There were two reactions after iSkin’s new Soho case for MacBooks ($60) and MacBook Pros ($65) arrived yesterday: we loved the look, but questioned its practicality. On one hand, iSkin—known first for its rubber iPod cases, second for rubber keyboard covers, and third for audio accessories—has branched out into the leather case business with typical panache.
Soho looks and feels beautiful: though it may come across as a simple leather notebook enclosure in photos, the real thing makes a very strongly positive first impression. It has been lightly padded on the front and back, and hard reinforced on all sides. The consequence is that it retains its shape regardless of whether a computer’s inside, and easily zippers closed with a custom iSkin metal zipper. While the leather is synthetic, you wouldn’t know it from the look or smoky, exotic cigar-like smell.
Stitching is where your personal taste shines through. Soho comes in pink, gray, red, orange, or blue-stitched versions; the front has two stitched curves and thin edging, matching the more conspicuous coloration of the zipper track. The back has only the edging, and is mostly black, like the rest of the case. You won’t see much color until you open the case, and then only that which sticks out from behind your computer.
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Inside is where the only problem—not a trivial one—comes in. Pop Soho open and you’ll discover a soft, nicely padded, color-matched set of top and bottom surfaces with the iSkin logo lightly marked all over the place. You’ll feel very comfortable putting your glossy MacBook or brushed MacBook Pro inside, as we did. And zipping the whole thing up will be simple because the corners have been reinforced. You’ll want to keep the computer inside, even while you’re using it.
But you really shouldn’t. As the instruction card inside Soho puts it, “to avoid possible overheating, do not use computer for extended periods while in the case.” The soft fabric lining and leatherette exterior aren’t exactly breathing fabrics, which when compounded by iSkin’s decision to provide only modest access to the computer’s side ports makes Soho more of a “carry it around” than an “enjoy you computer in it” design.
We also found that the top elastic screen straps in each of our review cases had only a tenuous grip on both our MacBook and MacBook Pro screens; the smaller case was made specifically for the MacBook, yet when the case opened, the straps barely gripped the top half of the computer. This was because the MacBook typically settles near the zipper, but the straps require it to be positioned away from the zipper, and near the case’s back, as shown. Reseating them made the computer easy to use, and our newer, cooler-running Core 2 Duo machines worked fine inside, warming a bit just as they would on any other fabric surface.
In sum, Soho has the looks and feel of a great laptop holder, but it’s not as practical as some of the MacBook cases we’ve tested. We’d consider it a great gift for someone who needs a way to transport a computer around in style, but doesn’t require heat dissipation or some of the other benefits that molded plastic enclosures can offer. As is typically the case, iSkin has something with exactly the right look; now it just needs to apply the same interior fine-tuning it has used to make its iPod cases so practical.