Price: $50-55 (+ extras/shipping)
Compatible: iPod 5G
Vaja Classic AP181/191 and AP187/197 for iPod video (30GB/60GB)
Pros: Premium customized leather cases for the fifth-generation iPod, each including a clear integrated screen protector and your choice of 31 colors spread out across two types of leather. AP187/AP197 version includes very nice metal hook for carrying.
Cons: Protectiveness is lacking for the dollar; dye began to wear off during extended testing. Many features that are optional here are included with other cases; even at base prices, more expensive than competing cases that are identical or near-identical in protection.
Though Vaja is perhaps best known by iPod owners for its puffed leather iVod cases, the company’s Classic series of iPod cases offers lower-priced but still premium leather protective alternatives for iPods, including these: the AP181/AP191, a single case offered under separate names for 30GB and 60GB iPods, and is essentially iVod-lite; plus the AP187/AP197, which is nearly identical to 181 and 191, save for the addition of a large chromed carrying hook at each case’s bottom, and differences in top and bottom protection. Both cases are offered in 13 Vitelino and 18 Aniline leather colors, which unlike other Vaja offerings cover the entire iPod in a single tone rather than permitting two-tone color customization. Our sample AP197 is in rich blue Azzurro, and the AP191 is in black.
As usual, we were generally impressed by the overall quality of Vaja’s workmanship on both of the case designs: AP181/AP191 and AP187/AP197 are steps above the typical leather cases we see for iPods, with clean, interesting stitching and cosmetically interesting dyed leathers. There were no blemishes on our cases when they arrived, and generally, they’ve stood up well to extended testing - except for one thing. After a couple of weeks of use, the dye began to disappear on one part of our incredibly rich-looking blue AP197 case - right above the Click Wheel, where a finger was actively touching the leather surface. This was more than a bit disappointing, and hard to tell whether it would be avoidable by just avoiding over-rubbing of fingers on the leather surfaces. Additionally, our AP191’s Click Wheel hole was a hair off perfect center alignment.
Both of the cases score perfectly on ease of use: for better or worse, they fully expose the iPod’s screen, Click Wheel, Dock Connector port, headphone port and Hold switch, though to slightly differing extents. Vaja’s clear integrated screen cover has only slight, standard distortion, and because of its appropriate thickness is one of the better ones we’ve seen.
Because they’re available in over 30 total color and leather combinations, each of which can be selected for the case’s base price, AP181/AP191 and AP187/AP197 rate at least two points for special features - they’re amongst the most colorful cases we’ve seen for the iPod. The AP187/AP197 model scores an additional point for including a very nice lobster claw-style metal carrying hook, which though it adds $5 to that model’s base price, we actually liked enough to use. As always, Vaja sells other add-ons separately: AP181/AP191 can have your choice of belt clips ($4-20), personalization ($10-30), matching leather lining ($10), and/or a Click Wheel protector ($6), while AP187/197 has all but the belt clip as options. The matching leather lining isn’t necessary, but we continue to think that the Click Wheel protector is - it feels great to the touch, works well, and adds just that much more protection to the iPod.
The single biggest issue with both of these cases is protection: as sold, AP181/AP191 exposes the 5G iPod’s bottom corners, Dock Connector, complete top, and Click Wheel at all times, and AP187/AP197 exposes the iPod’s entire bottom, portions of its top, and Click Wheel at all times. You’ll have to pay $6 to add Click Wheel protection, which we continue to think should be included for the not insignificant base prices of these cases.
As far as value is concerned, the simple fact is that these cases are so-so relative to what Vaja used to sell for around the same price: one year ago, you could get a gold standard i-Volution/iVod for 4G iPods (iLounge rating: A) for $60, but since then, Vaja’s raised prices and made color alternatives mandatory rather than optional. The result is that you can’t get a better Vaja 5G iPod case than these for the same price, and need to step up and spend at least $70 to get an iVod. We’ve said many times before that we love how these cases look and feel, but also that we expect a little more for the dollar - perfection is perhaps too strong a word, but more resilient dye and superior protection would have helped these cases rate higher. If you’re interested in AP181/AP191, you may want to consider iVod 5G instead - except for those unlucky souls who received screen protector-less versions, which apparently has now been resolved, it’s worth the extra cost - though AP187/AP197’s metal hook provides a compelling alternative carrying mechanism that just might make the case worthwhile despite its lack of padding and extra visual attention.
A Note From the Editors of iLounge: Though all products and services reviewed by iLounge are "final," many companies now make changes to their offerings after publication of our reviews, which may or may not be reflected above. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.