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.
Three of the leather cases we’ve seen are half-holsters—as contrasted with the nearly full protection of holsters we’ve previously reviewed for iPhone, these are basically leather wrapped around a sturdy frame that covers some or all of iPhone’s back, as well as pieces of its sides and bottom. Griffin’s selling the Elan Snap-In for iPhone ($25), Speck has Holster-Pro for iPhone ($30), and Macally has mClip-X ($20). All three are black in color and include a belt clip; only Griffin’s Elan Snap-In includes a cleaning cloth and an iPhone screen protector, which fits only on iPhone’s 3.5” screen and inoffensively reduces its multi-touch sensitivity. As with the full holsters we reviewed, we weren’t really impressed by any of these cases, but they each serve the same purpose: they’re lightweight ways to mount iPhone on your belt without compromising access to its controls. From there, each takes a slightly different approach, however.
Elan Snap-In was designed the most thoughtfully for iPhone use as anything other than a video player. You can put the iPhone in forwards or backwards, depending on your preference, and always have access to its side volume buttons and ringer switch. A Dock Connector hole on the bottom does fit Apple’s and similarly narrow cables, while small holes for the speaker and microphone on the bottom permit you to speak or clearly hear audio. The rear clip ratchets in 30 degree increments through 180 degrees of freedom, letting you mount iPhone vertically or horizontally on your belt as you prefer, but not upside down.
Speck’s Holster-Pro is highly similar to Elan Snap-In, but not as protective of iPhone’s bottom corners. It actually covers iPhone’s Dock Connector port entirely, but leaves the bottom speaker and microphone fully exposed. As with Elan Snap-In, you can mount iPhone inside facing forwards or backwards, as a soft, padded surface inside protects iPhone from being scratched. The new twist here is that Speck’s metal belt clip, while only capable of mounting iPhone vertically on your belt, pops out with Velcro and a satin strap to become an iPhone stand. Unfortunately, it pops out in the direction you wouldn’t expect, so iPhone’s volume buttons face downwards when it’s positioned for video viewing; you’ll need to use the on-screen controls, instead.
Finally, there’s Macally’s mClip-X. Basically, mClip-X doesn’t seem to have been tested with an iPhone before release, and has a few oddities. It does the same thing functionally as Holster-Pro, enabling the iPhone to stand up on its side while playing video, and has a ratcheting rear belt clip that rotates a full 360 degrees around, easily popping out to become a stand. It is not shaped to hold iPhone when its screen is facing in, and provides much less protection for iPhone’s back and sides, but does enable you to use the camera and volume buttons while it’s still attached.
Unfortunately, Macally’s clips interfere with both iPhone’s proximity sensor and its Home button, so unlike the other cases, you can’t use iPhone properly as a phone when it’s inside, and using the Home button takes a little extra finger dexterity, or bending the leather back. The case also slightly blocks iPhone’s bottom mic and speaker, but not enough to interfere substantially with their operation.
Our feeling is that neither Holster Pro nor mClip-X fully delivers on the promise of its video stand functionality, thanks to Speck’s upside-down volume buttons and Macally’s slight interference with the Home button, but the $10 price difference between the cases and mClip-X’s better video stand tend to weigh in Macally’s favor, despite Speck’s somewhat superior protection. Griffin’s Elan Snap-In is the best looking and, apart from its lack of a video stand feature, the best designed of the three semi-holsters. It doesn’t interfere with any part of the iPhone, and between the film and its superior corner coverage provides enough protection to feel like a smarter purchase for that purpose than either of the other options.
The relatively low ratings assigned to all three of these semi-holsters reflect a simple truth about the designs: they’re just not as protective or as good a value for the dollar as true cases. If you’re really in need of a leather case, and want to stay in the same general price range, we’d sooner recommend the sculpted leather bodies favored by companies such as Pacific Rim Technologies (iShield), Case-Mate (Signature Leather Case), and even Macally (mCase), which run from $20-$35 and offer better protection for the price. Both iShield and the Signature Leather Case work just as well as video stands on level surfaces.
Company and Price
Company: Griffin Technology
Model: Elan Snap-In