Sleeves in Brief: Leather jackets, real and faux

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All week, I’ve been talking about laptop sleeves —compact cases designed to hold just a laptop, for protection when carrying the laptop by itself or when sticking it inside a larger bag or a suitcase. On Monday, I wrote about a number of soft sleeves and hard shells that we hadn’t previously had a chance to cover. Wednesday brought some rigid cases that offer impressive protection. Today I give you the details on several leather and faux-leather coverings.

Like the rigid cases I covered on Wednesday, these cases add some bulk to your laptop’s sleek figure, as well as some protection against shock and impact (although not as much as Wednesday’s cases). But they also add an element of leather-ish style. (Two leather cases I wasn’t able to get to this week are Case-Mate’s Signature Leather Suit and Uniea’s U-Suit. I’ll cover these two snap-on covers in a future column.)

iSkin Soho (for MacBook, $60; for 15-inch MacBook Pro, $65): The Soho is similar in design to the form-fitting soft sleeves I covered on Monday, but with semi-rigid panels on the top and bottom and black imitation leather as its main material. In other words, it adds a bit more protection as well as some additional size, although not as much as I expected: the case itself is only 13.3 inches wide by 9.6 inches deep and 1.75 inches think, adding less than an inch to each of the MacBook’s own dimensions.

iSkin Soho

The inside of the Soho is lined with a slightly-padded, velour-like material, and the MacBook model I tested fit a MacBook like a glove—unlike with some of the rigid cases I covered earlier this week, the laptop doesn’t slide around inside. I also liked the Soho’s zipper, which always zipped and unzipped smoothly.

The inside of the case includes two elastic straps for attaching the top of the case to your laptop’s screen, so that the top of the case doesn’t fall back when you open your laptop. That, combined with a PR blurb on iSkin’s Web site noting that the Soho “makes a great heat barrier when using your MacBook on your lap,” implies that you can use your computer without removing it from the case. However, I don’t recommend it, as the case blocks many of the ventilation openings on a MacBook or MacBook Pro. (And, in fact, the very same Web site, along with a card that ships inside the case, warn that you shouldn’t use your computer “for extended periods while in the case” to avoid overheating.) I also found that these elastic straps prevented the MacBook lid from closing enough to sleep. So you should plan on using the Soho as a standard carrying sleeve.

Five black-faux-leather Soho styles are available, each with an alternate color (pink, grey, red, orange, or blue) for the sleeve’s stitching, zippers, and interior fabric. Overall, the design is attractive and the construction quality is excellent.

Crumpler School Hymn (for MacBook, $45; for 15-inch MacBook Pro, $50; for 17-inch MacBook Pro, $55): The School Hymn is very similar in construction and appearance to the Soho: faux-leather on the outside, rigid top and bottom panels, and padded fabric on the inside. However, there are a few physical and aesthetic differences. In terms of appearance, the School Hymn is available in a number of (much brighter) two-color styles. In each style, one color covers most of the case’s surfaces, with each corner getting patches of the secondary color. Unlike the Soho, the School Hymn’s zipper isn’t color-matched—it’s black on every case—and doesn’t operate quite as smoothly.

Crumpler School Hymn

The other major difference between the two cases is how they fit. The School Hymn’s three sizes are each made specifically for one of Apple’s current laptops, but in my testing with the 15-inch version, my MacBook Pro fit rather loosely. In fact, I was able to fit the MacBook Pro in Speck’s SeeThru and still fit it inside the School Hymn with a bit of room to slide around.

One concern I had with the School Hymn is that in each corner, where the main piece of faux-leather is cut away to accommodate the different-color piece of trim, the material is cut in such a way that it looks as though it could tear over time. (It didn’t in my testing, and there is some stitching there that should offer support, so perhaps I’m being over-cautious.)

The School Hymn’s big advantages over the Soho are its brighter colors—if that’s your preference—and its lower price: $10 to $15 less than the Soho, depending on the size. So if cost or color is your main concern, the School Hymn is the way to go. I personally prefer the Soho’s design and better fit.

And for the laptop user who has everything...

Vaja i-Volution Shell

Vaja i-Volution Shell ($359 without handles; $389 with handles; text personalization, $10; graphic personalization, $30): No, you’re not misreading that—Vaja’s i-Volution Shell cases start at $359, so they definitely aren’t for everyone. But if there’s a true “designer label” in laptop cases, it’s Vaja. Each case is hand-made to order from high-end, full-grain Argentinian leather. You choose from 10 body colors and 39 accent colors; choose text or graphic personalization, if desired; and then submit your order. Two to three weeks later, your custom case arrives.

(If you read the “Hot Stuff” column in the September issue of Macworld , the i-Volution Shell will look familiar; it was included there, but with the higher prices Vaja was charging—$392 and $464—when that issue went to press.)

Vaja i-Volution Shell with Macworld

Vaja sent us a sample case, complete with a Macworld logo tastefully applied to the ID swatch on the inside. Although I would never personally spend this much on a laptop case, I have to admit that I was very impressed by the quality and attention to detail. The leather was supple with perfect color, and the construction was flawless—nary a stray or crooked thread. Even the zippers were perfectly coordinated with the case’s main color (although, as with many other rigid cases I’ve tested, the zipper required some effort to close at times).

The inside of the case is made of molded EVA that matches the case’s main color, with several padded patches covered in perforated leather that matches the case’s trim color; overall, the case offers very good shock protection, although, as with the two leather cases above, you’ll still want to avoid sharp blows to the back of your laptop’s screen. The case we received fit my laptop—a 15-inch MacBook Pro, although versions are also available for the 13-inch MacBook and the 17-inch MacBook Pro—perfectly and featured sturdy, color-matched leather handles for easier carrying.

The i-Volution Shell clearly isn’t for everyone. It’s not even for many people. But there’s no denying that it’s one of the most attractive and well-made “sleeve” cases I’ve seen. Whether it’s worth one-third of the price of a brand-new MacBook is up to you.

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