March 23, 2011: When Apple introduced the iPad 2 earlier this month, much was made of the new Smart Covers [CHECK PRICES] the company had designed for their 2011 tablet. And there’s no doubt that much time went into the Smart Covers’ development, as the iPad 2 was built with the covers in mind. They are arguably the most integrated cases ever released for a mobile device.
But how well do they work – and are they worth the respective $40 and $70 price tags? Let’s take a look.
The iPad 2 Smart Covers are essentially screen protectors; they do nothing to protect the sides or rear of the tablet. They can also be folded to serve as stands. The Smart Cover consists of a magnetic bar used to attach to the iPad 2, a hinge that allows the cover to flip out of the way while connected, and four rigid panels with foldable seams between.
The story of the Smart Cover can be told almost exclusively by describing its magnets. A series of powerful magnets hold the cover to the left side of the iPad 2 (when in portrait mode), more magnets keep the cover in place over the screen, while yet another magnet puts the iPad 2 to sleep when the cover is closed and wakes it when opened. Even more magnets hold the panels in a triangular shape when used as a stand or folded in half while you’re using the iPad.
The Smart Covers are available in ten colors, some with a polyurethane surface (gray to pink on the left above) and others with leather. The polyurethane covers retail for $39, while the leather versions go for $69.
Using a Smart Cover with the iPad 2
The Smart Cover looks deceptively simple, but is cleverly designed on several levels. All iPad 2 models have a series of magnets on the inside of their aluminum casing, some to hold the Smart Cover tightly in place and others to allow the cover to hold to the iPad’s face.
Attaching a Smart Cover is as simple as placing its magnetic hinge near the left side of an iPad 2; the cover attaches quite firmly and in just the right position, no manual adjustment necessary. When you shield the iPad’s screen with the Smart Cover, the tablet goes to sleep; when you open it, the iPad 2 wakes for instant use (this feature is courtesy of a magnetic sensor located beneath the bezel on the right side of the screen).
The four panels that make up the Smart Cover are there for a reason; you can fold the cover into a long triangular shape (shown above) either to hold the iPad 2 at a shallow angle for typing, or upright for reading, browsing the web, watching movies, or making FaceTime video calls.
What’s it Good For?
Though most of its utility relies on technology dating back centuries, the elegance with which the Smart Cover attaches and operates has an undeniably modern feel and coolness factor; but aside from wowing friends, is the Smart Cover really good for anything?
It protects the screen when not in use; that’s about the only thing the Smart Cover offers as a case that’s worthwhile. But there’s much to be said for keeping a nearly 10-inch screen protected, even if it does leave the aluminum backpiece exposed to scratches and scuffs.
As a case, it’s probably only useful for users who carry an iPad around in a backpack, briefcase or messenger bag, as it keeps the screen protected while resting against other objects. It also looks great when the iPad is resting on a table or desk.
It will do nothing to absorb shock when an iPad is dropped, even from a low height.
Apple says the interior of the Smart Cover – which is microfiber – “gently buffs off any smudges or fingerprints as you move,” but in my testing, the screen is just as smudged after using the cover as before. An actual microfiber cloth is the best way to keep the screen clean and clear.
The real usefulness of the Smart Cover comes from its ability to be used as a stand. The cover takes up almost no space, weighs practically nothing, and doesn’t detract from the sleekness of the iPad 2 at all; so it’s easy to carry around and you’ll always have a stand handy. In keyboard mode, the Smart Cover really does make typing on the iPad much easier, and it’s also great to be able to keep the iPad upright for reading, watching video or making FaceTime calls. There are other stands that do this, of course, but all are far bulkier.
What’s Not So Smart
At $39, the
At $39, the Smart Cover is pricey, but it does offer a combination of usefulness and the mystical-cool that is Apple’s bread and butter. $69 for the leather version is absolutely ridiculous as you can purchase entire hand-crafted leather iPad cases for around the same price.
But if you want to protect your iPad’s screen without taking away from its svelte look, it’s a winning option, and its functionality as a handy stand adds to its value. Throw in the fact that the iPad 2 was designed with the Smart Cover in mind, and it becomes a tempting purchase.
Many users will likely go with a silicone skin and screen protector film, and for most that’s probably the way to go; but if you want protection and an added wow factor for your $500+ iPad 2, the Smart Cover is a smart choice – particularly if you have money to burn.
M. Nichols, Products Editor