So here's a common dilemma. You've dropped a cool chunk of change on an iPhone or an iPad and you want to protect it from life's bumps and thumps, but you don't like the conventional case options.
Perhaps you want something a little more premium-feeling than the traditional plastic. Perhaps it bothers you that Apple's cases have narrow cutouts that won't work with your favorite headphones. Perhaps you'd like something that protects the screen of your iPhone in your pocket, but most cases only wrap around the sides and back. Perhaps you find all cases a problem, because you also like to use accessories that rely on a naked device, such as docks, car mounts or the Olloclip. Most cases that grip the device snugly enough to be secure also end up being tricky to remove the device from, so simply pulling it in and out of the case isn't ideal.
What if there was an answer to all this, a case that offered good protection, a premium feel, and yet could let you remove your device instantly for those times when you need it to be naked? Nodus, a company founded by two British designers, have an answer for your consideration: the Nodus Access case, which is soon-to-be-funded on KickStarter.
A tour of the Access Case
Let's do the boring conventional stuff first. Like most of these sort of "wallet-folio" style cases, the Access is made out of a single piece of leather that wraps around the front and back of your phone or tablet, providing front-and-back protection. When you want to use the device, you open the wallet up, and either leave the flap to the one side, fold it right around the back, or (in the case of the iPad version) fold it into a stand.
Then there's the unique bit: the attach mechanism by which the Access Case holds your device. Most of these sorts of cases use a hard shell glued into the leather that clips around your phone, which sometimes are tricky to remove the phone or tablet. The Access Tablet swaps this for a sheet of micro-suction material. To the touch, this feels only slightly tacky; but the surface is actually made up of tiny suction cups. Offer up a flat surface such as the aluminum backing of an iPad or iPhone and the suckers grab on with astonishing force. When you want to take the device off again, just grab the device in one hand, the case in the other, and pull - surprisingly hard.
I remember Marco Arment writing about an iPhone dock that used this tech to great affect, but until I handled it for myself I hadn't really realized how well it works. The Nodus video has a quite dramatic demonstration of swinging the iPhone around held on only by the suction pad, and I was initially skeptical but the first time I tried it (and realized how much force it takes to remove the iPhone again) I realized it isn't showmanship: it really does hold your phone perfectly securely.
Nodus assure me that the suction pad doesn't wear out and should last indefinitely. It can lose stickiness if it becomes gummed up with fluff or dirt, but a simple wipe with a damp cloth or a dab of a piece of sticky tape to remove lint brings it back.
One thing to be aware of: the case provides no protection for three of the edges of your phone. It's not something you'd want to throw into a pocket alongside keys and change that could scuff your iPhone's bezel.
Evaluating the case
Disclaimer: my opinions below are based on a pre-production sample of the Access Case for iPhone 5 that Nodus's Alex Jack was kind enough to loan me. Obviously, the design may change between this prototype and the final product. Also, as you can see in the pictures above, my case has been in my pockets for a couple of weeks and has picked up a little pocket lint; I deliberately left that in place to show how the case looks after some use.
The good: The Access Case is made out of very high quality materials; Nodus says it is using "the best Italian leathers" and I can believe it. Stitching is flawless and the velvety microfiber inner coating is just as pleasant to the touch as the buttery leather. Alex told me that on my prototype the micro-suction pads were cut by hand rather than with a production laser cutter, but I've examined it minutely and I honestly cannot tell: the workmanship is very precise. My prototype was in black leather with a shiny finish; I also like the look of the more weathered-looking brown leather shown on the Kickstarter page. Alex tells me this is probably, although not definitely, the leather Nodus will use if it meets the first stretch goal and unlocks the black color.
I also liked how you can use it for impromptu headphone storage by winding the cord around the leather hinge and leaving the actual headphones dangling out of the end. Note, however, that although this works fine with Apple's newer EarPods it doesn't with the older style headphones -- the cable on the latter is slightly too short to wrap neatly.
Most of all, I was impressed by how, well, stylishly grown up the Access Case feels. It's been mentioned by the Men's Style section of FHM Magazine and I can see why. Everyone I've shown the case to has been very impressed by it.
I didn't get to go hands on with the iPad version of the Access Case but I can imagine it's very useful. It offers sleep/wake magnets in the front cover and can support the iPad at three different angles, from a shallow rake good for typing to an upright position for watching video. It can also work with the iPad in portrait or landscape orientations; you just detach it from the micro-suction pad, rotate it, and re-attach it.
The bad: Although I really liked the case overall, there are some small things you should be aware of if you're thinking of backing the Kickstarter. I initially found the case very reluctant to stay shut, because there was a lot of "spring" in the still-new sheet of leather where it was folded around the phone. This wore off after a couple of days. However, I then found the small suction pad that sticks to the front of the iPhone had lost a bit of stickiness. I think it picks up finger grease from the front of the phone and thus gets dirty, whereas the rear suction pad doesn't. A quick wipe with a damp cloth was enough to restore it though.
The small pocket on the front of the iPhone case is large enough to store a single bank card or a few folded banknotes, but probably not much else; I found it bulged a bit with two cards and stopped the closing suction pad from making good contact. You won't be able to replace your wallet unless you're extremely minimalist in what you carry.
When placing the iPhone into the case, I initially found it quite difficult to get the cut-out in the back lined up with the camera lens and flash. Alex tells me they are looking at tweaking this however and may make the cut-out larger in the final version so pinpoint accuracy is less important when placing the phone into the case. In any event, I quickly adapted and can now do it without trouble (you just need to get your eye in for exactly where to put the phone down onto the micro-suction pad).
One final caveat: the Access Case does make your iPhone a little tricky to use one-handed, especially with the left hand, or to do two-thumb typing where you hold the base of the phone. Initially I found both of these almost impossible. I would fold the front flap around behind the phone but it wouldn't sit flat; then while using the phone it would bounce around uncontrollably. Again, this was exacerbated by the newness of the case and the corresponding springiness of the leather where it folds around. That's become a lot better with use but I still occasionally find myself taking the phone out of the case for prolonged one-handed use (mostly when I'm in the supermarket using OurGroceries).
The Nodus Access Case is something genuinely new, which is pretty rare in the iOS device case game. Its use of micro-suction pads are a genuinely useful innovation over traditional means of attaching a case to your iPhone or iPad. Nodus is certainly a firm to watch and I wish it every success with its Kickstarter campaign.
The Access Case is currently on Kickstarter, with 25 days to go until it closes. It's already met its primary funding goal and is making good progress on its stretch goals. An Access Case for iPhone or Samsung Galaxy 4 will cost you £39 (approx $64) from the Kickstarter -- that's a big discount for backers; the RRP after launch will be £70 (approx $115). The iPad mini version is £69 ($113) and the full-size iPad case, which works with the 2/3/4 and Air, is £79 ($130).