I’ve tried and owned many different kinds of cases since I started using smartphones, and so many for my various iPhones and iPod Touches that I have a drawer half filled with backups,castoffs, and leftovers (Yes, I have a gadget hoarding problem, but that’s a discussion for another day). I’ve used battery cases, flip cases, silicone cases, hard cases, protective skins, and even wooden skins from Carved. Sometimes it feels like I’ve tried them all, but with an accessory ecosystem as large as Apple’s, there ALWAYS something new to look or different to look at.
Such is the case with the Vaja Nuova Pelle, which loosely translates to “new skin,” according to the PR folks at Vaja. It’s the thinnest leather case I’ve ever tried, or even seen, for that matter. It is also the first side opening case that I’ve used since I carried my old-school Cassiopeia E-100 Palm/Sized PC and some accessories in a large zippered case. While it required a little adjustment on my part, I can say that my experience with the Nuova Pelle has been very positive, but we’ll get to that in a moment.
If you’ve never heard of Vaja, they are a subsidiary of well-known accessory manufacturer Case Mate, and a maker of fine leather cases and coverings based in Argentina. This company has been around since 1998, which I remember from my gadget past. I actually owned a Vaja case for one of my old Windows Pocket PCs 13 years ago. After using one of their custom cases then, and the Nuova Pelle now, I can tell you that my opinion of the company hasn’t changed- they are one of the best case brands I am aware of. Vaja and Piel Frama make cases with a very different feel and character, but are the two companies that stand out in my mind as the two best when it comes to top of the line leather cases. Let’s just say that third place isn’t even in sight in this race. These companies cases are THAT good.
All that said, it should be obvious that we’re not talking about the mass produced, leather in name only, cases that you see at the big box electronics stores. While some of their models, such as the Nuova Pelle that I reviewed are available as in stock items, Vaja specializes in hand-made, customized products that have a one of a kind feel. These are premium quality, artisan level products, and they do generally come with the price tags to match.
However, while their high-end custom options are what they are known for, Vaja is working to bring their high level of craftsmanship to a wider audience, as well, and the Nuova Pelle is part of that effort. At $80 for their currently in stock color options, this case gives iOS users access to a handcrafted, high-end leather case at a more attainable price.
If you like simplicity, then you will like the Nuova Pelle, because you can’t get a much more focused case than this. There are no pockets, straps, snaps, or clips. The Nuova Pelle is the side flip case boiled down to its barest essence. As you can see below, the case is made from a single thin piece of what Vaja refers to as Bridge Leather.
When you consider that one of the most attractive features of the iPhone 5 is its thin profile and smooth edges, the Nuova Pelle’s svelte and simple design is a great fit in every respect.
According to Vaja’s website, the Bridge Leather used to make the Nuova Pelle is created from a natural, vegetable tanning method. It leaves the surface with a durable, more rustic appearance that is supposed to age well and gain character over time.
Utilizing one of the oldest, most natural tanning processes, our exceptional vegetable-tanned Bridge Leather strikes a stunning balance between strength and beauty. Both durable and forgiving, this leather only gets better with use as each hide’s distinct patina warms up considerably over time, showcasing individual tones and particular markings. The vegetable-tanning process further enhances the leather’s unique rustic characteristics, offering you lasting protection that ages with beauty and grace, much like a fine wine, or your favorite leather jacket
On Vaja’s Nuova Pelle product page, there is also a statement indicating that it may take a little time to “break in” the case’s leather.
Bridge Leather requires an initial break-in period and only gets better with use, as its unique patina warms up considerably over time.
I can attest that, the exterior of the Nuova Pelle is slightly rough fresh out of the box. However, after a few days use, I have noticed that the leather “hinge” between the front and back has already smoothed out a good bit from the movement of opening and closing the front, and bending it back while holding the iPhone for extended periods. The front and back are also a little smoother than they were initially. I would expect this process to take affect over the whole surface over time, so it will probably feel much different after extended use.
Bear in mind that the Nuova Pelle isn’t rough like sandpaper, by any means. It just feels rougher initially than a leather product that is more “produced”, such as the STM marquee case for the iPad Mini that I reviewed a few weeks ago. The marquee is very nice in its own right, and also a solid value, but not quite the caliber of hand-crafted leather that you get from Vaja. I can’t say that I’m a leather expert, but it seems to me after handling both, that the Nuova Pelle will probably absorb more of the scratches and abrasions that come over time, while the marquee’s softer finish will probably show more of those.
In the visual department, the Nuova Pelle is very simple and elegant. The exterior leather has a pattern that is pleasing to the eye, an embedded metal Vaja logo that is understated and tasteful, and hand stitching that is flawlessly done.
The Vaja name is also embossed on the back of the case, near the bottom. As you can see below, it is also very understated, and doesn’t distract from the look of the leather.
The interior of the case is a lot busier than the exterior, but the diagonal logo pattern is even and interesting looking, if a little out of character with the rest of the case.
As you can see, there is a lot of branding here with all of the Vaja logos. While this is fine visually, there is one small issue. The diagonal logo pattern tends to leave diagonal smudges on the iPhone 5′s screen, at least if there is no screen protector installed (I did not have one installed at the time of this review). These smudges wipe away with very little effort, so this isn’t as serious problem. However, I did feel that it was worth mentioning. It was really the only negative that I came across with the Nuova Pelle.
I also liked the fact that the color of the stitching closely complimented the color of the case. I often find stitches with contrasting colors to be a little distracting from the look of a case.
Speaking of color, the Nuova Pelle that I reviewed was the Forrest Night version, which I thought looked quite good. I typically go with either black or more “natural” colors, such as a basic tan or slightly darker brown when it comes to leather cases, but I do like this sort of darker, olive shade of green, and it looks very good next to my black iPhone 5.
If green isn’t your thing, Vaja currently has 7 other colors available for the in stock version of the Nuova Pelle, ranging from Black to dark Blue, to Red, and four shades of tan and brown. There are also two additional colors listed under the Nuova Pelle’s Customize purchase page. Be aware that these numbers may vary as Vaja’s stock fluctuates.
There are two more interesting elements of the Nuova Pelle that really help to bring the design together. First, the case uses a layer of adhesive on the inside of the back of the case to hold the iPhone 5 in place.
I wasn’t sure what to think of this when I first saw the Nuova Pelle, but it actually works quite well. There are other iPhone accessories out there, such as the aforementioned Carved wood skins, that employ reusable adhesives as their method of attachment, so I knew that it was possible for this method to work well.
After a week of constant use, I have attached and detached my iPhone 5 from the adhesive several times, and it still holds just as well as before, which is absolutely essential.
There are always going to be times when users need to remove their devices from its case. If you either can’t remove your phone, or can’t put it back in a case that costs $80, then that would pretty much render it a useless waste of money. Thankfully, this is not the case here.
After removal, re-installing the iPhone to the Nuova Pelle is also a snap. Just lay the case flat, sit your iPhone 5 face down on the front side of the case and make sure it is evenly covered….
and the close the case and press the adhesive back down so it will attach to the back.
The second innovative element of the Nuova Pelle is also something more common in iPad cases than those for the iPhone. It has a magnetic closure method that keeps the front cover securely attached to the screen.
And it is very secure. If I hold the front of the case 1/4″ from the phone, I can feel a slight tug of the magnet pulling downward, and as soon as I let go, it closes to the iPhone instantly.
Also, the magnetic closure is strong enough to keep the case closed to the iPhone while held upside down for an extended period.
In other words, Vaja’s unique closure method does exactly what it is supposed to, and ended up being my favorite part of the case. The only thing that leaves me a little flat with it has nothing to do with Vaja, but rather Apple. After getting so used to the magnetically triggered auto on and off capability of the iPad, and then using the Nuova Pelle, I really miss it on my iPhone now. I hope that Apple will add this to a future iPhone, at some point.
The combination of the adhesive back and the magnetic closure may seem like a small thing, but it is really these two elements that bring the entire design of the Nuova Pelle together. The reason? There is no possible way that the case could be this thin and still functional as a case without both of these features.
There are several things that add to the thickness of typical leather cases. First, designers have to come up with a way to hold the device, which usually ends up adding bulk. Then, you also have to have a closure method. This may involve a clasp, flap, or even magnets. However, when magnets are used in other cases, they are typically attaching to other magnets embedded into another part of the case.
The Nuova Pelle sidesteps all of these issues with smart and innovative design, and the end result is a leather case that isn’t just nice to look at and run your fingers over, but is also a pleasure to use. I’m a sucker for any product that is made from high quality materials and shows evidence of thought and care in its design. Vaja’s Nuova Pelle checks all the boxes in the design department.
What you think about the performance of the Vaja Nuova Pelle will probably depend a lot on the types of cases that you tend to prefer and use. If you carry your Phone 5 naked or just use protective skins, then the Nuova Pelle should be a great fit for you. It adds only 2.5mm of additional thickness and a negligible amount of weight, but adds more drop and screen protection than a simple skin can provide.
Another bonus that I can personally attest to is that the Nuova Pelle is compatible with rear device skins. I have one installed on my iPhone 5, and the Vaja case has not caused any damage to it as I have attached and removed my iPhone 5 from the case’s adhesive.
Now, if you tend to prefer a larger, more protective case for your iPhone 5, the Nuova Pelle may not be your cup of tea. While this case does offer a small amount of protection, it does not come anywhere close to what users of something like an Otterbox would expect. Vaja has other cases available for the iPhone 5, such as the Agenda, that offer much more coverage and protection, so one of them would probably be a better choice for such users.
Personally, I can go either way on this issue. I was using the new Mophie Juice Pack Helium before I tried out the Nuova Pelle, so I am well acquainted with using a larger, heavier case. However, I’ve also used Best Skins Ever skins alone, as well as Carved’s wood skins for lengthy periods of time, so it’s more about the quality of the product and the features it brings to the table for me, than size alone.
I will also mention that, if you aren’t use to a side flip case, it does take a little bit of adjustment. However, I’m completely used to it after a week of testing.
The only thing that feels a bit uncomfortable is using the rear-facing camera. Vaja included the obligatory cutout for the camera and flash on the back of the case.
However, since there is no matching cutout on the front of the case, you have to leave it open while taking pictures.
This isn’t a big deal, and again, doesn’t take long to get used to. I would rather have the entire screen covered and protected than to have another camera cutout in the front of the case to allow picture taking with the case folded back.
To be completely honest, the Nuova Pelle is a little on the light side compared to the cases that I normally use. I do typically prefer a bit more device surface coverage than it provides. However, the Nuova Pelle, combined with a full set of protective skins covering the screen, back and the metal sides of my iPhone 5, may just be enough for me. Whether it is or not in the long term, it has kept me away from my Mophie case and its extra battery life so far. That’s certainly worth something, because I was perfectly happy using that case prior to this review. No matter how long or often I use the Nuova Pelle, I can’t help but recognize the quality, craftsmanship, and design of this case. It’s beautiful to look at, and is a pleasure to put your hands on.
As for the value, I’ve always been a firm believer in the phrase, “You get what you pay for.” $80 may seem like a lot of money for such a lightweight case, and frankly, it is. However, as I outlined above, this case is thinner and has higher quality leather than any you will find on your local store shelf. It also has some unique design features, as well, with its reusable adhesive and magnetic closure. A mass-produced leather case of any quality will cost you $30-$50. For me, it’s worth the $30-$50 extra to have that higher quality.
Other users who are interested in the Nuova Pelle will have to answer this question for themselves. However, I think that those who don’t mind paying a little more for tangibly higher quality will probably come to the same conclusion as me. iPhone 5 owners who are looking for a thin and sleek leather case that truly compliments their iPhone 5 will find that the Vaja Nuova Pelle is definitely the best in its class.
The Vaja Nuova Pelle is available directly from Vaja for $80 for in stock colors.
The Vaja Nuova Pelle was provided by Vaja for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.