Pros: High quality leather, largely protective of the iPod mini, provides stylish belt-mounting option.
Cons: Little protection for the mini’s corners, flip front design may turn off some users, less customizable than Vaja’s older cases.
We’ve liked Vaja cases for years: they’re top quality leather holders for the iPod, and clearly geared towards mature users by virtue of their prices and designs. Now Vaja has sent us a reviewable prototype of its first product for the iPod mini – the iPod mini Classic case – a slim enclosure which evolves one of Vaja’s original iPod cases for a new generation of devices.
Unlike the company’s popular iVod series, however, the iPod mini Classic is a flip-open case – a design similar to Vaja’s generic holders for PDAs and other handheld devices. Consequently, as we’ll explain below, there’s plenty to like and only a few things to dislike about the Classic.
Working Towards Luxury Brand Status
It’s clear from their new packaging that Argentina-based Vaja is stepping up its efforts to become a true luxury brand: the iPod mini Classic case ships in a sophisticated new box that blends black matte and gloss printing to highlight the company’s logo, and three other interesting items besides the Classic are found inside the box. Vaja’s new full-color leather care guides and product catalogs aren’t unusual, but the barcode-printed plastic authenticity/warranty card is. We note these items not because they influenced our review, bur rather because they’re interesting steps up in apparent cachet for Vaja, which has grown quite nicely into a sophisticated marketer in recent years.
For its part, the iPod mini Classic case consists of two parts: a leather holder cut perfectly to the size of the iPod mini, and a strong black plastic belt chip that attaches to a metal nub on the case’s back. Apparently not detachable, the nub protrudes a bit more than 1/8” from the case’s leather rear – not enough to bother you if you toss the case into your pocket. Overall, the case looks very professional – something that wouldn’t be out of place coming out of an executive’s briefcase.
One thing that we have never called into question is Vaja’s quality: its cases consistently feel like deluxe versions of less established leather makers’ products, and unquestionably suit the needs of a certain crowd. We don’t wear our iPods on our belts, or carry them in expensive bags, but Vaja’s cases are superb accessories for both of those applications.
The iPod mini Classic case is no exception to that rule. Like many PDA holders, it has a flip-up top which snaps closed with a leather strap; in this case, the strap also covers the iPod mini’s Dock Connector port. When opened, the case exposes the Click Wheel entirely, but protects the mini’s screen with a hard piece of clear vinyl – a protective touch we appreciated. When closed, the mini’s face, back and sides are almost entirely protected, and a small metal Vaja logo subtly accents the case’s front bottom.
An iPod mini fits snugly inside the Classic, and the slight added thickness is entirely acceptable – about 1/8” more on the front, a little bit more on the back because of the metal nub, and hardly anything on the sides. Both the front and back surfaces of the case are reinforced with an interior material that feels like firm cardboard, and thankfully are only slightly padded so as to avoid bulkiness. We truly like the size and thickness choices Vaja made, and think they’ve provided adequate protection for most of the mini against drops and scratches.
Great for a Certain Audience
But it’s not a perfect case. First, each of the iPod’s four corners is at least slightly exposed – more on the back than front, both on the bottom and top. While access to the headphone jack is a necessary part of any iPod case design, the jury’s still out on whether there’s really a need to expose the holes on the bottom sides of the iPod mini. The upper left corner is also left partially open despite the fact that you can’t access the hold switch.
In addition to providing less than perfect protection of the mini’s corners, we’ve noted that the leather near the bottom corners will be a prime spot for wear and tear, because removing the iPod mini requires finger presses in those spots. This is as much a normal limitation of leather as it is an issue with the design, and perhaps one that fans of leather goods will find acceptable.
It’s also worth mentioning that the iPod mini Classic case lacks a couple of small touches commonly found in other Vaja cases. Not surprisingly, the case’s small size has eliminated space for an interior business card slot, which is no great loss. But we were a little surprised that the front of the case is a single piece of leather, rather than the distinctively stitched two-piece (and potentially two-tone) style of Vaja’s other cases. Though the price of the mini Classic is the same ($34.90) as the fuller-sized, two-tone 3G iPod case, we’re guessing that Vaja’s choice to go simpler was a cost-cutting move – perhaps to pay for the expenses of packaging and the plastic warranty card. Regardless, the simplification does deprive the user of an opportunity to further customize her iPod’s case – one of the biggest reasons supporting Vaja’s wait times and prices.
A final and related issue is style. As iPods have continued to slim down, doing so particularly in Apple’s lowest-priced models, PDA-style cases have in our opinion become less appropriate enclosures. Vaja surely realized as much with the release of the iVod, a case that manages to walk the fine line between leather and plastic protection without requiring a PDA case-style flip-cover front.
Some users will think that our brown leather sample case looks like a rich cowboy’s belt-mounted cell phone holder, and that’s a fair assessment: Vaja’s choice to go PDA-style with its first mini case is perhaps overkill if you believe that the cheapest iPod is geared towards a younger crowd. But there will surely be an audience for the Classic case, as there is for all high-quality products – at least, until a suitable alternative (perhaps Vaja’s upcoming i-Volution) comes along.
As a general rule, Vaja’s cases are products for mature and wealthy users, falling at the other end of the spectrum from the cheaper (yet more rugged) rubber iPod cases we’ve recently tended to prefer. However, at $34.90 the mini Classic case is at the lower end of Vaja’s price spectrum, and not far enough from the price of a rubberized case to dismiss out of hand.
Price aside, however, a few small issues prevent Vaja’s Classic from being an iLounge classic – some are issues of style, others protectiveness. While we think that Vaja’s target audience will be more than satisfied with the quality and general functionality of this purchase, many buyers will want to wait and see what the company will offer in the upcoming i-Volution series iVod for the iPod mini.
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
Model: Vaja Classic
Price: approx. $35.90
Compatible: iPod mini