Mobile Computing Review: The Best iPad Cases

When Apple's tablet began shipping in early spring, there weren't many iPad cases, sleeves, or bags to choose from. Today, you can wrap an iPad in everything from pink plastic to a red Etch a Sketch frame to Louis Vuitton logo leather.

Somewhere in between all the extremes, there's an iPad case for sensible enterprise and mobile office types like you. We've chosen four iPad cases, and one bag, for your consideration. Our picks include a variety of styles, from a rugged 'Batman suit' to a case with a built-in Bluetooth keyboard. We admire all these cases for different reasons--but the winner gets the most love for being, well, beautifully simple.

5. OtterBox iPad Defender ($90). The iPad may be 'magical,' as Steve Jobs proclaimed, but it's not indestructible. If you're worried about damage from dropping the tablet and other potential calamities, you can rest easily with OtterBox's heavy-duty suit of armor.

Some reviewers have called it a 'Batman suit,' and the comparison isn't far off.

The high-strength polycarbonate plastic case, framed in silicone rubber, is super-hero sturdy. The Defender includes multiple parts--including a piece that shields the screen when attached and cleverly serves as an iPad stand when detached. The case comes in black, blue, and curiously enough for such a rugged case, hot pink.

The Defender iPad case is a bit complicated to install--an OtterBox YouTube video shows how to get started, and we strongly suggest watching it before trying it yourself. Similarly, it's a bit cumbersome to remove the case as well. However, you can easily pop off a protective piece that cloaks the iPad's dock connector, and other buttons and controls are fully accessible.

Protection always comes with a price. First, there's the added weight. The Defender's protective shield and case combined will add 1.3 pounds to your iPad--that's nearly as much weight as the iPad (1.5 pounds) itself. And $90 is a lot to pay for an iPad case. But road worriers, and you know who you are, will appreciate having one less thing to fret over.

4. Kensington KeyFolio Bluetooth Keyboard and Case for iPad ($100). For those who dream of transforming an iPad into a laptop, there's Kensington's KeyFolio, which combines a protective case with a built-in, full-sized Bluetooth keyboard. We appreciate the convenience of this all-in-one concept. And at $100, the KeyFolio is only $10 more than the OtterBox Defender iPad case, yet adds a Bluetooth keyboard--for which Apple charges $69.

However, there are downsides. The rubberized keys are designed to be gentle against your iPad screen when the case is closed. But we found typing on the keys to be slightly cumbersome--we had to press harder than usual and made more mistakes. Also, the KeyFolio case restricts how you can position the iPad screen, which can make for an uncomfortable viewing angle, depending upon the level of the typing surface. And don't forget--most airlines won't allow you to use Bluetooth devices, so this keyboard/case combo isn't really for the frequent flyer. Still, if you often need to type notes on the fly--in meetings or conference sessions, for instance--the KeyFolio is a worthy accessory.

3. Quickie Bag ($45 to $50). Timbuk2, a hip San Francisco-based messenger/laptop bag maker, has designed what it calls a 'love glove' for your iPad. Corporate-looking it's not. Urban and practical, the oh-so-slender bag features a zippered, padded compartment for your Apple tablet plus two Velcro-enclosed pockets, and a strap. You can order the bag in four different sizes, too: an iPad will fit in the extra-small version, but the small size could alternatively accommodate a netbook or small laptop, like Apple's 11-inch MacBook Air.

A word of warning, however: The bag's Velcro strips covering the two side pockets make a lot of noise. So be prepared to attract attention if you go digging for that Altoids tin during your boss's PowerPoint presentation.

2. ZooGue Smart Kase V2 ($50). This is the most flexible iPad case/stand we've seen. A black, leather folio-style case, the ZooGue lets you position the iPad at any landscape or horizontal viewing angle. The majority of case/stands, including our top-rated Scosche foldIO P1 case, give you up to only three viewing angles. However, this case weighs 16 ounces--a bit on the bulky side. Read Mobile Computing Review: ZooGue iPad Case for more impressions of the ZooGue.

1. Scosche foldIO P1 ($50; available in leather and carbon-fiber texture). Scosche's foldIO P1 folio-style case emerged as our fave. Here's why: Unlike Apple's slender $39 case, the foldIO gives you three different positioning angles in landscape mode. And the case is super easy to remove--even though it firmly clasps the iPad, the case just snaps off. That's ideal if you plan to connect the iPad to Apple's Keyboard Dock.

At the same time, the foldIO P1 case feels more protective than Apple's case, yet weighs just a tiny bit more. True, it doesn't give you all the viewing angle options the ZooGue case provides--but it's also noticeably lighter.

The foldIO P1 isn't fancy or even especially stylish. Heck, its name is more complicated than its design. But if you're looking for one iPad case that does it all--not too bulky, gives you multiple viewing angles, is easily removed and provides protection--the foldIO P1 is the one to get.

James A. Martin has written about mobile technology since the mid 90s and is the author of Traveler 2.0, a mobile technology blog for travelers.




mobile, iPad, Apple, tablet, iPad case