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Review: Four High-Quality iPad Cases Compared

J. Simon Leitner (translated by Peter Krastev), 09/02/2012

Well packed. Some like to keep their devices pure and unrestrained. Others want to keep their precious devices safe from wear and tear. For the latter, there is a seemingly infinite number of covers and cases in an increasingly wide range of prices. We used four upper-class cases over the past few weeks. Here is our report.

Apple iPad Smart Case

Link: Manufacturer's information

The “original” Express Cover only covered the display and left the device with rather limited protection. As a result and after considerable delay, Apple released the Smart Case which comes in six different colors ranging from subtle light and dark gray to red and pink. Apple fans will enjoy the large Apple logo on the back of the case which covers the iPad’s own logo. This prevents the potential loss of device identity which might be important for users seeking to proclaim the Apple branding.

For the Smart Case, Apple used polyurethane. The exterior felt similar to silicone while the interior surface had a rather suede-like feel. The display lid is reinforced with plastic inserts and we suspect that the tablet case itself is made on a plastic frame for added stability. The tablet, once placed inside the case, has a measured thickness of 13 mm (0.51 inches). Given the tablet’s thickness of 10 mm (0.39 inches), this total thickness means a 3-millimeter thickness for the protective case.

For the power switch and volume rocker, Apple chose a novel approach. While the case covers both areas, they can still be pressed through the case. This functions better than one might expect. The headphone jack, rotation lock, microphone, and camera are left uncovered and fit as expected. The area of the case which covers the speaker is perforated to allow sound to pass through undistorted. While plugging in or removing headphones, the connector would occasionally catch on the case.

In practice, we discovered that the display cover closed tightly on the base unit due to the magnet. Because of this, lifting the cover required the use of finger nails. However on one side, the cover did not close particularly well and exposed a gap above the display. Opening the cover woke up the iPad.

The folding cover, like the Smart Cover, can be folded into a prism and allows the tablet to be used in two different positions. The first of these is nearly flat with an inclination of 6°. The second position is nearly upright with an angle of 75° which makes it ideal for video playback. No fully-upright or portrait positions are available when using this case.

We observed unpleasant and ugly stains and marks on the case after only a few days. We could not wash these off or conceal them in any way.

After a short period of use...
After a short period of use...
permanent stains show up.
permanent stains show up.

In terms of protection, the iPad Smart Case only partially protects the display from excessive force or shocks through the thin plastic inserts. The iPad itself does sit well in the case and thus the reinforced edges should absorb the shock from a potential drop without damage. Unfortunately, we did not test whether this is the case.

Our verdict: For about 49 Euro (~$60), the iPad Smart Cover is among the most costly solutions. Given that this is an original accessory from the tablet manufacturer, we found the Smart Case unconvincing. The handling was mediocre and the visual aesthetics suffered after even limited use.

Our rating: Style: 3/5, Quality: 2/5, Handling: 3/5, Protection 3/5, Price 2/5, Overall: 2.6/5.

Moshi iGlaze + Versa Cover for iPad

Link: Manufacturer's information

Slightly more exotic than the Smart Case is the Moshi iGlaze + Versa Cover. This product is a combination of a solid plastic shell and a fabric-like display cover. Moshi provides three different design and color combinations for the shell and cover. The possible combinations are black/dark gray, white/beige, and transparent/light gray. The last combination leaves the Apple logo on the back of the iPad visible.

The Moshi solutions felt considerably better to the touch than the Apple Smart Case. The plastic case has a velvety surface and the cover has a rather soft texture. Due to the large hole for the volume rocker, the case can be easily grasped and removed from the iPad. Again the iPad wakes up automatically due to the magnetic lock. There are openings for the docking port, microphone, and headphone jack. A honeycomb performance allows for speaker operation and the power button is covered by a built-in rocker. In practice, the Moshi case was very easy to operate. The case and tablet also had a combined thickness of 13 mm (0.51 inches).

The folding of the Moshi Cover requires repeated consultation of the manual and a bit of imagination. The goal is to fold the cover into an inward- or outward-folded pyramid which retains its shape through the use of magnetic strips.

Moshi promises three different positions and we were able to more or less successfully achieve all three after several attempts. The simplest option is the “movie angle” which securely positions the iPad at an angle of about 60° in landscape mode. The second option is the “reading angle” where the folded cover makes for a moderately firm stand and holds the iPad at an angle of approximately 50° in portrait mode. This option only seems to work on flat and firm surfaces. The last option described by the Moshi packaging is the “typing angle” of 40°. In this case, the tablet partially rests on the pre-formed pyramid and this position can only be used on flat, stable surfaces. For us, the 40° angle was still too steep for typing and resulted in awkward hand positions.

While the display cover hides wear well...
While the display cover hides wear well,
the plastic case can accumulate scuffs.
the plastic case can accumulate scuffs.

After some practical use, we determined that the protection offered by the Moshi case was on the same level as that of the Apple Smart Case. The reinforced cover primarily protects the device from scratches and stains. It cannot absorb high pressures on the display. The plastic case does fit well around the iPad and should withstand drops and impacts along the edges from low heights. Again, we did not test this assumption.

Our verdict: The Moshi Cover, like the Apple Smart Case, is available for about 50 Euro (~ $62). It offers a comparable level of protection and, in our opinion, more attractive visuals and a higher quality feel than that of the original Apple cover. The rather “innovative” folding cover was less convincing. A flat angle for comfortable typing was not possible and most scenarios required a desk-like surface to use the tablet at the desired angle. While traveling, finding such optimal office-like conditions is likely to be difficult.

Our rating: Style: 4/5, Quality: 3/5, Handling: 2/5, Protection: 3/5, Price: 2/5, Overall: 2.8/5 points

Stilgut Couverture

Link: Manufacturer's information

This genuine leather case offered by Berlin-based Stilgut is priced higher than the previous two options. The Couverture provides a mixture of the already-described cases and the iPad, like with the iGlaze case, is bound by the leather-upholstered hard plastic case. The display cover uses the same beam structure as Apple’s Smart Case and can also be folded into a triangular prism, allowing for two different angles – 12° and 73°. As with the previous two cases, the iPad wakes up when the cover is opened.

Handling this case was easy and straightforward. Only when the cover was opened to 180° did we wish for a stronger magnet mechanism that could hold the cover into “magazine mode”. With a total thickness of 15 mm (~0.59 inches), the Couverture is a bit thicker than its rivals but not clumsy or awkward.

The Couverture appeared to be free of doubt regarding its materials and quality. The case looked, smelled, and felt like real leather. Stilgut currently offers several different colors and designs such as white, red, black, vintage, and cognac. For our review, we had the black version and the cognac business version. The case has holes for all the buttons and ports of the iPad and these were easy to access and operate. The speaker area is also completely cut out. After a couple of weeks of use, we could see marks on the back of the case that were pressed in and likely caused by sharp options when transporting the tablet in a backpack. In addition, there were a couple of small and unremarkable scratches. Overall, the case itself retained a very good visual impression after weeks of use. Dirt was not an issue on the outside and the leather surfaces were easy to clean. On the other hand, the black velvety lining visibly collected dust and dirt from the screen surface.

Except for a few bruises and superficial scratches...
Except for a few bruises and superficial scratches...
the leather case does well against wear and tear.
the leather case does well against wear and tear.

As with the previous cases, we rated protection as medium. The back of the iPad as well as the display were well protected from scratches and dirt as well as from the sharp corners and edges the device might encounter when placed in a briefcase or backpack. In the case of drops, the first shock should be absorbed. Because of the somewhat loose fit, the tablet might come loose from its fastenings and be damaged.

Our verdict: In terms of style, the Stilgut Couverture was better than the previous two options. The case is made from real leather and felt great. The premium appearance comes at the cost of a higher thickness which does not diminish the case’s neat appearance. Fitting the proverb “beauty knows no pain”, one must be willing empty one’s wallet for this case as the Couverture costs approximately 70 to 80 Euro (~$87 to $100).

Our score: Style: 5/5, Quality: 5/5, Handling: 4/5, Protection: 3/5, Price: 1/5, Overall: 3.6/5 points

Stilgut Ultraslim

Link: Manufacturer's information

The last contender in our test is the Stilgut Ultraslim case for the iPad 3. The name Ultraslim is a bit of a misnomer as the case has a thickness of about 20 mm (0.78 inches) and is the absolute thickest case in this review. This case spoils the buyer with a choice of colors that ranges from classic back to white, including cognac, mandarin, yellow, and even pink.

The case’s padded faux leather and decorative stitching is reminiscent of a piece of furniture or the interior of a luxury car. The case, when containing the tablet, seems to be of high quality but its distinctive corners and overall thickness diminishes its elegance when compared to the Couverture. The fitting mechanism leaves the edges free, allowing easy access to all the connections, buttons, and switches of the iPad. The cover is also easy to grip and lift from the screen. We did not observe a consistent waking of the iPad from standby for this case.

In terms of standing functions, the Ultraslim takes a completely different approach. The tablet is held in position by four of the case’s six mounts and tilts out of two corners without sliding out of the case. The now-exposed edges of the iPad fit into the channels on the inside of the cover which is more or less flat. In this way, up to five different positions with angles of 3°, 35°, 50°, 60°, and 75° are possible. Depending on the angle, a flat and stable surface might be required.

During our test, we found the number of possible angles to be a bit excessive. For practical use, we would consider two angles – a typing angle and a view angle – to be sufficient. The release of the two un-mounted clips can sometimes be a bit tricky, especially with a brand new case. Moreover, the clips did not work every time. The Ultraslim is the only case in our review with a locking mechanism in which the cover latches onto the edge of the iPad and prevents unintended opening. This proved to be more reliable than the closure mechanisms of the other cases. However, we found that this latch on the back of the iPad could be a bit annoying when handling the tablet within the case. The susceptibility of the case to dirt and wear and tear was comparable to that of the Couverture and  depends mostly on the choice of color. After several weeks of use and testing, we found a couple of small scuffs, marks, and stains, none of which could be removed. Other colors might have been able to conceal them better. The difference between the faux leather of our case and real leather could be seen in the abrasion of the case surface and the Couverture was significantly more robust in this regard.

The artificial leather shows scratches after intensive use...
The artificial leather shows scratches after intensive use...
as well as permanent stains.
as well as permanent stains.

The massive corner fixtures as well as the display cover, which fits with the case and prevents unintentional opening, provided a relatively higher protection than the other three cases. The thick padded cover also fits well here. We had a long-term experience with a black Ultraslim case for the iPad 1 which served for several years with only a few typical dents from sharp objects and abraded corners. Overall, the black model of the case retained a satisfactory visual impression. It also withstood several drops from varying heights and angles.

Our verdict: Despite the relatively higher thickness compared to the other cases, the Ultraslim still scored highly due to its high-quality feel and visual aesthetics. The protection proved to be good and the numerous stand modes were easy to set up. With a price of about 50 Euro (~$62), the Stilgut Ultraslim is in the same price range as the Apple Smart Case and the Moshi iGlaze.

Our rating: Style: 4/5, Quality: 4/5, Handling: 3/5, Protection: 4/5, Price: 2/5, Overall: 3.4/5 points

Verdict

Using our rating system, the Stilgut Couverture deserves the crown in this review. The real leather cover is of high quality and is well designed, protects against almost all wear and tear, and is easy to use. For about 70 Euro (~$88), the Couverture is hardly a bargain and is significantly more expensive than the other options which, in the 50 Euro (~$62) price range, are expensive in their own right but still qualify as high quality solutions. We were a bit disappointed by the Apple Smart Case, especially in direct comparison with equally priced cases.

Apple might make good tablets but one should definitely look elsewhere for accessories. One can find quite a few high-quality products at various other alternative suppliers. Some are real bargains while others can be quite expensive, even without the Apple logo.

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> Notebook / Laptop Reviews and News > Reviews > Archive of our own reviews > Review: Four High-Quality iPad Cases Compared
Author: J. Simon Leitner, 2012-09- 2 (Update: 2013-06- 6)