Review: Orbino Strada Premium Hand-Stitched iPhone Case
As of today, our top-recommended iPhone case is Marware's Sport Grip (iLounge rating: A-), a silicone case that offers impressive protectiveness and relatively neutral looks at an extremely attractive $15 price. Last week, we started to test two new cases with similar form factors and additional features -- Marware's Sport Grip Backwinder ($25) and Orbino's Strada ($99-$319) -- and as their price disparities suggest, they're designed to appeal to very different audiences.
Sport Grip Backwinder is a rubber case for people who want any of three things Sport Grip lacked: a belt clip, a video viewing stand, or a headphone cord manager. Starting with the basic Sport Grip design, which deftly covered iPhone’s top, side, and front buttons while exposing its side switch, both speakers, microphone, headphone port and Dock Connector, Marware has added a slightly padded hard plastic bracket that sits permanently inside the silicone rubber shell, and protrudes out its back, offering pieces to wrap your headphone cord around, and a mount for a detachable, ratcheting belt clip.
The clip moves in 45-degree increments with 360 degrees of freedom, and doesn’t interfere with your use of the headphone cord manager. When attached, it can be positioned to let you prop the iPhone on its side for video viewing—a great feature—and it can be detached to slim the case down, though not nearly as much as the standard Sport Grip. Marware’s silicone rubber leaves a hole for the iPhone’s camera, has two grips to hold the end of your headphone wires, and comes in four colors (blue, black, pink, or frosted clear). As with all of Marware’s other iPhone cases, Sport Grip Backwinder also comes with a microfiber cleaning cloth and clear protective film for iPhone’s face.
While Backwinder is basically the epitome of extended functionality in a neutral style, Orbino’s Strada puts high style first and functionality second. Hand-stitched and made from premium Italian leather, each Strada case comes with a thick clear screen protector, which drops loosely into the leather enclosure and requires more forceful presses to register button taps, as well as a black velvet wrap and a dual purpose, two-position polished metal belt clip. There’s a very thin (Apple cable only) Dock Connector hole at the bottom, two tiny bottom holes for both the speaker and the microphone, and two large holes on top for iPhone’s top sides, as well as a camera hole on the back. A top rear snap holes your iPhone in place inside. Callers reported that we sounded slightly muffled, but still generally audible, when iPhone was in Strada, an issue we didn’t have with the Sport Grips.
The clip doubles as a viewing mount, capable of serving as a vertical stand for iPhone’s speakerphone or iPod modes, and a horizontal stand for video playback. A screw holds the stand-slash-clip in place on Strada’s back, and is removed whenever you want to switch its position from vertical to horizontal. While not as convenient as most of the ratcheting clips we’ve seen, including Marware’s, Orbino’s is beautiful and certainly more luxurious than metal alternatives we’ve seen from premium leather case competitors such as Vaja.
That’s what you’d expect from the pricing. Strada starts out expensive by iPhone case standards, and works its way up in price as you customize the color and texture of the leather: standard black, pecan, brown and red leather versions are available at the $99 base price, with ostrich versions at $249, and crocodile at $319; you can also custom-design a version with your preferred leather, stitching, trim and embossing starting at $129. We really liked the look of the base case we received for testing, especially its distinctively Tuscan rear side stitching and coloration, though we can’t say that it feels worthy of a higher price than comparable Vaja iVolution cases we’ve tested for iPods. That said, it remains to be seen whether Vaja can out-do Orbino when it releases a true iVolution case for the iPhone; for now, Strada is king of the premium case hill.
Our overall feelings about these two cases are only a little nuanced: in our testing, we found Marware’s Sport Grip Backwinder to offer what we felt was slightly superior functionality to the standard Sport Grip, but with added thickness and a $10 price premium that we’d choose to avoid in favor of the earlier design. Of its three new features, we found the video stand most useful, the headphone wrap less so, and the belt clip least so, though your personal needs (and willingness to compromise on thickness and price to achieve them) may vary. We think that it’s worthy of our strong but general recommendation, a hint under the original Sport Grip, which remains our top iPhone case for now.
By play-through iPhone case standards, Orbino’s Strada is certainly too expensive for what you get in the package—the screen protector is appreciated, but not as well-suited to iPhone as film, and the microphone muffling could use a slight adjustment—but it’s also the most attractive hand-made leather case we’ve yet seen for the device. Like its screw-laden, two-position rear belt clip-slash-stand, Strada isn’t the most ideally designed iPhone case out there, but it looks good enough that it’ll win over the cash-insensitive segment of the iPhone customer base until something decidedly better comes along.