As was the case with the fifth-generation iPod, our favorite iPhone cases are “play-through” designs — ones that offer a smart compromise of protection and the ability to use iPhone’s screen and other controls without having to pull the device out all the time. As a contrast with its Leather Folio for iPhone (iLounge rating: B), Incase’s Fitted Sleeve for iPhone ($35) precision-sculpts leather or canvas in one of four colors (pink, black, or brown leather, or olive canvas) to provide full-time access to all of iPhone’s ports, buttons, speakers, microphone, screen, and camera; its only comparative omission is protectiveness.
Though Fitted Sleeve is most obviously compared against leather designs such as Case-Mate’s Signature Leather Case (iLounge rating: B+), Macally’s mCase (iLounge rating: B), and Pacific Rim Technologies’ iShield for iPhone (iLounge rating: B), it is the most similar—actually, almost identical—to the case component of Incase’s earlier neoprene Sports Multifunction for iPhone (iLounge rating: B). One unified front piece of leather or canvas replaces the piece of reflective plastic and suede found on Sports Multifunction, while two more pieces of leather or canvas replace the sports-ready case’s neoprene and plastic side and rear pieces. Incase also replaces the Sports Multifunction’s Velcro top tab with a nicer snap, and removes the rear plastic O-rings for handstrap attachment altogether.
The back is left with only a firm, non-removable belt clip, covered in material matching the rest of the case.
In the aggregate, these changes to the Fitted Sleeve make for a case that looks a little nicer than the Sports Multifunction for everyday use, and the Fitted Sleeve doesn’t bulge in front like the Sports Multifunction when an iPhone’s inside. Generally, it feels slightly improved, though protectiveness omissions are still apparent: besides the obvious issues of leaving iPhone’s screen, top, and bottom almost entirely exposed at all times, Incase has made two tweaks to the prior design, removing coverage from iPhone’s side volume buttons, while slightly enhancing coverage of its back on the side opposite the camera. As with all Incase cases, Fitted Sleeve’s stitching, logo embossing, and build quality are unquestionably impressive, but no screen protector is included, which contributes to a feeling that the case isn’t quite incomplete for its $35 asking price.
We had similar concerns about Macally’s mCase and Pacific Rim’s iShield, two leather cases with hard-reinforced shells inside, but felt better about Case-Mate’s Signature Leather Case, which used a similar design and included screen protection. All of these cases are in the same general price and protectiveness ballpark; at $20, mCase is the most affordable, but lacks for a belt clip and screen protection, while the Signature Leather Case is priced at the same $35 level as the Fitted Sleeve, but includes clear screen film and reinforces its leather for added iPhone protection.
All of these cases offer the same play-through style of iPhone control and screen access; the major differences are in the quality of materials, prices, and frills.
It bears only brief mention that, unlike the more protective Leather Folio, you can fully use iPhone in any of its modes while inside the Fitted Sleeve. Headphone port and Sleep/Wake button access are common in iPhone cases, but here, a cut-out for the proximity sensor guarantees that the screen will turn off properly when the encased iPhone is lifted to your ear, and the open bottom lets audio out or in as necessary, with full-time Dock Connector access as well. Screen and Home button access are completely uninhibited, too. Though we prefer more protective designs, this one doesn’t inhibit your use of iPhone in any way.
Because of both its quality competitors and its value relative to the Sports Multifunction design, the Fitted Sleeve walked right on the edge of our B and B- ratings.