The iPad Air case market is now nearly as diverse as that of any other iOS device. I’m going to review four very different cases, two designed as heavy-weight protection and two as lifestyle cases.
Pelican Vault for iPad Air ($99.95)
4 out of 5 Stars
If you have ever wanted commitment to or from a case, the Pelican Vault for iPad Air is that case (also available for iPad mini). This is the only case that required me to screw the iPad into it. That said, I really like the design vibe, as well as the surprising lightness and feel. As a reviewer however, I had to remove it and leave it off because it is just too hard to take on and off. If this is your only case, screw down the cover and feel confident that your iPad is well protected. Show it to your girlfriend or boyfriend to prove you can handle commitment. The attached cover flips back to make a stand, which usually works well, but it can slip on slick or polished surfaces. Airplane grade aluminum translates into a hinge that will probably outlast the case and the iPad. All ports are accessible behind rubber seals. The audio port is too small for larger cable connectors.
Once screwed into the case, a rubber-edged seal on the screen keeps liquid from seeping into the case, even when the protective screen cover is open. With the cover closed, it is rated IP54 for water resistance and momentary immersion. That means panic if you drop your iPad in the pool; but if you act fast, it will probably be OK. The case also includes an Elastomeric Copolymer rubber interior to absorb the impact of drops, and with that it meets Military Specifications Test Standards (MIL-STD 810G) for 4 ft (1.2m) drop. The case also includes special Optical Dragontrail glass on rear camera to reduce distortion. The case is guaranteed for life.
Pros: Highly protective, cool looking, but still pretty light and thin.
Cons: Screen damage protection is only in place when cover is locked in place, but the edge seal keeps liquid out even when open. Doesn’t work well in “stand mode” on slick surfaces. Sealed port for audio is too small for standard cables. I spent considerable wasted time at a presentation trying to whittle down the plastic on my audio cable, but to no avail. Really thin connectors do work, however.
Final verdict: If you play rough with your iPad, especially around liquids, this is a solid choice. If I didn’t need my raw iPad accessible, I’d probably leave this case on all of the time.
Ballistic Tough Jacket for Tablet (iPad Air) ($59.99)
3 out of 5 stars
This case offers a completely different solution to heavy duty protection from the Pelican Vault. Rather than screwing the iPad into place, the Ballistic Tough Jacket for Tablet first wraps the iPad in a silicon cocoon. The silicon then resides in a rigid plastic exterior. All of that fits inside a tray that acts as cover when not in use, and as a stand (or extra thing to manage if you just put it aside when using the iPad).
The case looks very futuristic looking, but I found it a bit bulky. I also didn’t like how some parts of the silicon bedding moved around near the front button. The movement wasn’t a quality issue, but an aesthetic one. I also wasn’t big on the separate tray cover. Although it fits over the back, and can be left on the side as well, it just felt like an extra thing to worry about that only added value when the iPad was stationary. Pulling apart the side clips to remove the cover from top or bottom became a bit annoying after a while.
Pros: Very sci-fi feel to it. Heavy silicon on the corners looks like it will sustain a decent edge drop or corner bump without harming the iPad, but it isn’t military certified and I wasn’t going to test it on my iPad.
Cons: Dual layer design protection leaves some exposed silicon in a loose, moveable state, which can get annoying. And the removal and replacement of the separate screen cover also gets annoying.
Final Verdict: Early excitement over the cool look gave way to small annoyances that added up over time to make it just an OK case.
Belkin LapStand Cover for iPad Air ($59.99)
4 out of 5 stars
And now, as they said on Monty Python, for something completely different. The Belkin LapStand Cover for iPad Air is a simple case that adds a different and very cool feature, thigh support. Yep, that’s what I said, thigh support. Belkin calls this ComfortForm. A clever bit of soft fabric where the cover bends nuzzles around the thigh to keep the case in place when working with it on a lap. Other than that the LapStand Cover offers serviceable protection in a lightweight package. It easily folds to support portrait viewing and typing angles.
Pros: Brings new meaning to laptop comfort.
Cons: For its class, there really isn’t anything wrong with it.
Final Verdict: Turns a basic case into a comfortable conversation piece.
Booq Booqpad for iPad Air ($60)
2 out of 5 stars
This is a case you may not have known you needed, but it’s just too cool looking not to investigate. I’ve been using it off and on for a couple of weeks, and I’m leaning toward not being a fan. First, let me tell you what I do like. The iPad itself sits inside a basic shell with a couple of edge bumps to align with the rest of the case. Unlike most shells, this one has magnets—pretty strong magnets that adhere it to the Booqpad, using the bumps on the shell as a guide.
The rest case itself just has a lot going on. Opened flat, the iPad adheres magnetically to the center, and to the left sits a pad of paper (or to the right if you flip that paper over and reinsert it, and then flip the entire case over). In a meeting, this can be pretty handy if you don’t like taking handwritten notes on the iPad (if you have a LiveScribe Smart pen, though, this doesn’t help—in fact, there may be a partnership opportunity here). To ensure overall protection, the Booqpad also ships with an adhesive screen protector.
Here’s the rub. In practice, it kind of feels like there is a lot of case around when you don’t need it. Sure, it supports mag-neato-gami (yes, that is a listed feature) so it can contort into a variety of shapes from typing to viewing, but I still find myself using the little guide that came with the case to remind me of what bits to fold where. Within the notepad the case feels lighter, but also looser. It doesn’t really fold back in a natural way for regular tablet use, but then again, you can just remove the tablet piece easily enough...but then you have to figure out what to do with the rest of the case. See where I’m going with this?
Pros: Unique design may fit some work styles well, especially if you take notes or doodle on paper even with your iPad right there. The ability to remove the iPad quickly makes up for other design issues.
Cons: Over engineered and under executed. Good designs are simple. Closed up with an iPad inside, the case looks great; but when the design team starting thinking about how to contort a magnet-driven system into shapes that other cases do without much effort, the design got away from them. And the simple things, like just folding the cover back and using the tablet as a tablet, don’t feel well thought out. I do love the magnet thing and hope Booq and its competitors will find new ways to incorporate them into more cases going forward. Not clear from the website how or where you buy replacement notepads (though standard 8 x 5.5 pads should work).
Final Verdict: Going into a meeting, the Booqpad makes for a cool, impressive looking portfolio. Open it flat and get to work. If you start fumbling with it though, you may lose all that coolness, unless you have made Booqpad deconstruction and reconstruction a fluid, practiced art.