Review: Vaja iVolution Top and Top SP Holsters for iPhone
Most people acknowledge the iPhone as one of Apple's major industrial design triumphs: not only is it elegantly simple, but it's simply elegant, with a chrome bezel for its black face, and an aluminum back interrupted only by a chrome Apple logo and black antenna compartment. However, since its luxurious looks come at luxury prices, and its surfaces can be scratched or dented, the demand for attractive, protective cases remains high; leather options have been especially numerous.
Two new leather case designs arrived here for testing in the last week, and though they’re very different in pricing, functionality, and appearance, they’re both very interesting options. Vaja’s new Top Holster for iPhone, available in single-colored ($70 and up) and racing striped (Top SP Holster, $80 and up) versions, is the most beautiful leather case we’ve yet seen for the iPhone, though its pricing and flip-open design will limit its appeal to some users. PDO’s Reviso Premium Leather Case ($30, reviewed separately) is a far more traditional design, but offers attractive pricing and full-time iPhone control access, along with comparable protection.
There’s no doubt that Vaja’s designs gave us more to be excited about. With iVolution Top and Top SP, the Argentine maker of deluxe leather cases offers its own riff on “flip cases” sold by companies such as Case-Mate, and full-body holsters sold by companies such as Belkin and Griffin. Both of the Top Holster designs are, like the Case-Mate Leather Flip Case, hard-reinforced leather shells with soft, bottom-mounted hinges and company branding on the inside.
However, they’re built to offer more protection than Case-Mate’s offering, leaving only iPhone’s rear camera corner, headphone port, Sleep/Wake button, and side controls exposed when closed. Hints of iPhone’s chrome bezel and plastic bottom are visible through the cases’ front seams, as well, which slightly but attractively compromises the iPhone’s protection of those parts. Even still, thanks to their otherwise fully covered sides, and a bit of extra protection afforded by hard clasps on their top front surfaces, the Top Holsters cover the iPhone—with or without body film attached—quite well.
The major appeal of Top and Top SP is aesthetic. Each of the cases is hand made from beautiful Caterina leather, and sports attractive curves: both the front and back have gentle, sophisticated accents that are more commonly found in luxury vehicle interiors than in iPod or iPhone cases. Similar rear curves were found on Vaja’s earlier half-shell iVolution Holster for iPhone, which felt comparatively incomplete; here, they just work.
Why? Chalk that up to Top and particularly Top SP’s top shell. Not found on the standard iVolution Holster, the top shell comes in your choice of 40 colors matching the rear shell, adding substantial additional protection for the iPhone, and a markedly more stunning initial appearance. The even better Top SP’s front shell can be customized with two of your preferred colors from the same set of 40, with one base color for the case, and a second color for the racing stripe that extends from the top to the bottom of the SP’s front face, and through the hinge that fully covers iPhone’s bottom Dock Connector port. Even though its colors should have seemed very familiar, our black and gray Top SP sample was nothing short of stunningly beautiful when it arrived, and we haven’t stopped looking at it since then.
Further customization is available for those who desire it. Two types of belt clips (plastic, $4, shown; metal, $20) can be added to either case’s back, and personalization in the form of text ($10) or a graphic ($30) can also be added to the rear surface. It’s worth noting that neither of the clips has a ratcheting mechanism, so the iPhone will hang vertically from your belt; we think the cases look and work quite well without them. Additionally, because Vaja’s cases are custom-made by hand in Argentina, 25-day handcrafting times and additional shipping time are required.
Top and Top SP’s disadvantage, of course, is in accessibility—the only down side of having a leather rather than a clear front surface. Frequent phone users will find the case a chore to flip open all the time to access iPhone’s screen, ear speaker, bottom speaker, and microphone; one of our editors commented that she comes very close to missing calls because of the time it takes to find the case in a purse, then open it, as the phone is ringing. Similarly, a pocketed or belt-clipped Top requires the same “retrieve, pop open cover, then access screen” steps, which a play-through design like PDO’s Reviso further simplifies. Unless you want to remove iPhone entirely from Top or Top SP, you’ll also have to use a cable rather than an Apple Dock for charging and synchronization.
Such ease of use concerns are common to all flip-open cases and holsters, and are the primary reason that we have never preferred such designs for our iPods or iPhones. To Vaja’s credit, however, Top and Top SP otherwise do a very good job of balancing iPhone accessibility and protection, and without a doubt take flip cases to unparalleled new visual heights. Despite their prices, which are obviously around twice what you’d pay for most standard leather cases, we’d still recommend an iVolution Top Holster—especially Top SP—over all other options we’ve tested if you are looking for a flip- or holster-style design, and willing to accept the attendant accessibility compromises. Thanks to their curves and color options, it will be hard for any company to beat these cases on sheer luxury appeal in the near future; they’re as good as flip cases and full-body holsters get.