase has returned with a set of three new iPod mini cases called Leather Sleeves, which blend the Handcrafted Sleeve’s leather with the exact form factor and design of the DC Shoes and John Mayer Sleeves.
Like the DC Shoes and John Mayer sleeves, the primary selling point for the Leather Sleeves is what appears on their outsides. There are three colored and stitched leather exterior versions: Flame resembles the fire-on-black boys’ t-shirts that became popular a few years ago, with stitching to highlight the red and orange twists of flame. Flower is a girly pink and white case with stitching in floral patterns, while Turntable features two ink-drawn old school record turntables next to each other, but no stitching outside of the case’s contours. Each case’s rear features an Incase logo and an integrated, non-removable belt clip, and their insides are made from anti-scratch soft suede lining. Unlike the DC Shoes Sleeve, which proved difficult for iPod mini insertion and removal, the Leather Sleeves are thankfully easy enough to put on and pull off.
On the spectrum of cases we’ve reviewed, the Leather Sleeves are clearly designed more for fashion than functionality, as like Incase’s prior Sleeves, they deny the user access to the mini’s screen, controls, and Dock Connector port while inside. These cases will be great for fashionistas to wear, but not as good in a car or in other circumstances where you would want to have access to more than just the iPod mini’s headphone jack. They’re also not especially protective of the iPod mini’s top or corners. In candor, we don’t especially like the Sleeve’s functionality, but users looking for just style (and moderate protection) might not mind these issues.
However, we do like the quality and feel of Incase’s leather, which compares very favorably to the best leather cases we’ve reviewed for the iPod mini, as well as the fit and finish of each case, including the stitching. Regardless of whether you like or dislike their style, the Flame and Flower versions especially look like well-made, professionally manufactured products. (Unlike the other two cases, which use Nappa leather and are heavily accented with stitching, Turntable’s ink-only leather surfaces looked and felt a bit cheaper and simple.) We’re not sure that any of the cases is worth a $5 premium over the John Mayer leather cases, which even included metal guitar picks and drawstring bags, or the DC Shoes case, which felt especially resilient, but you may feel otherwise.
With the Leather Sleeves, therefore, the issue isn’t so much quality, but rather taste, functionality, and value. We wouldn’t pick a case for ourselves that denied us easy access to the iPod mini’s Dock Connector ports, controls, and screen, but as a simple and fashionable belt clip holder for the iPod mini, paralleling Apple’s own carrying cases in all ways save materials, the Leather Sleeves are fine options. If you like how they look and are willing to accept their limitations, you’ll definitely be pleased with their quality and appearance.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school - ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.