Friday, September 5, 2014

Obtainium Wallet Review

"Its great if..."

That could be the name of this wallet.  This is clearly a product borne out of superior design and great machining capabilities, but it has a list of caveats.  If you can get around these things then the Obtainium is probably the best wallet in the world for you, but a few of them might knock the Obtainium out of contention.

Here is the product page.  There a few different colors.  I got two review samples, one in black, and the other in the blue seen below which can only be described as a true royal blue.  The wallets all run around $200.  Here is a written review.  Here is a video review.  Here is the review sample:

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Twitter Review Summary:  Amazing if you can deal with its limitations.  

Design: 2

Until now hard side aluminum wallets were the exclusive territory of As Seen on TV and Wal-Mart junk.  They were thin, the interior pockets were plastic accordion-style sleeves, and the entire set up felt cheap and flimsy.  Nothing about the Obtainium feels (or is) cheap.  The hinge is made of a metal pin.  The body is two pieces of carved aluminum.  This is entirely different from the hardside aluminum wallets you are used to.

But there are some compromises.  First, as one of my product tester put it: "This ain't the wallet you use if you are high rollin'."  While the wallet can hold cash, it does so only to a certain extent and then it becomes unsightly.  It doesn't fold flat or close.  Second, because of the RFID blocking design, if you use a badge or a card to access areas, this wallet can be a frustration.  I need to tap a card every day to get into court, and so the Obtainium's security feature became an annoyance.  Finally, if you can't tolerate front pocket carry, this thing will give you a totally sore ass and crooked spine sitting in your back pocket.  Its too thick and hard to sit on comfortably.  I guess you could solve two of the three problems above by getting two Obtainiums, one for each butt cheek and one for cash and the other for cards, but that seems like a bit of overkill (that was supposed to be tongue-in-cheek).

For its intended use--as a front pocket wallet for mainly card carrying folks, the Obtainium is superb.  For other folks, the design is too clunky.  But design is all about making choices.  If you want to have a wallet that is perfect for cards, it will be less so, almost by definition, for cash.  Given Obtainium's explicit claim that this is primarily a card wallet, I am not docking it points for being less than awesome outside its intended use. 

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Fit and Finish: 2

Every single edge is chamfered not only making the wallet comfortable, but also easy to slide stuff in and out of.  The cash bridges (the plastic straps held in place with rubber o-rings) are nicely made and have been updated since the first generation.  They are now less brittle.  Everything is nice, but one thing was especially glorious--the hard anodizing on the aluminum.  I am not sure if you have taken a look at the review list in a while.  Its pretty long.  I have had my share of experiences with anodized aluminum.  This is the best I have ever seen. It is insanely tough, but more than that is so pleasing to the touch that during the review period I'd occasionally find myself mindlessly running my fingers across the embossed and anodized logo.  Its so luxurious.  It really is a step up from everything else I have seen. 

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Materials: 2

With the new plastic in the cash bridge the suite of materials used on the Obtainium is now completely top shelf.  There is nothing that is cheap or chintzy here.  

Carry: 1

Even as a front pocket wallet this thing is something of a beast.  Compared to a leather number or a money clip, the Obtainium is a pocket brick, akin to carrying around two smartphones at once.  All of that durability and RFID blocking comes from somewhere and a hefty weight of 3.0 ounces unloaded is the result.  In the breast pocket of a suit the weight is totally fine, but you might mistake the Obtainium for your iPhone. 

Accessibility: 2

In a stroke of true inspiration, the folks at Obtainium cut two v-notches in the shell of the wallet, making it possible to access cards while the wallet is closed.  Thanks to the good design on the cash bridge straps, you can even slip cards back in without opening the wallet.  All this means that the Obtainium takes accessibility to another level.

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I found that if you REALLY stuffed the wallet it might be hard to get cards out of the middle of a stack without pushing them all around.  Cards in the middle of a stack also require you to open the wallet too, but some careful planning can allow you to put the most frequently pulled cards on the outside and this can be a boon when using the Obtainium.  I'd give it a three if it didn't break the newly minted scale.

Appearance: 2

I have this theory bouncing around in my head that there are certain sized objects that we find naturally appealing, like a Zippo or a deck of playing cards.  I have had this theory in a nascent form since I became obsessed with consumer electronics (i.e. when I first saw and held a Sony D-35 Discman at a Service Merchandise, remember those?).  Its hard to pin this idea down, but it does play into how we relate to things in a "I know it when I see it" kind of way.  Here the Obtainium has that "just right" size. Couple that with the brilliant blue anodizing and the please angled shape and you have a winner.  Unconventional wallets tend to look more "unconventional" than "wallet" and while folks might not guess right away what the Obtainium is, it doesn't look childish or silly.  It looks like many of the gadgets we are so used to seeing on people these days, so it definitely doesn't look out of place.  I found that when people realized it was a wallet they were really taken by how it looks. "Oh, that's really nice looking" was a refrain I heard more than once while using the wallet.  I agree.  It is unconventional, but in a good way and in a way that doesn't look out of place.  

Durability: 1

It is probably just a fluke, but I need to be honest--one of the o-rings that holds the cash bridge in place broke during transit.  I had a pack full of extras and you could probably just go to a local hardware store and find a dozen for .79 but that was not an auspicious beginning.  Fortunately, things did not go down hill from there.  The replacement o-ring is still tight and secure. 

The rest of the wallet is simply rock solid.  The hinge never got gunky or stiff.  The wallet itself is milled from som substantial aluminum.  And the anodizing was practically bulletproof.  I did notice some minor flaking around the top lip of the two card "channels" but nothing worth getting stressed about.  I imagine, over time, more anodzing will flake off, but that is the nature of the material.  And if your wallet looked brand new all of the time, that would be a bit weird.  If any everyday carry item should have a bit of the Fett Effect imposed on it, its your wallet.

Retention: 2

Though the o-ring snapped right away, once replaced, the card bridges did their job well.  You can take the wallet, flip it upside down and shake it, and the cards won't fall out.  If you do the same thing, but smack the wallet at the hinge you can get them loose, but short of that, the cash bridges keep everything put.  A single card in ecah channel will stick (though not as well) and a bunch will hardly budge but there is a tension in this design between retention and accessibility and I think the Obtainium folks hit it just right.

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I'd put the ideal configuration at 3 or 4 cards per side with no more than 4 to 6 brand new bills as well. That can give you a good deal of capacity, both physically and financially, but if you are set up to go to a low rent strip club or jjust partial to 1s and 5s you'll find the cash bridges are really tight.  

One note that is important and perhaps explains a bit of the retention set up--this wallet is made in Australia and they have polymer, not paper bills.  According to my source (Andrew), these bills fold differently and wear differently than the US's paper money.  That might play into how Obtainium balanced out the retention vs. the accessibility of contents in the wallet.

Organization: 2

You don't have an ID window and there are only two slots for cards and cash, so you need to be thoughtful in how you pack the Obtainium, but if you are the wallet can be great.  First, in the state I live, we are required to show our IDs with many purchases, so I usually put the ID on the front of one of the card stacks.  Then I put my most frequently used credit cards on the bottom of the stacks so they can be removed without opening the wallet.  I have a pass card that lets me in to various places and the Obtainium blocked it (as it is supposed to) so I put that on the top of the stack opposite my idea, allowing me to open the wallet, tap the card, and go.  Finally I tucked in one or two $20s for my cash carry.

The design of the wallet requires you to rethink how you organize the wallet, but if you do that you are rewarded with an elegant and very functional set up.  It took me a while to see this, but that was because I was stuck in the "six pocket" mindset of traditional wallets.  Leave that behind and you'll be rewarded.

Efficiency: 1

Given its size and weight the Obtainium doesn't hold a lot of stuff, but that is a problem inherent in all hardside wallets. Its a tradeoff but simply being a hardside wallet doesn't mean they will always score low here.  The problem wit the Obtainium is that the wallet itself is made of very thick, perhaps too thick, slabs of aluminum.  A smaller overall form factor with more substantial milling could have resulted in a slimmer, lighter wallet that carries the exact same amount of stuff.

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Score: 17 out of 20

This is not your wallet if: 1) you want to carry a lot of cash; 2) you need to tap cards for access to places (fetching the wallet and opening it up is annoying compared to just tapping your wallet); or 3) you want to back pocket carry a wallet.

If you are still in contention, then the Obtainium is a must consider.  Its pricey, sure, but not so pricey as to be insane. Most good leather wallets cost around $100 and the Obtainium is just twice that price.  And for what you get--a well designed, virtually indestructible piece, the additionally money can be justified.  I loved the look and feel of the Obtainium quite a bit and many of the limitations inherent in the design didn't bother me (I am not a cash carrier; what do muggers do now with the decline in cash carry?).  This isn't MY wallet because of the RFID blocking but for most people I can imagine this is a feature instead of a problem.  Overall, the Obtainium is a well-realized design and a gorgeous object.  It is also a damn good wallet.

5 comments:

  1. Great read. I love this wallet... or, more specifically, I love the idea of this wallet. If I didn't carry so much cash, this would be perfect. But with cash, business cards and 6 to 8-ish cards, it just isn't for me.

    I'd love to see more stuff in that blue color. It's very sexy.

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  2. Not a huge fan of hard side wallets.

    When are you going to get an Allett in?

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  3. This reminds me of those little cases for carrying business cards in. I guess it could be considered tactical in that it would make a heck of a fistload. $200 is quite steep for an aluminum wallet. The wallet cost could quite possibly even exceed the amount of cash that could be carried in it! This would be a pass for me. One could get many alternatively competent solutions for much much cheaper.

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  4. Weight ("pocket brick") is a deal breaker for me.

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