Review: Incase Journal Fashion Case
Pros: Well-built iPod cases with modern designs.
Cons: Protectiveness and utility varies from case to case; more than most we’ve seen, personal preference for looks will instantly flag these as worthwhile or not for your individual needs. Though not factored into our grades, prices of certain cases may dampen your enthusiasm.
Having released a number of popular leather and fabric iPod cases, Incase now is offering several new seasonal collections of fashion cases with youth-oriented two- or three-color patterns. These cases employ body designs that range from familiar to novel: the company’s earlier Sleeves are now being called Pouches ($39.95-45.00), and are joined by Wallets ($60-75) and Journals ($75-90), each discussed in turn below.
As is our tradition with fashion cases designed for the iPod, iLounge looks at the construction and protectiveness of each of these options, but doesn’t rate them on fashion or value for the dollar. You’ll either like how they look, or not, and be willing or unwilling to pay the prices asked.
Incase’s new Dinopod and Argyle Pouch cases ($39.95) are largely identical to the Sleeve design the company’s been using for some time in iPod and iPod mini cases: nearly identical to the cases that Apple used to give away with their $399 and $499 iPods, the Sleeves cover all of an iPod’s back, front, and bottom, leaving the entire top and the top and bottom corners exposed to the elements. In Dinopod and Argyle, the sleeve body is made from soft, high-quality leather, save for its sides, which are made from gray elastic. Thanks to that elastic, full-sized iPods of any thickness from thin to iPod photo can fit securely in the sleeve, though the one-size-fits-all design is modestly less protective of the iPod’s top as its thickness increases.
Each Dinopod case uses one primary leather color - green, blue, red, or yellow - and features a silhouette of a dinosaur in a second color - yellow, red, or blue. Stegosaurus, Tyrannosaurus Rex, Brontosaurus and Triceratops are the four marquee dinosaurs, and their colors are matched by each case’s stitching, text of their names, and Incase logos that appear on the rear integrated belt clips of the cases. Each case also features an Incase logo sewn into its gray suede interior.
Like the Dinopods, the Argyle cases use one primary leather color for their bodies - brown, gray, or green - and feature a simple pattern that in these cases is typically two-colored, and preppy. Unlike the Dinopod cases, their pattern incorporate a bit of stitching, and look nicer as a result. However, other than their patterns, the cases are the same in design as the Dinopods, featuring the same high-quality leather and pleasant (if simple) inked graphic designs.
As with Incase’s earlier Sleeves, there’s no doubt that these Pouch cases are well-constructed and fairly protective, though nowhere near high-water marks in the latter category. They’re best for those who actually want to belt clip their iPods, as their exposed corners and lack of full-time access to the iPod’s controls and bottom port don’t place them in the same category of utility as most of their current non-fashion competitors. And because they’re made from leather, they’re also not as resilient as the ballistic nylon Incase DC Shoes Sleeves we’ve previously reviewed.
Argyle and Dinopod are therefore prime examples of fashion case design: if you like how they look, you will probably be willing to deal with their limited practical functionality. We preferred the Argyle cases to Dinopod overall, but obviously your tastes will vary.
Incase will also offer a white leather version of the Pouch for $45 with the green Crest design seen below in the Journal section of this review, as well as other Graphic cases that will sell for $40. Starting in May, they’ll all be available solely from specialty retailers except for Argyle, which will appear in Apple Stores as well.
Incase’s other case designs are more ambitious. The first is Wallet, which comes in two colors - green (“Fleur”) mostly uses a rubbery exterior fabric that feels like vulcanized neoprene, while black (“Suit”) mostly uses a non-rubbery cotton exterior fabric with gray pinstripes. Fleur features a small white fleur-de-lis on the front, with a matching white Incase logo on the back belt clip; Suit has a prominent white circular crest on its front, and a white Incase logo on its leather belt clip. Both of these cases sell for $60; a pure white leather version (not shown) will sell for $75.
The black case also features a mix of black leather, cotton fabric, plastic, and elastic on its interior, while the green one omits the leather in favor of its exterior rubbery fabric. Each case has a card sleeve on its left with a fleur de lis pattern - green on the green case, pink on the black - that’s protected by a thin translucent sheet of vinyl. A plastic headphone cord holder sits in each case’s center.
Then there’s a mostly well-designed iPod sleeve on the right side of each case: the Click Wheel is exposed, while vinyl covers the iPod’s screen. A hole is left for Dock Connector access, and Incase’s classic top and bottom corner holes are also there, along with a fully exposed top for easy insertion. Elastic sides stretch to accommodate even 60GB iPod photos, but the case buckles a little when they’re inside, doing better with thinner, standard 4G iPods for sure.
These Wallet cases do somewhat better than Argyle and Dinopod on protectiveness because they cover the entire left side of the iPod when closed. Incase designed the cases to hold shut with a rubber strap that extends from the case’s back flap to a groove on the front flap, a smart idea that looks as good as it works. And though the other sides remain partially or considerably exposed, the extended front and back flap edges of the Wallets offer a little buffer against damage.
We loved the build quality of the Wallets, especially the black Suit, and felt generally comfortable using it with our iPods inside. While larger than typical iPod cases by a fair amount, they make up for it with good looks, generally good iPod protection, and more daily practical utility than Dinopod and Argyle Pouches based on their easier control and screen access. Like the Pouches above, these cases will be available in May from specialty retailers.
The other new Incase design is an elaborate clutch-like wallet called Journal that holds an iPod and other items - personal or iPod accessories - at the same time. Our review unit is “Crest” colored - almost entirely white on the outside, with a green crest pattern on its front and nothing on its back, identified as Incase only by embossings on its zipper grip and interior leather. A green and white fleur de lis cotton pattern alternates with white leather and elastic on its interior. The Crest version will sell for $90, with Fleur (green) and Suit (black pinstripe) versions at $75 each.
The Crest Journal’s left side includes a small zipper pocket suitable for Apple’s headphones, three thin pockets appropriate to credit cards, and a larger rear pocket sized to hold cash or checks. A groove down the center interior can hold a single pen, while pockets on the right side are sized to hold an iPod power adapter or a remote control and headphones, and a 4G or photo iPod immediately below. The top pocket is held closed with circles of white Velcro, while the iPod sleeve is entirely open at its top.
Like the Wallet, the Journal’s iPod sleeve uses elastic on its sides and vinyl on its screen, has a Dock Connector hole at its bottom, and exposes the iPod’s corners, top and Click Wheel. Protectiveness in this case, however, is perfect, as the Journal seals closed with a zipper, keeping everything inside shielded from the elements.
The major issues with the Journal are its size and practicality: it’s large, strapless and belt clipless, so you’ll carry it in a bag, clutch it full-time in your hand, or not carry it at all. But if you can get over the bulk and have a practical way to carry it, you’ll be impressed by the way that it feels and looks: the Journal version we tested is soft and plush, and does a nice job of carrying your iPod and key accessories for travel or other purposes.
As fashion cases are premium-priced offerings designed to appeal to niche markets, we don’t factor pricing or looks into our ratings, but we do note that these are some of the most expensive leather and fabric offerings of their types that we’ve seen. In our opinion, the white leather Crest cases do the best job of feeling like they’re worth their higher prices - they’re $5-15 more a piece than the others - and the Argyle cases look good for their lower prices, too. Similarly, the rubbery Fleur cases aren’t as hip as the dark and interesting fabric Suits.
Overall, we think that Incase has the right idea in experimenting with seasonal fashion designs, though the particulars in each case could be a bit better: the Sleeve-like Pouches are a dated case design on practicality, the Wallets would be an A-caliber case if they did a better job on iPod protection, and the Journals are large and more than a bit tough to carry. Regardless, we liked each of these cases in their own ways, and continue to look forward to what Incase has in store for the future. It’s taking good risks and getting good results.