By Andrew Liszewski
Having an unhealthy addiction to gadgets and gizmos requires you to try and stay on the bleeding edge of technology as much as possible. One of the areas I follow with particular interest is mobile phones but unfortunately living in North America means that getting my hands on truly cutting-edge handsets requires me to import them.
Fortunately that part of the equation is easy these days with plenty of online retailers selling unlocked phones from overseas. No, the hard part to owning a phone that technically doesn't exist under any carrier on your continent is the lack of accessories for it. I've been enjoying my latest phone, the Nokia E61 for a few months now (you can see my first look at the phone here) and during that time I've pretty much had to live without a proper case. Sure the iPaq sleeve I've been using works well enough but I prefer to have something designed for this specific phone.
Well one of the first cases made available for the E61 and definitely one of the nicest is from Vaja. If you've been living your life under a technology-free rock and only started reading tech blogs today then you'll be unaware that Vaja has been making high-quality, hand-made leather cases for phones, MP3 players, PDAs and even laptops for as long as I can remember.
Now for those who don't feel like a lot of reading Vaja has managed to create a case that thoroughly protects the E61 but at the same time adds hardly any weight or bulk to it. The high-quality leather and precision stitching used by Vaja results in a case that looks extremely professional and gives the impression it's not about to fall apart with daily use. Of course some might feel the $60 price tag is a bit much for a case but with Vaja you really get what you pay for.
For an in-depth look at the Vaja E61 case (Note: Requires more reading) please check out my full review with additional pics after the jump...
The first impression you get of Vaja the company comes when you tear open the FedEx box and pull out the packaging the case and accessories come in. I know it's weird to start here but like they say you only get one chance to make a first impression and Vaja clearly takes this to heart. And I will admit I'm one of those persons who is inexplicably fascinated by those unboxing galleries that have become quite popular with the kids these days, so I figure I should contribute.
The packaging has a nice clean design with small versions of the Vaja logo in orange on each side of the box. There is also a cool looking striped pattern made of the Vaja logo on each side which is printed with a glossy finish so that it's subtle but stands out in direct light.
The smaller of the two boxes contains the 'Rivet' belt clip which attaches to the metal stud on the back of the case plus additional hardware and screws for permanently attaching this clip to your belt. I'm really not sure why anyone would need to do this but the option is there.
The larger box contains the leather E61 case itself, a note from Vaja assuring you of the quality of craftsmanship and design put into the product and in my case, a collection of high-gloss post cards featuring some really nice product shots of other Vaja cases. I will say the marketing team employed by Vaja really knows how to make their products look sexy. Just take a look at their website and you'll see what I mean.
Vaja Nokia E61 Leather Case
When ordering the Vaja E61 case you have the option of 16 different colors of leather and the color I received is referred to as 'Black Aniline' which as far as I can tell means 'shiny black' from the looks of it.
Vaja is well known for the fact that all of their cases are hand-made and looking over the one they sent me they definitely have some skilled craftsmen working for them. Every stitch and seam is extremely tight with no little strings sticking out here and there like a lot of cheaper leather cases tend to have. And any openings that have been cut into the leather to allow access to buttons or ports also seem quite clean and nicely finished on the edges.
In this photo you can kind of see the area above the keyboard is not covered in any way which is good since the E61's keyboard would probably be impossible to use with any type of material on top of it. Over the screen area you'll find a nice thick piece of clear, flexible plastic that will easily absorb any nicks, dings or scratches without transferring them to the screen underneath. Be aware though that since it's made of flexible plastic it does produce an occasional lens or warped effect when looking at the screen.
Now besides the good looks the other thing that strikes you when you first open the Vaja packaging is the smell of the leather. It's odd but this case actually smells like a high-quality product and really, how many other non-edible things can you say that about? If you're a fan of the smell of high-quality leather then anything from Vaja will no doubt please you. Then again if you're not exactly thrilled with the idea of sacrificing a cow towards the cause of protecting your electronics you might want to avoid this one. I of course have no soul and so am quite happy with the case.
In this unfortunately over-exposed shot (I got lazy, didn't shoot RAW and so have no means to fix the exposure, sorry) you can see the back of the inside of the case which is stamped with a striped pattern of the Vaja logo like the outside of the packaging has. It looks really nice but of course if you're not particularly fond of it that's no problem since with the phone inserted you'll never see this.
The other areas inside the case are lined with a smooth fabric obviously designed to ensure your phone doesn't receive any scratches while in here. When ordering the case on the Vaja site you're also given the option to add a matching leather liner to the inside instead, but this material works well enough and in fact will never be seen once the phone is inserted anyways.
So besides all the looking nice and being well made aspects the Vaja E61 case is also quite functional. It covers and protects as much as the phone as possible while leaving access to all the buttons and ports which basically means there's really no reason you should ever have to remove the phone from the case.
The attention to detail put into this case is particularly obvious where it covers the phone's speakers. The holes that were cut so sound can actually be heard are covered with a very fine metal mesh that helps keep these areas free of dirt and other particles. They look pretty good too.
The bottom of the case has a very large opening which exposes the phone's microphone, IR port, charging port and of course the Nokia POP port allowing you to easily attach your USB cable, charger and headphone or headset adapters while the phone is in the case. Unfortunately since I don't have the optional charging/sync cradle for the E61 I was unable to test docking the phone with the Vaja case on. To be honest I have enough chargers and cables on my desk already without adding a large cradle to the mess.
On the back of the case you'll find two metal snaps used to hold the top flap closed once the phone has been inserted. While these inevitably add a tiny bit of thickness to the case it's not a big issue. The other thing you'll find on the back is the metal stud that is used to attach the case to the metal 'Rivet' belt clip. This stud is secured to the back of the phone via a larger metal plate that actually sits underneath the leather. (You can kind of see the slight circular rise on the leather around the base of the stud in the above photos.) Basically it means this stud is not going to accidentally come off unless you're willing to destroy the case to get it off.
The 'Rivet' attachment shown here is designed to attach to your belt or wherever you want to clip it and allows the E61 to be easily secured or removed at the push of a button. I'll admit it does work really well but personally I find it causes the phone to hang too far off my body due to the thickness of the 'Rivet' itself and the mechanism it uses. However I find this is the case for all quick-release clip systems, and not just the one Vaja includes. If you've used these in the past and have no issue with them then this one will work just as well for you.
On the bottom of the back of the case you'll also see the Vaja logo which looks to me ike it's been laser-etched or somehow cut out of the leather as opposed to just being stamped on there. It's nice and clean though and with the phone inserted it's the only visible logo anywhere on the case.
Here you can see the E61 securely inside the Vaja case and trust me, I mean securely. This actually brings me to the only real issue I have with the Vaja E61 case which is that it fits the phone very, very snugly. In fact when I was first putting the phone in the case I thought perhaps I had received a pre-release version that was slightly too small for the E61 because it took a lot of effort to get the phone in there. However after a bit of very cautious extra force I managed to eventually get the phone all the way in to the point where the top flap would finally close and snap shut.
I've since had the phone in and out of the case a few times and have even found I need to keep it powered off when sliding it in since the snug fit usually results in a lot of the buttons getting pressed in the process. I can only assume the leather will eventually stretch and given how often I really need to remove the phone from the case it's not a show-stopper by any means. But just be aware if you're considering this Vaja case it might seem like a bit of a struggle getting the phone in.
Like I mentioned earlier the case exposes all of the important buttons, ports and LED indicators needed to use the phone. Here's a side shot of the volume controls and the voice-recorder shortcut easily accessible with the case on. Though when I think about it other E61 users will probably agree with me that having that voice-recorder button INaccessible wouldn't be a bad thing as it's kind of a pain the way it functions.
Finally here's a shot of the bottom of the E61 while in the Vaja case showing the various ports including the infra-red which are fully exposed and easily accessible.
With the Nokia E62 now officially being carried in both the United States and Canada it will hopefully mean a wider selection of cases and accessories will soon be available for it and the E61. However I'm pretty sure Vaja's E61 case will remain at the top of a lot of people's wish lists even as more cases become available. Vaja is another one of those companies who believes that a high-quality product and word of mouth are the best way to make themselves known and from what I can tell that strategy is working well for them.
Most people with a healthy interest in gadgets and gizmos will recommend Vaja as one of the first places to look when you're serious about protecting your toys. Because the cases don't come off of an assembly line they can be customized with a wide assortment of different colored leathers, styles of belt clips (or no clip at all) and they'll even go as far as to custom stitch a name or logo onto the case for you corporate types.
If you've been looking for a case for your E61 but have been sitting on the fence about the Vaja because of the price I'd say go for it, you won't be disappointed. If you've just started looking for a case and leather is your thing I'd definitely have to recommend this one.
+ Hand-made construction means perfect stitching and finish.
+ High-quality leather that smells great!
+ Wide selection of colors and options to customize the case to your specific needs.
+ Easy access to every button and port.
+ Lightweight and adds minimal size and bulk to the phone.
+ Plastic screen cover means another level of screen protection which can never hurt.
- The precision design and construction of this case results in an incredibly snug fit which can make the phone difficult to insert.
- Some may consider $60 for a case too expensive, but you get what you pay for.
Vaja Nokia E61 Leather Case - Starting at $60
If you have any further questions or concerns about this Vaja case you?d like answered please feel free to leave them in the comments section and I will try to respond to them as best I can.