Gadgetorama reviews the iPod nano Aluminum-lined Leather Case from Proporta Music

 

Introduction

I was still waiting for my iPod nano to show up when the stories broke about how easily they could get scratched up and how the screen seemed particularly fragile. I knew then that I would need a good case to protect my new toy. Fortunately for me, Proporta had just launched a new site, www.proportamusic.com, with a focus on digital audio players including the iPods. And the news gets better: They are already offering a number of accessories for the iPod nano, including cases. The case I will be reviewing is the aluminum-lined leather case (On a side note, why do Canada and the US spell it aluminum whereas the rest of the world spells it aluminium?)

The case

Case closeup
Figure 1: The case up close

The aluminum-lined leather case comes in a small box with a see-through front. Aside from the case, you also get a belt clip, a small screw to affix the clip to the case when it is needed and a tiny sheet of illustrated instructions.

The case is of the flip kind where the front flap lifts up. It is only available in matte black leather with white overstitching. A quick look will reveal no loose threads in the overstitching. The case looks to be very well made. Unlike many PDA cases, the magnetic clasp is on the front rather than the back (More on this later). It is also offset to the side and there is a small Proporta logo embossed in the leather next to it (See Figure 1). The offset allows unrestricted access to the headphone jack.

With flip-type cases the top lid opens upward instead of to the side (like a book would). Inside and to the sides, you will see two hard leather clasps to hold the nano in place. They measure about 2 centimeters in length (Figure 3).

The case opened
Figure 2: The case opened
nano in case
Figure 3: Closeup of a clasp

The case also comes with what Proporta calls its "Screen Saver" system. Essentially, the front lid has a piece of aluminium in it to provide rigid protection for the screen. Given all those reports of fragile screens, I can see that being really useful. You can even see the aluminum (stamped with proporta.com) through a cutout in the case (Figure 5). Note that the back of the case is not lined with aluminum.

On the back, there is a small black screw that is flush with the leather. This is where the belt clip can attach if you choose to use it. And if you don’t the screw covers up the hole. It is again a small detail but speaks well to the level of detail paid to the case by Proporta.

Using the case

When I first saw the two clasps that are supposed to hold the nano in place, I will admit that I had some very healthy doubts as to their effectiveness. But they evaporated as soon as I tried to put the nano in. You will need to apply a good amount (but not unreasonable) of force to slide the nano into the case. As soon as I started, I got worried that I would end up scratching my nano. I stopped, pulled it out and had a look. No scratches at all. So I tried again and slid it completely into the case, so that it was flush with the case backing. The fit is tight and the nano will not go anywhere. I gave the case and nano some good shakes in different directions and the nano stayed in, not even moving noticeably. Unfortunately, because the clasps are so short, much of the nano’s sides is left exposed.

Clasp closeup
Figure 4: Closeup of a clasp

One of the best things about the nano is its size. I knew that putting it in a case would increase the bulk of it. I found that the case adds over 1 centimer of thickness to the wafer-thin nano (from about 0.75cm to about 2.1cm). In my mind, the increased thickness (which feels like a lot less than the numbers suggest) is a fair compromise for the protection that it offers in return.

The case closure is magnetic. As I indicated earlier, it curls from the back and locks into position on the front of the case. When the case is closed, the iPod Dock connector is protected. Unfortunately, it means that you must open the case to connect the nano to your computer. The front-locking feature allows you to open the case while it is clipped on your belt. I found myself really liking this as I can control my nano without having to unclip it.

When you open the case, you have complete access to the clickwheel and complete view of the screen. The web site advertises that the case comes with a SD/MMC slot and a removable credit card module but I found neither on the case I have. I’m not sure why you would include such options in any event given that the nano could not use them. I suspect that this is likely an error on the site.

How well does it protect the nano? After some 10 days of using it, my nano shows no scratches (I still recommend that you consider a screen protector though). Although I have not pushed the screen protector system to see how far it will go to protect the nano’s screen, I can report that it does a good job in every day use. The aluminum definitely provides the leather with some needed rigidity and protects from those pressure point impacts that could damage the screen. Despite being exposed, the sides do not look to be scratched either.

If you make a lot of use of the hold switch, you should be aware that the switch is unfortunately accessible only when you open the case and flip the lid up.

Lastly, the leather shows no wear after a couple weeks of use.

Clasp closeup
Figure 5: Cutout and aluminum

Using the belt clip

Before I attached the belt clip, the hole on the back of the case was filled up with a small black screw. If you choose not to use the clip, the black screw does not protrude and lets you have a flush surface. It is yet another nice touch from Proporta.

To attach the included belt clip to the case, you simply have to remove the small back screw from the back of the case and replace it with the special screw that will attach it to the clip. Proporta Music provides a small instruction sheet that illustrates the two necessary steps.

The belt clip allows full 360-degree rotation of the case. You can, for example, rotate your nano while it is on your belt and see the screen (albeit a little bit of contortion will be required).

Of all the belt clips that I have used, I found this one the toughest and least smooth to clip in. It just seems more difficult to make sure that the case has clipped in securely. Often, I did not hear the satisfying ‘click’ of the clip locking into the holder. I also found that the clip was a lot tighter but this improved after a few days of use. All in all, it definitely works but it is not my favorite belt clip.

Other features

If you have a Dock for your nano, you will need to take the nano out of the case to seat the nano into the Dock.

What I liked

  • Excellent every day protection
  • Easy to use even when clipped in on belt
  • Optional belt clip

What I did not like

  • Tight belt clip
  • Hold switch inaccessible when case is closed

Summary

I was worried enough about not scratching or breaking the screen of my nano that I knew that I to protect it somehow. And unlike many people, I don’t usually put things in my shirt pockets. I’ve had great success using cases for my PDAs and a case for my nano seemed like a good idea. The Proporta aluminum-lined leather case fits the bill almost perfectly. Adding little bulk to your nano, it offers good protection for daily use and the optional belt clip gives you an additional option for carrying your nano around. My nano has hardly left its new case!

Rating

4 out of 5

Where can I get it?

You can purchase the Aluminum-lined leather case from Proporta for $34.95 USD.