Of the many MacBook cases we’ve been playing with over the past few months, two have stood out as especially cool, but also especially nichey—in other words, if they fit a specific need that you have, you’re going to be thrilled, but if you’re looking for something typical, you’ll find them to be completely bonkers.
The cases in question are Speck’s CorePack and Vaja’s new iVolution Shell, covered in earlier previews linked to their names here. They’re both expensive enough that we can’t see them becoming mainstream due to price alone, but if you’re like us, the aesthetics may well strike you as so appealing that one or the other will wind up on a birthday wish list, anyway. Click on Read More for the pictures and details.
CorePack ($90) is basically a fashionista’s or young businessperson’s uber-laptop bag, made entirely from fabric and apparently designed for an insane degree of versatility. As noted in our earlier piece on CorePack, you can choose between black pinstripe and brown plaid versions, the former with a bright blue interior, the latter in green; the handsome patterns only extend from the front flap to the top of each case. They end right before a heavily padded mesh, zippered laptop compartment that’s found in the back—the only sign that this is a computer bag at all. You can hold CorePack like a briefcase, with a zippered-off top handle popping out if you want it, or wear it messenger-style with a shoulder strap, which emerges from the bag’s sides if desired.
But what’s notable about CorePack is that it seems to be anything but a standard laptop bag—it seems like Speck took two bags, riveted them together, and then attached handles. The front bag is basically for everything except your laptop—in a colored section under the flap are a paper or folder compartment, a big multi-sectioned zippered pocket, and a large space that can hold a couple of big textbooks or something as big as a full-sized digital camera, depending on how you want to use it. Outside of that, there are four smaller pockets, one for your iPod or iPhone with a pass-through headphone cord hole, and others that can be used for coins, supplies, and items as large as a wallet, plus a zippered-off mesh side pocket large enough for a soda or water bottle.
If you’re the sort of person who needs to carry around a lot of different stuff—computer, pens, paper, a couple of books, iPod, change, wallet, and so on, you’ll find a lot to like here, as CorePack can basically manage it all. But it fits into a weird category, as the narrow main compartment doesn’t have the massive book storage space of a backpack, yet the sheer amount of added space it adds on top of your laptop makes it an unusually puffy, bulky briefcase. You’ll know from looking at it whether it meets your needs; we can tell you that the looks and build quality really impressed us, apart from the bright inner coloration, which we liked, but found inconsistent with CorePack’s businesslike exterior.
That brings us to Vaja’s latest iVolution Shell, which is comparatively all business—and at $340, it should be. In short, iVolution Shell is a lot like the really cool Axio Hardsleeves we looked at two years ago, designed to serve as a protective cover for the MacBook while it’s in transit. It doesn’t snap on to the computer, but rather surrounds it until you want to open it up, at which point the top and bottom halves both settle on your desk, the bottom remaining underneath your MacBook, or you pull the whole thing away until it’s needed again. A thin lip on the inside of the top casing lets this part stay gently attached to the opened screen if you don’t want it to dangle or rest on your desk.
Like CorePack, the iVolution Shell is nichey both on pricing and on functionality: it’s designed to appeal to someone who is willing to shell out a lot of cash based on a love of expensive leather. As always, Vaja indulges. The outer floater leather is creased like the inside of your hand, gently molded to match the latest MacBooks’ tapered curves, and accented with a metal Vaja logo. You pick from 16 colors for the outside.
Where the major changes have taken place relative to Vaja’s prior version are on the inside. Previously, the company designed the interior to feature a large, color-contrasting X-shaped logo that looked cool but not especially professional; that’s now gone in favor of more plain padded shapes on the top half, sold solely in the same color as the rest of the interior. You can choose from 41 different hues, and Vaja has designed the case to let a little of the bottom interior leather peek through to the outside edge, the only hint of two-tone coloration a sealed iVolution Shell includes.
Look closely at the top and bottom interior front lips and you’ll note that thin magnets have been built into the case to hold it closed, a big change from the zippered Axio Hardsleeves and Vaja’s prior version of iVolution. Vaja says that the magnets aren’t powerful enough to screw up the MacBook’s hard disk, but they do a flawless job of keeping the case closed when you want it closed; the design of the shell is such as to make it a little difficult to accidentally open, as well.
Interestingly, an issue we’d expected to have with iVolution Shell—port access—turns out not to be an issue, at least, so long as the MacBook is open. Flipping the screen up leads the MacBook to sit on an angle inside the case, positioning the ports for easy access, and the SuperDrive is similarly usable. That said, you won’t find it as easy to connect, say, a power adapter to the ports when the MacBook’s top is closed, unless you pull the machine back and let it rest on the Shell’s interior rear edge. Port access is completely unavailable when the case is shut.
We’re not going to tell you that you’re the target customer for a case like iVolution Shell, because as is obvious from the description and pricing, this clearly isn’t a case for everyone. It has no hand or shoulder straps, which means that you either carry your laptop inside it in your hand, or need to toss the whole thing into something else to carry around, the latter making little sense to us, especially given the Shell’s thickness and size relative to less expensive, competing options. But if you are looking for a thoroughly modern and classy leather case for the 13” aluminum MacBook, this is the nicest one we’ve yet seen. Hopefully Vaja will come up with additional and even more practical variations on the theme.