We never would have guessed as much six months ago, but leather has turned out to be the most common material for first-generation iPhone cases. Roughly 20 of the cases we’ve tested so far with iPhone are one of five different takes on the leather theme, so we’re looking at all of them this morning in batches of similar designs.
From a design standpoint, the most bland of the leather cases are holsters—generally a piece of two of leather that wraps around the front, bottom, and back of the iPhone, with incomplete bars of slightly pliable material on each of iPhone’s left and right sides. This is a carryover design from the earliest days of iPod cases, and was used by Apple—later, many others—to provide a very simple way to sheathe your iPod on a belt while still offering access to the headphone port.
Three companies are currently selling black leather iPhone holsters. Belkin has the Holster for iPhone ($30), Griffin is selling the Elan Holster for iPhone ($30), and Marware has the C.E.O. Sleeve for iPhone ($25), and each has at least one unique feature. Belkin’s Holster for iPhone has a mesh bottom that lets you hear iPhone’s bottom speaker, and conceivably use its microphone, without removing the device from the case. It also uses the same materials found in Mercedes Benz interiors, and features a novel honeycomb-styled metallic front inset and a matching fabric inner lining. Of the three options, it has the least versatile belt clip, mounting iPhone only in a vertical orientation with its headphone port sticking up.
Griffin’s Elan Holster for iPhone looks like the least expensive of the bunch, but it still stands on its own. It’s the only one with embossed markings, which run in two parallel tracks down the front left to the bottom and the back right, and also the only one to significantly pad the front leather. Unusually, Griffin includes a two position money clip-style belt clip that is heavily reinforced with metal, and lets the case be mounted either horizontally or vertically on your belt. Unlike Belkin, Griffin also includes an iPhone screen protector and a simple microfiber cleaning cloth in its package.
Finally, there’s Marware’s C.E.O. Sleeve, which has most of the other cases’ advantages and a slightly lower price. Similar in class to the Belkin Holster, which is to say nicer in leather than Griffin’s, it has more modestly padded front and back surfaces, Belkin-styled gray stitching rather than Griffin’s black, and a belt clip that ratchets in 45-degree increments through a full 360 degrees. Though the clip doesn’t have the thin profile of either of its competitors’, it uses a Multidapt-series mount, so both the clip and nub are fully detachable, and you can use C.E.O. Sleeve with other Multidapt-series clips and mounts if they interest you. Marware also includes a film screen protector and cleaning cloth for the iPhone.
With all those points out of the way, a couple of other comparative differences are worth noting. Only Griffin’s case provides full access to both of iPhone’s side volume buttons; Belkin’s covers both, and Marware’s covers the bottom one. Similarly, Neither Griffin’s nor Marware’s case provides any type of access to the iPhone’s bottom; they muffle its speakers and microphone, unlike Belkin’s mesh surface. Marware’s screen protector is the most comprehensive, covering virtually all of iPhone’s face, and doesn’t interfere with iPhone’s phone proximity sensor; Griffin’s covers only the screen, and Belkin doesn’t include one at all. The Marware and Griffin film slightly, but not offensively, reduces the touchscreen’s multi-point sensitivity.
All three cases hold the iPhone snugly when it’s on its side or even upside down—not that you’d want to carry it this way—and all three can accommodate an iPhone inside of NLU Products’ BodyGuardz or comparable full iPhone-film. Similarly, all three provide complete access to iPhone’s top surface, while exposing its top and bottom side corners, and fully protecting its front and back at all times. You get zero access to iPhone’s touchscreen controls, and so despite Belkin’s mesh bottom and the lack thereof on the other cases, you really can’t do anything with the iPhone while it’s inside save listen to already playing music unless a remote control’s attached.
That’s the reason we’ve never been fans of holster-style cases, and find them especially useless for the iPhone. They may look nice, as these cases do, and offer protection, but you’ll always have to pull the iPhone out to do anything with it. For that reason, they’ll never compare in our books with designs that companies have tailored to iPhone’s unique control and sensor needs. Consider them only for the looks, and then only if you’re willing to deal with the inconvenience of pulling iPhone in and out all the time. Marware’s case rates the highest of the three at a B- because of its quality looks, more reasonable price, good protective film, and most versatile belt clip; the Griffin and Belkin options both rate C+, though they each have individual advantages that may endear them to certain iPhone users.
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