I’m not normally one for hiding Apple’s gorgeous designs away inside cases, but my 11-inch MacBook Air is used almost exclusively when I’m out and about, so it does normally live in a TwelveSouth BookBook case to keep it safe on its travels. I adore that case, so persuading me to set it aside for an alternative would not be an easy task.

But I was very taken with the leather iPhone and iPad cases I recently reviewed from NY-based Burkley, so I decided to give one of the company’s snap-on leather MacBook Air covers a try. It currently offers these for the MacBook Air only (both 11- and 13-inch) – though it does also have a non-snap-on variation for the 12-inch MacBook.

Burkley likes to mix up its leather offerings for each product, with the Antique Camel Leather I liked last time not available for the MacBook, so I tried the Special Burned Tan Leather. This is a fairly standard tan color in the center, with darker burned-in edges …

The case itself is a hardshell plastic coated in leather. The two separate pieces snap into place around the base and lid.

Fitting it is straightforward, though you do have to work your way around with your thumb ensuring that each part of it has fully snapped into place. Once fitted, it is totally solid. Removal is a little fiddly, but not too difficult.

When using the MacBook, you simply see the thin black surround of the plastic shell. But from every other angle, all you really see is the leather.

There are cutouts on both sides for the ports. Oddly, on the left side, one of the two microphone sockets has a cut-out hole while the other is uncovered. Burkley tells me they originally wanted to leave both mics uncovered, but they needed a longer side piece to ensure a solid fit.

On the other side, the low-profile USB key I leave permanently plugged-in for mobile backups sits quite happily in place.

The case adds very little bulk to the MacBook. At the front, there are tabs that hold the case in place, and these can be seen as slight protrusions and cutouts, but the visual impact is minimal.

The rear is open, likely to avoid the risk of overheating, though the overlapping edge of the case does still offer some degree of protection.

The bottom of the case also has some cutouts for cooling.

And to complete the picture, the top view.

The leather has a luxurious feel, and that lovely leather smell. It looks and feels like a premium product well suited to a MacBook.

I learned one lesson about leather at a young age, when I laid out rather a lot of cash on a matching leather luggage set. The main bag got used a lot more than the secondary bags, and the color darkened a lot faster than it did on the ones that spent most of their life in the closet. That matched set didn’t stay matched for long.

I’ve seen the same thing with Burkley’s iPhone case. As someone who works from a home office, my phone spends most of the day out on my desk rather than tucked inside a pocket. The antique camel leather has darkened very quickly indeed in the month I’ve owned it. Here it is when about a week old:

And here it is now, pictured with the MacBook case and a brand new passport wallet from Burkley’s wallet range. Both are the same leather, but are now very different colors.

So despite the wide range of leathers the company offers, I wouldn’t spend too much time sweating the detail of the exact shade you want – because it’s going to change. But part of the beauty of leather to me is that it continues to look great as it ages – wrinkles, scratches, color changes and all.

One of the reasons I do use a case for the MacBook Air is that it spends a lot of time in my bike bag. London’s streets are not the smoothest of surfaces, so I’d worry about the MacBook moving around inside the bag and getting scratched as I cycle around the place. The final test, then, was to see whether the Burkley case itself got scuffed when cycling.

The answer is yes. In these before-and-after photos, you can see several scuffs from its first cycling journey (ignore the color difference and deeper shadow on the logo – that’s simply because the after photo was taken in early morning sunlight).

So again, the moral here is not to expect the look to remain unchanged with time and usage. The MacBook Air itself remained pristine beneath the case.

Here, by way of comparison, is my BookBook case after three years of use:

I would say the pristine nature of the Burkley case when brand new makes the comparison look more dramatic, but the end result is going to be the same: leather shows battle-scars.

Pricing and conclusions

Ok, you may want to ensure you’re sitting down for this part, because there’s no getting away from the fact that the Burkley case is very expensive. The 11-inch model costs $176.80, while the 13-inch one is even pricier at $208.80. That’s a lot of money for a case. Depending on the exact model of MacBook Air you own, that could be 20% of the price of the machine itself. (Burkley does also offer a much cheaper slip-on cover for $90, but I wasn’t taken with the much more obtrusive look of that, especially the retaining straps at the top.)

The question, then, is whether it can possibly justify that kind of pricing – and the answer to that will always be very personal.

If you simply want to protect your machine from damage, you can buy low-cost cases that do the same job from as little as thirteen bucks. If you want something beautiful as well as protective, the BookBook option is a very obvious answer. Quality-wise, I would say there’s nothing to choose between that and the Burkley.

But the Burkley case offers two advantages. First, it’s fit-and-forget. You don’t have to slip the machine into the case, it can simply live in it full-time. Second, it provides a much slimmer package. It really takes up very little more room in a bag than the bare MacBook.

Only you can decide whether those benefits justify the price-tag, but for me, I’ve made the switch. Sorry, trusty BookBook case: we’ve travelled many miles together, but the Burkley case is my MacBook Air’s new home.