Without a doubt, leather has become the manufacturer’s material of choice for iPhone cases: we’ve seen more leather iPhone cases over the past three months than in the iPod’s prior twelve. Today, we’re briefly reviewing nine new leather cases that have recently been released for the iPhone: four of the cases are virtually the same “play-through” design, with small differences, while three are “flip-style” cases, and two are sleeves.
The three flip-style cases are Noreve’s Tradition Leather Case for iPhone ($50-60), Uniea’s U-Suit Folio for iPhone ($30), and PDair’s Leather Sleeve with Cover for Apple iPhone ($28). Each offers substantial iPhone protection, for better or worse including a front lid that covers the iPhone’s face most of the time, and they all come with a rear clip to enable you to wear the encased iPhone at hip level. Otherwise, they’re almost as different as can be.
Noreve’s Tradition is the classiest but least practical case of the bunch. Once again, France’s Noreve has focused on the quality and options for its leather: you are given the choice of 15 different colored leathers, three of them in suede as shown here, the rest with a glossy shine. The suede ones sell for $60 each, while the others go for $50; in any case, they’re some of the most expensive iPhone cases we’ve yet seen. But they also feel good: like Vaja’s various cases, you can easily tell the difference in materials between these and leather or leatherette cases sold for $20, as Noreve’s feel supple and padded. Each Tradition case includes a detachable metal belt clip nub and a plastic belt clip, along with a screwdriver to detach the case’s rear protective screw and attach the metal nub.
Oddly, however, our review samples weren’t built in a way that made a lot of sense for the iPhone. Noreve wraps leather around the iPhone’s back—save for an exposed camera corner—almost all of its sides, and then, with the bottom-secured front flap, literally all of its front and top. Including the headphone port and Sleep/Wake button. Therefore, when the case is closed, you have access to the iPhone’s volume and ringer controls, and the other three corners are at least a little exposed, but you can’t do anything with its top or bottom. This means that you can’t even connect headphones, a requisite for the many users who wear cases while listening to what’s inside. When opened, the case provides full screen, Home button, ear speaker, and top access, plus punch-holed bottom speaker and microphone ports, and Dock Connector access; these parts are all covered by the flap, which has two card compartments and a magnetic seal.
Uniea’s U-Suit Folio looks and feels much less expensive, but it’s also a more practical design. The back and bottom half of the case are based on Uniea’s U-Suit, a good hard-reinforced shell that offers a fully open iPhone bottom, while the front flap opens from the top, rather than like Noreve’s, which opens from the bottom. Uniea’s flap has a single hole to store a card inside, seals shut with largely concealed magnets, and leaves the iPhone’s headphone port and Sleep/Wake button exposed. Uniea’s four standard colors—black, white, red, and purple—remain available for U-Suit Folio, as they are with its other products.
The problems in U-Suit Folio are in its comparative scope of protection, and its finish. Uniea needlessly leaves almost half of iPhone’s right side exposed, paralleling the control exposure of the left side, and the design of its front and back halves doesn’t prevent anything from coming inside even when the case is closed. Aside from the rear belt clip, which unlike the others is non-detachable but made from sturdy-feeling leather-covered metal, there are also little rough spots in its stitching and materials—not enough to detract much from our rating, but just enough to let you know this isn’t a premium leather product.
Then there’s PDair’s Leather Sleeve with Cover. Coming out of the package, the design initially seemed almost smart: the front flap opens off to the right side rather than up or down, and though the leather feels inexpensive, it’s padded and stitched just well enough to look good. There are numerous cheapening touches—the Velcro tab to hold the flap closed, the unnecessary inclusion of a second, clear soft plastic layer of screen and Home button coverage under the front flap, and a plastic screw-in belt clip nub—but the case covers more iPhone surface than the U-Suit Folio, and thanks to smoother leather and additional colors (black, brown, red, white, and pink), arguably looks a bit better, too.
Our issue was with the fit and finish. Our sample Leather Sleeve with Cover was so tight that we literally had to tear it off of our iPhone—the first case we’ve had to do this with in years. Doing so revealed the thinness of the side leather, which ripped against the stitching when we were struggling to push the iPhone out, and markedly reduced our otherwise generally favorable impression of the case. Built a little looser and better, this could have been a much better case.
Overall, though none of these cases is “great,” two of them missed “good” in our view based more on technical design issues than anything else—additional testing and manufacturing tweaks before release would have made the Noreve Tradition and PDair Leather Sleeve with Cover recommendable. As is typical with issues such as the ones noted above, we suspect that these companies will go back and change the cases following this review. While Uniea’s U-Suit Folio isn’t an incredible case design, either, the facts that it can actually be used whether it’s open or closed, properly fits the iPhone inside, and sells at a decent price makes it a good option relative to some of the other flip-style cases we’ve tested. It was on the edge of our general and limited recommendations, but rates a general-level flat B thanks to its hard rear shell, and despite its non-detachable belt clip.
Company and Price
Models: Leather Sleeve with Cover
Price: $28 (PDAir)