Skip to Content
Skip to Table of Contents

← Previous Article Next Article →

ATPM 17.06
June 2011




Download ATPM 17.06

Choose a format:

Accessory Review

by Frank H. Wu,



Function: MacBook Air case that looks like a giant Moleskine notebook.

Developer: Pad & Quill

Price: $90 (11-inch); $100 (13-inch); introductory prices currently offer $10 off.

Requirements: MacBook Air

Trial: None

This is one of those ideas that seems like a gimmick at first glance, but turns out to work fine in practice. The most famous laptop case of this type is the interoffice envelope that Apple CEO Steve Jobs used to introduce the Macbook Air three years ago. This alternative is meant to resemble a giant Moleskine notebook.



You know that iconic product, with hard black covers, an elastic strap to hold it shut, and an interior pocket. Thanks to clever marketing evoking Hemingway that appeals to artists and geeks alike, it sells at a premium compared to other perfectly serviceable alternatives. The Pad & Quill company, a family business based on the Twin Cities, makes their homage by hand, using the same techniques, they tell us, as bookbinders. The manufacturers “love God, our kids, entrepreneurship, and our dog…in that order.” They have been so successful over just the past few months that they have started to offer similar carrying cases for the iPad and iPhone, with various color combinations. It is easy to see why they have done well.



The Cartella has a Baltic Birch frame. It is made to very close tolerances, which is most impressive. A MacBook Air fits perfectly. A finicky user is able to make fine adjustments, thanks to enclosed thin rubber strips. It’s possible to use the computer while it is still stored in the case. The frame has cutouts that allow the ports to be accessed and a MagSafe power adapter to be plugged in.


MacBook Air inside, showing ports.

The red interior has a pocket, of course.


Interior Pocket

The exterior is bonded leather, not full-grain leather. Bonded leather is to full-grain leather as engineered wood is to boards. That is, it’s leather material that’s been blended together with other substances to create an altogether new textile.

The cover does not close all that snugly. Thus the elastic strap is needed; it is not an affectation.


MacBook Air Inside

As carrying cases go, this is a wonderful conversation piece. It does what it should. The only concerns it raises are the lack of padding and wear and tear. The very same aesthetic qualities that make it desirable also make it less than ideal for protecting the machine inside or holding up over time. This isn’t the same as a case with an interior suspension or an inch of foam padding all around the sides, though that might not be so important since it seems computers are sturdier than ever, and the MacBook Air especially so given its standard SSD drive. The makers are honest, indicating that their product “will wear like an old book if it is treated…with common sense care.”


With MacBook Air inside—note slight bowing of front cover.

Architects Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown once wrote a famous manifesto about design. They distinguished between the duck and the decorated shed. The duck is a building that uses its form to symbolize its function; the decorated shed is a building that has a form with symbolism attached to it to signal its function—with different symbols, it could be transformed from a chapel to a utility shed.

This laptop case is a duck. Most laptop cases are ducks. They are simple structures. But this duck is different from most ducks.

It’s different because it’s meant to evoke another duck, the Moleskine notebook. It isn’t like other retro technological designs that dress up the latest device as if it were something much older (the CD player as a Depression-era radio the family would gather around for President FDR’s “fireside chats”), because it is not pretending to be something else. It’s a work of art, or at least craft, a little joke (the expensive white porcelain mug made to look like a disposable styrofoam cup).

People who will like this already know they like it. People who don’t will shrug at its appeal. So the purpose of this review is to assure those in the former category that the idea has been executed with great care, and they should purchase with confidence.

Reader Comments (0)

Add A Comment

 E-mail me new comments on this article