I’m : a programmer, writer, podcaster, geek, and coffee enthusiast.

The Smart Cover, a few months in

I was optimistic about the iPad 2’s Smart Cover and got the red leather one with my iPad 2 on launch day.

It mostly works as described, but I’ve been disappointed in a few areas.

The leather doesn’t have a high-quality look or feel. In retrospect, I feel like an idiot for paying $69 for this. Part of the lack of perceived quality might be the design: leather’s best visual and tactile qualities are lost if it’s bonded to a hard, flat surface like the Smart Cover’s rigid plates.

I knew going into it that the back of the iPad 2 would be unprotected by the Smart Cover. In practice, I find that I’m overly paranoid about it getting scratched by grit on flat surfaces, such as a grain of sand on a table, so I don’t feel comfortable setting it down on most such surfaces. (And I can’t put it face-down, because then I’d scratch the Smart Cover much more easily and noticeably.) And not having the back covered means that the iPad 2 can’t share a bag pocket with anything else without a risk of being scratched.

I can’t think of many situations in which a Smart Cover provides enough protection to be worth carrying and using for people who care about the aesthetic condition of their iPad. I thought I’d be able to ignore my gadget-preservation instincts in this regard, since it’s “only the back”, but I can’t. (There are other reasons to use it, like the prop-up features, but general protection isn’t one.)

The bigger issue, though, is the practicality of actually using the iPad with the Smart Cover.

The auto-unlock is nice, and I love the minimal bulk, but it seems like it wasn’t designed to stay attached while you’re holding the iPad, because there’s no great way to hold it.

Lex Friedman’s Macworld review was on point here:

But my chief complaints with the Smart Cover relate to elements of its use that Apple doesn’t cover in the promotional video at all. My biggest grievance is that there’s just no perfect way to fold back the Smart Cover when you actually want to use your iPad in hand. The video shows iPads waking up, going to sleep, and being used on a tabletop. What about when I want to hold the dang thing?

I can’t find a comfortable way to hold and use the iPad with the Smart Cover attached. It flops and slides around far too much.

Maybe Apple intended for us to detach it from the iPad while we’re using it, since the magnets make it so easy, and re-attach it when we’re done. But that’s a bit tedious.

If that’s the intention, though, it’s subtly genius: holding the iPad 2 “naked”, without a case at all, is great. You truly appreciate the lightweight, thin form factor, and it’s less fatiguing to hold for long periods (such as when reading in bed). So it’s plausible that Apple wants to encourage naked use.

Once I decided that folio-style cases were too bulky for my taste and the Smart Cover didn’t provide the right kind of protection, I bought WaterField Designs’ iPad Smart Case (in the “pine” color).1

It’s a very nicely made, semi-rigid slipcase. The rigidity makes it easy to slide the iPad in (since you don’t need to hold it open or stretch it out, like a floppy case), and it fits very snugly and securely. The snug fit makes the soft inner felt surfaces clean the iPad’s glass exceptionally (and uniformly): much better than the Smart Cover’s leftover lines.

The iPad needs to be removed to be used, you need to put the Smart Case somewhere during use, and it doesn’t auto-unlock. But it’s a far better solution than the Smart Cover for me, and I can put it in a shared bag pocket, rest it on any surface, or even carry it by itself comfortably.

It cost $10 less than the leather Smart Cover and feels like a much higher quality item. And WaterField is a well-respected company with excellent customer service. Recommended.

Since getting the WaterField iPad Smart Case, I haven’t used my Smart Cover at all, except to give it another chance for this review. (Nope, still don’t like it.) It’ll go back to collecting dust in a nice red triangle on the back of my desk.

  1. The Smart Case’s name isn’t a cheap attempt to capitalize on Apple’s Smart Cover name. WaterField has been selling the Smart Case under that name since the original iPad’s release. ↩︎