Review: Vaja iVod video for 5G iPods | iLounge

Review

B-Limited Recommendation

Company: Vaja

Website: www.vajachoice.com

Model: iVod Video

Price: $70 (+ extras/shipping)

Compatible: iPod 5G

Vaja iVod video for 5G iPods

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By Jerrod H.

Contributing Editor, iLounge
Published: Tuesday, March 21, 2006
Category: Cases - iPods + Accessories, iPod 5G (with Video)

Pros: A massively customizable premium leather case, offering a hybrid of hard and traditional leather cases with excellent fit and finish, multiple sturdy belt clip options, and an option for laser-engraved personalization.

Cons: Post-review changes to screen protector, noted in update below. Lacks protection for top, part of bottom, and Click Wheel; initial $70 price tag is high, even by handmade standards, and company’s $60 non-custom version no longer available. Quickly grows to be even more expensive, with additional costs for belt clip and Click Wheel protection.

Update: Originally posted on January 27, 2006, this review was updated on March 21, 2006 based on a tip from an iLounge reader that - unlike the review sample provided to iLounge, and every prior iVod case we have reviewed - the reader’s iVod Video case had arrived without a screen protector. We followed up on this in correspondence with Vaja, and were told that the company temporarily decided to stop including screen protectors with its iVod cases as a “test.” Today, Vaja lets buyers decide whether or not to include the screen protector, at no additional charge. This was of no help to our reader. Unwittingly made part of this “test,” he was told that he would now have to pay two-way international shipping charges to get the protector added to his case. We are exceedingly upset over what has transpired here, and accordingly are updating this review with a lower rating to reflect our concerns.

Our original review starts here: Vaja’s iVod and iVolution cases have long been some of our favorite leather cases for the iPod, offering a unique way of melding the elegance of high quality leather with the rigidity and protection of a hard case, plus offering a high level of customization and craftsmanship. That said, each iVod has been getting progressively more expensive, with only small improvements in the design, factors which have concerned us. Today, the price of entry for any iVod has risen $10 over the 4G model we previously reviewed (iLounge rating: A), as Vaja has removed the ability of customers to purchase a less expensive non-custom all-black version, and there’s virtually no positive change to the design. Given that, is Vaja’s premium flagship case still worth a look? Read on.

Every iVod we’ve ever seen has been at the top of the scale in fit, finish, and resilience: the iVod Video is no different. The iVod’s high quality Argentinean leather is tightly and properly wrapped around its hard inner shell, and with impeccable precision - no seam or stitch is visible inside or out. Each case is sized specifically for its intended iPod, and fits it snugly and securely, with all access areas lining up perfectly. In addition, we and many of our readers have found the cases to be resilient over long-term ownership, neither falling apart nor fading over time. Still, scratching of the case remains a legitimate concern; this is also the case with its now-optional screen protector. Unfortunately, rather than coming up with a more durable screen protector, which might be reasonable given this case’s price, Vaja’s solution to the protector’s scratchability is to offer the case without it, and let your iPod absorb the scratches instead.

We award our “ease of use” grades objectively on the number of iPod access areas which remain usable while the case is on, putting protectiveness aside. In this regard, the Vaja iVod scores a 10, providing full access to the iPod’s screen, Click Wheel, Hold switch, Dock Connector, and headphone port. Even with the semi-opaque, optional Click Wheel protector ($6) installed, as is shown above, iPod control remains easy, with a matte-finished surface that feels good to the touch.

The entire concept of Vaja’s iVod cases is centered around their high-quality, customizable, hand-crafted construction, and on the basis of this extremely well-executed central feature, we award it the full 5 “handmade” points our system allows. The company pioneered the “puffy” leather hard case style, and now augments that distinctive body design with myriad color choices for its asking price. You can even choose different colored front and back halves without additional charge. It is impossible to find another iPod case that can be transformed as much by pre-order user involvement as this one. Engraving, however, is still a separate option with separate fees, and users now also have to manually choose to add screen protection to the case, though there is no charge for that.

On the other hand, iVod 5G rates zero points for pack-ins. The company has become very “add-on” oriented, over time requiring buyers to purchase everything from belt clips to Click Wheel protectors. Fairly recent to Vaja’s offerings is their “Rivet Clip” system ($20 extra), which offers the better rigidity of a metal belt clip, in addition to several new mounting options such as a fabric clip, belt “hook,” or adhesive mount. The company’s standard “Ultra Clip,” shown in our photos, is $6 extra, and a very sturdy (though thick) rotating plastic belt clip that only releases the case at an angle of 90 degrees - a good safety feature should the button mechanism fail.

The $70 baseline iVod covers the iPod’s front and back surfaces, exposing the iPod’s top corners and top surface, Dock Connector, and Click Wheel, and you have the option of adding a screen protector for no charge, which normally would rate a protectiveness rating of 5. However, because Vaja chose to ship a number of these cases without any screen shield at all, leaving customers without the protection they were expecting, we’ve dropped this down by the screen protector’s standard 2 points to a 3. Compounding this problem, Vaja now notes that, because of the new iVod’s tightness, “this case does not allow the use of any protective shield previously applied to the device.” If you’re lucky enough to order now that they’ve re-instated the screen protector as an option, you’ll do better than the 3 rating would suggest, but if you don’t choose the company’s protector, you may find using your own to be difficult.

We think that protection is the single biggest area Vaja should work on - at this price level, people are expecting more than just a simple leather shell for their money, and want to have their iPods covered. Unfortunately, you’ll have to pay an extra $6 to get the company’s excellent Click Wheel protector, which is permanently sewn into the case, an option which we continue to recommend despite our feeling that Vaja should include it at the iVod’s base price. And now you’ll also have to manually select the nice screen protector, which will also be permanently sewn into the case. This is getting pretty complicated, and not benefitting potential buyers; in our view, it’s time for Vaja to re-think the iVod design and customization process a bit.

Even before Vaja “tested” the removal of its screen protector, we were left least impressed with the value of this version of the iVod relative to its predecessors. With no significant improvement over the previous iVod for the 4th Generation iPod, we find it hard to swallow the $10 additional cost of entry now that the non-custom iVod isn’t an option, and cannot amply express how upset we are about the company’s last-minute, confusing changes on screen protection.

This didn’t need to be the case. Keeping the screen protector would have been easy. And were Vaja to have started to include its Click Wheel protector as an option at the baseline price, or have devised some protection for the iPod’s top at last year’s prices, we’d have been thrilled. As is, the latest iVod is expensive enough to warrant a good amount of thought before buying, especially after international shipping charges from Argentina, and even given the case’s incredible leather quality. In the context of handmade premium cases, the iVod isn’t insanely expensive, but when you’re charging $70 (plus shipping and customization) for an iPod case, customers should rightfully expect to be pleasantly surprised by what they receive. As the comments below indicate, that’s becoming less predictable now than it was with past Vaja products.

In sum, despite Vaja’s continued excellence in build quality and customizability, there is significant room here for improvement in protection and value, perhaps with part-time coverage of the iPod’s top surface and/or Dock Connector port, especially as the case’s base price has continued to increase. Additionally, because of the company’s decision to quietly “test” the removal of its screen protector, there is now an added question in our minds as to the satisfaction people will feel with what they receive. These issues are especially distressing because we and our readers have previously been strong supporters of Vaja’s cases, and have repeatedly found them to be amongst the nicest we’ve ever seen. With improvements, iVod follow-ups could easily earn their way back into our highest ratings, but for now, the iVod 5G’s excellent quality and impressive customization are offset by some issues that we are increasingly concerned about; be careful before placing your order.

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.

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Editors' Note: iLounge only reviews products in "final" form, but many companies now change their offerings - sometimes several times - after our reviews have been published. This iLounge article provides more information on this practice, known as revving.

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