One of the nicest parts of this so-called “Job” are the products I get to use and review that are not the stuff you find at your everyday Best Buy. One of the missions of a site like Mobilitysite, I feel, is to help smaller vendors reach their target audience with what they have to offer, just as we strive to connect our readers with products and information that they may not find elsewhere, or at least report the same stuff as everybody else in our own way.
A prime example of a vendor that most people would overlook when looking for an iPad case is Aligata. They are a small company in Eastern Europe, producing leather book style cases for only one device, the iPad. However, what they are producing are on a completely different level then the book style cases you will find in a mall-bound electronics store. Each case is handmade, each one is unique. I recently had the privilege of being challenged by Tom from Aligata to review one of his cases, and I took him up on it. I have been using Aligata’s Black Espresso case for about a week now on my iPad.
Do I regret taking up the challenge? Read on.
The first advantage of working with a small, artisan vendor like Aligata was apparent as I opened up the FedEx envelope (which arrived on the exact day Aligata had said it would)…the attention to details. Inside the FedEx packaging was a second envelope holding the case, then INSIDE that envelope, the Black Espresso case itself was in a soft linen bag. It was clear this was not only to protect the leather but also to present the case properly. That is the kind of thing you expect from a craftsman more than a “vendor”. That is not to say anything against cases made by large companies. Many are of exceptionally high quality, I have reviewed them and know. However, the feel is different when working with a good mid-sized company like Waterfield, Tom Bihn or Proporta which give a lot of personal attention, or the small shops like Saddleback or Aligata, where it is clear they view what they sell not as products, but as practical art. It was clear as I slipped the case out of the linen bag, that Aligata viewed this case as art they were passing on to me. That is a marvelous feeling.
The case itself was actually of higher quality than I was expected. Aligata tends to stress how raw and somewhat unfinished their cases are in their publicity material, but I didn’t find this to be true. Maybe they have to deal with people who are only used to mass produced cases, and so have to warn them that they do not produce “cookie cutter perfect” items. As someone who is used to dealing with and enjoys hand made leather (in many different forms), I found the Black Espresso case to be very polished and well made. The leather is smooth and beautiful, cut and matched very professionally, and the stitching is strong and even.
In the picture to the left you can clearly see the pure grain of the leather. Leather of this quality doesn’t get old, it ages and matures, only getting better as long as you care for it properly. This is another case for the ages, at least based on the materials…but what about the design?
Aligata takes a different design approach than your average case vendors. Most book style case vendors go for protection based on how snugly and securely the case fits the device, limiting it’s motion…and by and large this works just fine. Aligata however goes the opposite way, and designs their cases to fit the iPad loosely, allowing for natural motion to act as a cushion. Since the device can move slightly away from the impact, it lets the leather more effectively absorb the shock. This would seem to make sense, but I am not eager to try it out.
Therefore, the iPad fits a bit loosely in the sturdy leather frame. At first that made me a bit nervous, but after I got used to it, this stopped bothering me. In fact I have come to like it, as it accentuates the handmade nature of the case.
An Aligata case doesn’t fit the device down to the last micron, the same way that your clothing doesn’t fit your body that way (well, assuming you stay away from the spandex)…however it fits the iPad more than well enough. All the required ports are accessible, it just may take a little effort to find the power button for example since the case is not skin tight on the iPad and the device may move around a bit. Again, once I got used to that, it stopped bothering me.
Another great advantage of a vendor like Aligata is how responsive they are to customers. Apparently some of the early cases had trouble with the device sliding out the side, and the frame covered the sensor that checks the light level in the room (for automatic brightness control).
Therefore, Aligata revised their designs based on feedback. They added a hole on the frame to let the light sensor operate, and also but a small plastic circle on the inside of the case, fitting just under the Apple logo on the iPad’s back. It is subtle, and low tech, and can’t harm the device or mar the lines of the case, but it does provide just enough friction and pressure to keep the case from moving in and out of the frame quite so easily to help avoid accidents
In fact, Aligata is careful to remind people who by the case that there are no closure devices on the case (as well as to explain why), and the inner edge of the frame is kept open to allow the iPad to be easily slipped in and out. That also means it can unfortunately slide out accidentally. Of course, all that is really required to prevent that to be careful with the device and to stay aware of it. However, many people assume that once they put a valuable and delicate piece of technology into a case, they don’t need to take care when using or moving it.
Of course, that is nonsense, but it is also true that the Aligata case requires a little more care than most. That is especially true if you should fold the cover back when you hold the device (as I tend to do), since that will expose the open edge of the frame. Because the case is loose fitting, and there are no snaps or closures holding it closed you simply need to be conscious of not letting the iPad slip out. If you are the kind who will not be able to do that, or would prefer not to, then this is not a case for you.
At the end of the day, the Aligata case is definitely one of the finest I have reviewed. The leather is very high quality, the craftsmanship is superb and the design is intelligent and carefully thought out. While I may not agree with ALL the choices, the fact that each was carefully weighed and considered makes all the difference and you can feel it. That is the difference between a mass produced case and a hand made item. With an Aligata case you can feel the love and care put into it’s creation, from perfecting the design to selecting the leather to constructing each individual case. No machine can infuse that sort of soul into leather….that requires art. I have had the privilege to work with very few companies that can do that…Aligata is one of them.
I strongly recommend Aligata cases and would love to see them expand their range beyond the iPad. If you are looking for a beautiful, functional book style case that will only get better as it ages and is a little bit different, then the Aligata Black Espresso is it.
You can order Aligata cases HERE for $69.96 ($59.95 if you hurry and get your order in before July 1st, so don’t dawdle..and tell them Mobilitysite sent you).