Pros: Quality leather, good iPod mini protection, nice magnetic clasp, fully detachable belt clip, good price.
Cons: Imperfect fit of screen and Click Wheel holes, needs to be entirely opened to access Dock Connector, hangs awkwardly upside down when belt-mounted.
There are premium iPod cases, disposable iPod cases, and cases that fall somewhere in-between. From iLounge’s perspective, there’s plenty of room in the world for many types and qualities of cases, so long as they’re priced appropriately.
Global Source’s first iPod mini product is somewhat mislabeled: called the “Deluxe Leather Case,” the black leather case actually has the telltale signs of a middle-of-road product rather than a premium one: competitively priced at $27.99, it lacks some of the finer fit and finish of Vaja’s more expensive and competing Classic mini case, yet is a good enough product to stand on its own.
We’ve previously noted that flip-front iPod cases aren’t our favorite designs, and though we’ve seen and recommended “better” solutions, we realize that some users either accept or like this style of case. Therefore, while we’ll point to two of Vaja’s previously released leather iPod mini cases – the Classic (flip-open), which received our “Happy” rating, and iVod mini (one-piece), which received our top “Excited” rating – we won’t dwell much on the substantially different latter design.
Global Source’s design is most similar to Vaja’s Classic: both are leather cases with flip-open front panels that shield an iPod mini from scratches and light impacts. Each has a detachable belt clip, and when closed, both cases might be mistaken for cellular phone holders. The iPod mini’s Dock Connector port is covered on both cases when closed, and its headphone jack remains exposed on each case, too.
Despite their similarities, the cases have substantial design differences. The most noticeable is the front flap, which hangs off the top of Vaja’s design, but dangles from the bottom of Global Source’s. Additionally, whereas Vaja’s belt clip attaches to the back of its case, Global Source’s attaches to the front. These two choices in particular have some interesting and unexpected benefits and consequences.
By placing its flap on the top, Vaja’s case holds the iPod mini in place by a sewn and somewhat too tiny piece of leather at its Dock Connector port. When the case opens from the top, the iPod mini is oriented just as it would be on a table, which is great if you’re not using it on a belt, but not great if you’re trying to read its screen upside down. By contrast, when the Deluxe Leather Case is mounted on a belt and unlatched, the iPod mini hangs upside down in its enclosure – a better viewing angle for the user, though droopier-looking than Vaja’s solution. Global Source holds the iPod in place by its top, with nicely cut top access holes for both the hold switch and headphone jack.
The only potential downside to Global Source’s design is for those who use their iPod minis primarily in vehicles: to access the Dock Connector port on the Vaja Classic, you unsnap the front lid and easily expose the port without opening the case further, but on the Deluxe Leather Case, you must keep the lid entirely open to plug anything into the iPod’s bottom. For some users, this will be a trivial point, but having to keep Global Source’s case splayed out in a car may bother others.
Another design difference falls in Global Source’s favor: only the Deluxe Leather Case permits its belt clip to be fully removed. Vaja’s clip comes off, but its nub stays fixed to the back of the case. Global Source made it easy to screw in and unscrew the included brass nub, and even included a small black plastic screw hole guard for when the nub isn’t being used. (Though both the guard and the black detachable clip serve their purposes properly, neither is as attractive as they could have been.) To its credit, the belt clip’s plastic is thicker and seemingly more resilient than, say, the clips used in iSkin’s most recent cases, but it’s not a truly “deluxe” solution.
With the exception of one or two factors, the fit and finish on Vaja’s Classic case were better than on the Deluxe Leather Case: the screen and Click Wheel didn’t align quite perfectly with the holes in the Global Source case we tested, whereas they looked almost ideal in Vaja’s case. The leather, padding and stitching were all just a little nicer in Vaja’s design. And Vaja’s case included a built-in transparent plastic screen protector, which Global Source did not, which may be a moot issue given that the flipping lids of both cases are intended to protect the iPods’ screens.
Global Source’s case came out ahead in surface protection, however, covering virtually the entire iPod mini save the headphone jack corner when closed. This contrasted sharply with Vaja’s decision to leave each of the mini’s corners unprotected, and though the Deluxe Leather Case is ever-so-slightly bulkier at its edges, the iPod mini is better guarded for their choice. Additionally, Global Source opted to use a simple magnetic latch clasp rather than the brass snap favored by Vaja, a decision that we preferred given its simpler user opening and closure.
We found that accessing the iPod mini inside the case was easy, and once inserted, it felt well-protected. A thin velvety interior provides scratch protection and holds the mini properly in place, while the access holes on the case made insertion and removal of the mini easier than in Vaja’s Classic. Despite the imperfect alignment of the front holes, we found control and screen access to be acceptable, and liked Global Source’s cutout for the headphone jack. Hold switch access was easier, practically speaking, than on Vaja’s Classic, and the magnetic clasp gave us fewer wear and tear worries than Vaja’s brass snap.
It also bears brief mention that every Deluxe Leather Case apparently includes an oversized fabric pouch very similar to the one Apple packed in with third-generation iPods. Presumably the pouch can hold either the encased iPod mini or additional accessories, yet given the huge size of the pouch (almost big enough for a man’s full hand), we didn’t find it to be particularly useful. But then, we really can’t complain about a well-intentioned freebie.
Value and Conclusions
Given Vaja’s prior dominance of the premium leather iPod case category, it’s tempting to suggest that competitors would be hard-pressed to beat the Argentine leather masters, but that’s not really the case. There’s plenty of room for lower-priced competitors, and we really liked the fact that Global Source’s product comes so close to Vaja’s Classic without costing as much. Some may even find that the Deluxe Leather Case has features that appeal better to their needs than Vaja’s Classic.
At $27.99, the Deluxe Leather Case is a good value for the dollar and looks quite nice for the price. Vaja’s leather looks more than a hint better, but Global Source’s option is not by any means lacking visually, and if it weren’t for Vaja’s wider variety of color options, the difference between the companies’ options would be a closer call. Global Source’s web site enticed prospective customers this weekend with a temporary twenty-percent additional discount, which brings the Deluxe Leather Case into silicone rubber case pricing territory and makes it even more affordable for potential users.
With that said, we continue to prefer the design of Vaja’s non-flipping iVod case as our favorite leather product for the iPod mini, but we acknowledge that in both appearance and price, these products are almost in different categories. Those who prefer flip-lid cases will find Global Source’s Deluxe Leather Case to offer more than acceptable protection for the iPod mini. It’s a good debut for a welcome new player in the iPod accessory market.
Jeremy Horwitz is Senior Editor of iLounge and practices intellectual property law in his spare time. His recent book, Law School Insider, has been called the “best book about law school – ever,” and he continues to contribute to Ziff-Davis electronic entertainment magazines.
Company and Price
Company: Global Source
Model: Deluxe Leather Case
Price: $27.99 (includes belt clip)
Compatible: iPod mini