“What’s the best case that is stylish and fully protective of the entire iPad?”
If protection is paramount, the best case is a Sentry 1100 Portable Fire Chest. However, executives typically have one additional key requirement – protect it thoroughly, but don’t hinder its mobile agility or its cool factor.
With that in mind, I picked the Hammerhead iPad 2 Hardshell, the Speck FitFolio, and a combination solution, the Belkin Snap Shield back with Apple’s own Smart Cover. Suggested list prices on these are $39.99, $39.95, and $78.95 respectively.
So which one is the best?
That’s hard for me to say. Seriously, I like each of them, but I do want to call attention to my FTC disclaimer. In the interest of full disclosure, let me also call attention to a negative article I wrote about Smart Covers.
And while we’re on the topic of Smart Cover flaws, let me point out that the other two choices in this article (the Hammerhead and the Speck) are also capable of picking up dust, grit, and jelly and transferring these substances to the glass surface of your iPad. In each of the photos, you can see that the interior glass-facing covers of the cases are lying on the desk surface
It’s possible that the manufacturers of these cases didn’t intend for me to use them in this way, but I do all the time. Ok, so that’s fair warning – be careful what you set these cases on when typing on your iPad 2.
Of the three – this one is most protective, but not by far. All three do a fair job of guarding the front and back of the iPad. Hammerhead takes it up a notch over Speck by using a ridged cover material. It feels solid and might actually stop a bullet (ok, maybe a .22 fired from the next town). At 8.5 ounces, this cover comes in slightly under the Speck but still a third heavier than the Smart Cover/Belkin combination.
The inside of the cover also has pretty thick felt that rests against the glass. I’ve observed a key advantage in this design which also has only a single hinge. Smart Covers, with four hinged panels and glass-cleaning felt, tend to leave three dirty streaks where the felt doesn’t exist. Hammerhead also tends to leave a little streak, but only one because it has just one hinge. The iPad seems a bit cleaner than with Smart Covers.
The cover uses a latch mechanism that clicks when lightly pressed and seems to be pretty solid. It’s likely to stay latched, but pressure sensitive fasteners are prone to decoupling on impact. I was surprised that the cover did not use magnets to keep it closed, but I have a hunch it’s because the cover itself is so beefy. Maybe magnets wouldn’t be strong enough to keep this case closed.
The back shell of the Hammerhead is super rigid and likely to fully protect the iPad from the nastiest of drops. It feels like rubber but its some form of soft plastic. The cutout areas for device access are minimal but very functional and the precision in the fabrication is noticeable.
Of the three cases, Hammerhead is the most difficult to separate from the iPad, although, I believe this is the designer’s intent. Belkin’s Snap Shield is the easiest to pop in and out of.
One little design attribute of the back of the case caught my attention – little nubs that slightly raise the footprint of the case off of a surface. This has one advantage and one disadvantage. iPad 2′s backside shape is slightly more flat than iPad 1, so it doesn’t swivel or rock as much. But there is still a rounded aspect to the device and any case that fits snuggly is likely to allow the device to shift and swivel with the slightest touch. Hammerhead’s nubs will alleviate this issue. However, the nubs are hard plastic – they have zero grip, so be careful where you place your device. The nubs can transform your iPad into a curling stone sitting on ice made from the purest glacier water.
From the moment I snapped my iPad into its hard back shell, I could see this was a well designed case. It has the feel of leather but I’m sure it’s some sort of faux fabric – a spongy, kind’a supple feel to it. I like the feel of this case – it’s far more sturdy than the Apple Smart Cover and very protective. It would be difficult to tell that this was not leather in black or brown colors.
The back shell is very similar in material to the Hammerhead but doesn’t cover 100% of the device. Portions of the shell are cut away and covered with fabric similar to the cover. Snapping the iPad in and out is relatively easy and this is the heaviest of the three weighing in at 8.7 ounces.
The cover is a little softer than the Hammerhead and it also has a two panel design. It doesn’t seem to clean the iPad’s glass surface like the others do and this is likely because the inside fabric is not felt or felt-like.
Like the Hammerhead, this cover does not use magnets to keep itself closed. Instead, it has this very low tech elastic fastener. This took me completely by surprise. Even after weeks of using this case, I chuckle when fastening the cover of my circa 2012 magic tab with a circa 1920 clasp. I don’t like this aspect of the Speck one bit. However, I’ve dropped it twice -one time was a really nasty cement parking structure drop – and the clasp never popped off. Am I nuts for second guessing this design choice?
Of the three cases, the Speck has the most agility in terms of propping iPad up. However, the one I typically use most is not support in this case. I like a shallow typing angle and to achieve it with this case, I jam my iPhone between the back and the cover, or I slide in a Nest to give it a little wedge.
Smart Cover plus Belkin Snap Shield
I’ve used this combination quite a bit and not withstanding the design flaw previously noted and the steep price range (combined), this solution has its advantages. At just 6.9 ounces combined, this is the lightest of the three in review. The Belkin ads only 2.1 ounces to your tablet when the Smart Cover is separated.
If you use your iPad a lot while leaning back or lying down, the ability to easily discard the cover and keep the protective Snap Shield in place is very enticing. There are many other contexts where removal of the smart cover is advantageous.
The Snap Shield is incredibly thin and light. It’s also transparent, so it doesn’t conceal the cool factor of the Apple logo like the other cases do. Weight is a factor in lean-back computing, and this combination offers the the ability to create the lightest context for iPad 2.
Smart Covers suspend and wake up your iPad 2 automatically. The presence of magnets in the cover create sensor signals that optimize battery life. Neither of the other cases do this, so if batter life is a key advantage, this mat be the right combination for you.
If your goal is to simply keep the back of your iPad from scratching while enjoying the lightweight agility of the removable Smart Covers, this is as naked as your iPad should ever be.
So which one is the best?
All things considered, I like the Hammerhead – it seems to fit my style and most importantly, my patterns of abuse.