Review: Vaja iVod DJ
Pros: Beautiful design, fit, and finish, including hard plastic screen protection and Click Wheel protector, optional detachable belt clip, optional engraving and optional embossing.
Cons: Initial price, as well as the added price of customized options, may deter some buyers.
Updated 5-13-05: After publication of our initial review of Vaja’s i-Volution 4G with Wheel Protector (iLounge rating: A), Vaja has released iVod DJ, a color-customized premium version of the earlier i-Volution case that includes a vinyl record-style wheel protector. Versions are available for the 4G iPod and iPod photo. Since the cases are so similar to one another, a cut-down version of our original appear appears at top, while our iVod DJ-specific additional review comments appear below.
The Standard i-Volution with Wheel Protector
Vaja’s iVod cases have been iLounge’s favorite leather cases for years. Made from high-quality leather, contoured beautifully to each iPod’s curves, and generally built to the demands of discerning customers, the iVods have repeatedly scored top A marks from iLounge editors and readers alike. Even so, the Argentine company has continued to improve its designs, adding numerous additional color customizations (30+), embossing and engraving features, and belt clips to its list of optional features. We’ve addressed many of these features in previous reviews, and won’t re-trace them, but suffice it to say that you can make any Vaja case look very distinctive for the right price.
The standard i-Volution 4G ($59.90 and up) is even better than its predecessors. It starts with the padded, beautiful leather front molding and flat, hard-reinforced back, sides, and bottom derived from earlier Vaja products, each with soft curves that parallel the iPod’s without unnecessarily buiking it up or squaring it off. Every one of the curves and its stitches in our review case looked perfect, save for a single thin dangling stitch near the top of the case’s excellent integrated clear plastic screen protector. The i-Volution covers the iPod’s bottom corners in particular better than any other leather case we’ve seen.
And it does a great job with the rest of the iPod, too. Every inch of the 4G’s body is protected save a small hole at its Dock Connector port and a large one at its top. These two holes permit you to insert and remove the iPod, which takes a bit of a push from the bottom with a thin finger or blunt object. Given that we’re talking about a case without a flip-open lid, however, we must underscore the significance of the fact that the iPod’s entire front and entire back are covered.
Including the Click Wheel. i-Volution is the company’s first case to feature an optionally integrated thin plastic “Wheel Protector.” For only $6 more than the standard case’s price, the Wheel Protector makes the i-Volution the first leather iPod case to protect both the iPod’s Click Wheel and screen at the same time without using one of those pesky PDA case lids. It’s a welcome alternative to buying protective stickers or going without full iPod face protection, and better yet, it works really well. But for the slight sound of fingers touching plastic, you’ll never know that it’s there. It’s so good that it should be a standard feature on all of Vaja’s iPod cases.
Our only small issues with the standard i-Volution are fairly predicable to frequent iLounge review readers: price and top protectiveness. The prices of Vaja’s custom-made i-Volutions - which unlike its standard black-colored versions are always “in stock” - are unquestionably near the top of the iPod leather case list, a fact mitigated by our own (and numerous readers’) positive long-term experiences with the company’s products. They’re resilient, don’t fade, and don’t fall apart. You pay more, but get quality in exchange.
Top protectiveness is a somewhat different story. Understandably, the i-Volution needs a way to render the iPod easily removable and insertable, so the case’s top hole is large, and consequently exposes both the iPod’s top and sides’ tops. In a perfect world - A+ territory - this case would find a way to protect the whole top, and cost less. Absent that, more of a passively protective lip would have been great.
But we otherwise love the build quality, overall look and customization of these cases more than any others we’ve seen. Unless Vaja makes it or some spectacular established leather designer comes along, you won’t find a leather case better made and matched to a fourth-generation iPod than the i-Volution 4G. Years after the introduction of its first version, and many competitors later, it continues to be worthy of our highest recommendation.
Take the i-Volution with Wheel Protector, tweak the colors, and add at least an Andrew Jackson to the price, and you’ll have iVod DJ - one of Vaja’s premium i-Volution designs. The company’s simplest version ($80) is a one- or two-color leather case with a Wheel Protector that looks just like a vinyl record album. You can pick from at least 32 different colors of leather for the front and back halves, and add a belt clip ($4), name ($10) or logo embossment ($30) at additional cost.
There’s no charge for color customizations; you pick the ones you want for the price, a fact that would have been a good deal based on Vaja’s previous pricing and general availability of “stock” $60 cases. However, the company appears to have fewer of those stock cases available these days, and is now selling most of its standard i-Volutions at a $70 starting price with your choice of one- or two-colored bodies. Add the standard Wheel Protector and you’re up to $76. That means that you’re paying $4 more for the album-style protector, which is included for the iVod DJ’s $80 price.
From a touch standpoint, it’s just as easy to use the iPod’s controls with the album-style protector as with Vaja’s standard one, but you won’t be able to see any of the icon labels - not a big deal. The center of the protector has a circle of thin leather that’s color-matched to the back of the case - a nice little touch.
Our review unit arrived in U2 iPod-matching black and red - a stylish combination that’s even slicker in person than in the photographs, even on a white iPod - and Vaja also touts the iVod DJ in a nice white and orange combination. The two-colored DJ case concept isn’t quite as radical or impressive a visual departure as Vaja’s even more expensive Rasta cases, but it’s a slick design nevertheless. As with the standard i-Volution, it’s plush, contoured, and nice in all the right places - save the top, which regrettably remains exposed.
What you’re getting for the price is a greater level of gloss and class than many cases offer, but when an uncustomized case sells for $80, we flinch a little. The standard “stock” i-Volution with Wheel Protector remains a better value for the dollar, but if you can’t find it in stock, have the extra cash to spend, and like the musician’s touch of vinyl, you’ll be very happy to have spent it on the DJ.
Jeremy Horwitz is Editor-in-Chief of iLounge.