BookBook for iPhone 5 -  $59.95

If you're an iPhone owner looking to reduce the number of items you leave the house with, Apple-only accessory maker Twelve South has updated their retro style "hardback" case/wallet combo for the iPhone 5. The BookBook mimics an old school tome, with a distressed leather exterior and vintage library volume spine and is available in black or brown. Inside you'll find three wallet-style slots for credit cards, a clear plastic sleeve for your ID and a money compartment that accommodates folded currency. The BookBook is not the only mini-book style option on the market, but at $59.95, it's easily among the most expensive.

Building on their previous iPhone 4-compatible version, this new iteration features a cutout for the iPhone's camera lens. Another design change exclusive to iPhone 5 owners is a hard plastic (versus leather) cradle to hold the phone securely in place. The case appears well made.

 The vintage book design is emphasized by distressed leather imperfections.
New to the BookBook line is a rear cutout for the camera lens.

You don't have to be an antiquarian to appreciate the hipster-cool irony of an analog cover for your digital lifestyle. And the idea of downsizing to a single wallet/phone solution has obvious appeal. Does the BookBook live up to its promise?

The first thing to be aware of is that the BookBook is not so much a replacement for your wallet as it is a much smaller-capacity alternative for jaunts about town. It holds a maximum of three credit cards plus ID. There's a money compartment as well, but stuffing more than a couple of folded bills in it makes the whole package rather unwieldy.

An obvious downside to any iPhone wallet is, of course that you risk losing your phone, cash and ID all in one go. Yet Twelve South actually touts this as an advantage, since with Apple's free Find my iPhone app enabled, you could track their location. Fair enough, but it only takes a few moments of BookBook use in normal everyday environments to realize another crucial limitation of the concept.

The phone is held in place with a hard plastic cradle designed to provide access to the headphone and charging ports ...
... as well as the volume butons, ring/silent switch and the sleep button (just visible at the far left).

When was the last time you sat in a coffee bar with your wallet splayed open on the table? Well, that's exactly what you'll be doing everytime you set the BookBook down, as it lacks a clasp or strap to hold it closed. And while I think nothing of leaving my iPhone charging on my desk unattended at the office, I'd obviously never do that with my ID and credit cards housed in the same case.

What initially piqued my interest in this latest BookBook is the rear cutout which allows you take photographs without removing your iPhone from the case. I find that the book design makes it awkward to maintain a steady grip when shooting in portrait orientation, however.

The case actually provides a greater and very comfortable surface area for holding the iPhone steady in landscape orientation.
Unfortunately, the book design makes shooting in portrait orientation much more awkward.

Perhaps the most disappointing discovery though, was that audio quality suffered using the iPhone's built-in mic. With an otherwise good connection and no background or ambient noise, call recipients all complained of a muffled sound on my end. The situation was worst when holding the BookBook folded over for one-handed operation (see below) and improved slightly when the BookBook was held with the "book ends" open (which you'd likely never do in real life). Both manipulations, however, were significantly poorer than the results with the iPhone removed from the case.

 The added bulk of the case makes one-handed operation of the iPhone OS essentially impossible, even for those with larger hands.

There's much to like about the idea of a wallet/phone case combo, and the BookBook is a stylish, well-made product that offers reasonable protection from daily dings and drops. In actual use, however, there are a lot of compromises to be made. And at such a high price, we're not very inclined to make them.

What we like: This stylish case offers good protection and can accommodate enough essentials alongside your iPhone for many daily activities. It's a great conversation starter among the style conscious and actually provides a useful hand-holding platform when shooting in landscape orientation.

What we don't like: We experienced muffled audio quality during phone calls. And using the BookBook as intended means flashing your ID, cash and credit cards to the world everytime you use your iPhone. The book-style design makes for an awkward grip when shooting in portrait orientation.