Pros: Form-fitting leather cases for iPod and iPod nano which are solidly constructed and better looking than most low-cost leather offerings, affording the buyer a well-established design at lower prices than Vaja’s pioneering iVod cases. Clear screen and Click Wheel film is included.
Cons: Insertion and removal is a bit difficult due to tightness. Top and bottom of iPods exposed full-time, and film-only coverage of screen and Click Wheel may be insufficient protection for some users. Limited color choices relative to directly competing products.
Editor’s Note 1-30-2006: Kesari/Case-Ari has rebranded their company and products, and is now known as Case-Mate.
We’re not going to dance around this issue: Kesari’s Case-Mate cases for iPod 5G and iPod nano ($30 and $25, respectively) parrot the designs of Vaja’s well-respected iVod/iVolution cases for 4G (iLounge rating: A) and nano (iLounge rating: B+). Designed to replicate iVod’s unusually puffy leather exterior, which affixes to a hard shell with entirely hidden seams, Kesari’s cases are highly similar to Vaja’s, but sell for less than half the price.
We emphasize the “similar” in the sentence above very strongly, and focus our review on identifying the specific differences between the Case-Mate and iVod cases. In each case, the iVod unsurpringly wins out in nearly every category except for – perhaps – value, which we’ll discuss further at the end of this article.
Because the 5G and nano versions of the Kesari cases are pretty much the same but for size, we’ve decided to review them together, noting specific differences between them only when necessary. Either model is available in 12 colors, although at the time of this writing, only seven iPod nano color models and five 5G colors were available for order on Case-Mate’s website. It should also be mentioned that all of the Case-Mate cases are sold only in single-color models, in contrast to Vaja’s popular two-color combinations. Clear protective film is included for each iPod’s screen and Click Wheel.
Construction, Fit, and Protection
Like iVod, Case-Mate cases combine of the feel of a soft leather case with the protection of a hard case. While we lament the exclusion of hard or semi-hard screen and Click Wheel protectors, like those sold with Vaja’s cases, Case-Mate’s included iPod film mostly allays that concern, except for users who plan to carry these cases in a purse or pocket amongst other items that could damage the screen regardless of its film protection. Other than that, it doesn’t look or feel as nice, but it works.
Regarding general fit and finish, Case-Mates are short of the high standards set by iVod, which is somewhat to be expected for the price. The seams are less well-finished, the leather is less precisely formed around the underlying hard shell, and though it’s described as Nappa leather, it feels like it’s of noticeably lower quality. Each Case-Mate is also a tight fit on the iPod you insert. Furthermore, Kesari’s interiors are lined with simple felt, whereas Vaja’s cases are lined with rather exquisite embossed leather, and the exterior lacks Vaja’s metal corner logo. All of these factors contribute to an obvious, but not unacceptable-looking genericization of the iVod design.
Each Case-Mate case includes several items; among them are a removable belt clip and iPod film that covers the iPod’s face and Click Wheel, The protective film is also available separately in 3-packs for $12.99, and we’ll review these separately, and in more detail, soon. Kesari’s 5G cases also include a small soft cloth for wiping fingerprints away
The Case-Mate’s belt clip is a generic, cheap one-piece plastic design that inspires very little confidence when worn on a regular basis. Thankfully, the small metal nub it attaches to is itself also completely removable, leaving a the case’s back completely flat with an unobtrusive small recessed hole, a nice feature for those who would prefer not to use the clip at all. In Vaja’s design, the belt clip is optional upon ordering, offering a sleeker, uninterrupted leather backing, but Kesari’s solution works well enough.
Compatibility with Accessories
With Vaja’s iVod nano, we were a bit disappointed that – for the first time – an iVod was made incompatible with large-size headphone connectors most non-Apple manufacturers typically use. Unfortunately, the Case-Mate is no different here. As with Vaja’s iVod nano, Kesari’s nano case is incompatible with most non-Apple headphone jacks, since the iPod nano sits relatively high above the bottom surface. Fifth-generation iPod owners need not worry, however, as the 5G Case-Mate’s large top opening provides more than enough space for oversized headphone plugs.
Also, each of the Dock Connector plugs we tried were able to successfully connect with iPods using either case, although the nano version of the case had less extra clearance than the 5G version. Neither Vaja nor Kesari made this particularly easy on its iPod nano case.
Value and Conclusions
We may love Vaja’s cases, but we recognize that there’s room for improvement on their designs – better means for top and bottom protection, for example – that Kesari chose to ignore entirely, instead taking the easy route of outright duplication. As a high-end case with high-end leather, user customization, and generally tight attention to detail, an iVod has advantages that outweigh some of its omissions. But when you copy a premium design without improving on it, and actually fall behind in several key ways, the only appeal you have is to the same people who are willing to buy fake Rolexes and Ducci bags. The world needs a better iVod more than it needs a cheaper, more generic one.
On account of its average construction quality and level of protection, the Case-Mate lies somewhere on the borderline of our B and B- grades. Ultimately, it was Kesari’s somewhat sloppy approach and decision to blatantly copy Vaja’s designs that drove us to the more qualified, limited recommendation we associate with our “B-” grade.
Should you still decide to purchase a Case-Mate, our feeling is this: don’t expect flawless seams, a delightful aroma of quality leather, or any of Vaja’s other “wow factors,” but don’t expect to be entirely disappointed with what you’ve purchased. For $30 or less, the Case-Mate’s design is a compromise to get Vaja-style cases without the premium cost, and you’ll have to decide whether it’s worth patronizing.
Company and Price
Price: $30 (5G), $25 (nano)
Compatible: iPod 5G, iPod nano