The Complete Guide to iPad Cases and Protection
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Play-through cases were the best options for iPods and iPhones, but it remains to be seen whether that will be the case for the iPad, as well. The concept of a play-through case remains the same: cover as much of the device as possible while permitting full access to its screen and controls. These cases differ from Shells in scope of coverage: they wrap around the iPad’s sides and cover its bezel, offering superior and in some cases nearly comprehensive protection. Almost all are made of plastic, but the type of plastic varies from case to case: rubber is common, but harder materials such as TPU are becoming more common, and we’ve even seen a play-through design made from a mix of neoprene and plastic.
#1: Macally Metrolpad ($30): “Really?,” people ask when we tell them that our favorite overall iPad case is from Macally, which has never been known for its past iPod or iPhone designs, but the answer’s “yes;” the unfortunately-named Metrolpad—formerly MetroLink—is as close to “just right” as play-through cases come. The back of the case is a frosted clear hard plastic with the same dimples found on Macally’s iPad shell designs, while a stiff black rubber forms a frame that runs from the front bezel through the top, bottom, sides, and back edge. Top and side button protectors are built in and too flush with the case, and the headphone port hole is Apple-sized small, but the speaker and mic ports are fine, and the Dock Connector hole is perfectly sized for cables and larger accessories—including the iPad Camera Connector—without being excessively open. Pair this case with a Power Support Anti-Glare Film and you’ll be a very happy camper.
#2 - Tie: Incipio NGP Matte ($40): As much as we really like cases that show sparks of inspired design, there’s something to be said for neutrality and simplicity. NGP Matte is that, providing the sort of button and bezel coverage we liked in Metrolpad and missed in Incipio’s Feather shell, while offering a bigger, better headphone port hole and a smaller, less third-party-ready Dock Connector hole. The button covers here are actually better than Macally’s as they’re not flush with the case, and though the matte plastic isn’t as flashy as Macally’s on the back, you have more color choices. And screen film in the package. But the price is higher, little imperfections in the molding are there, and you have to be okay with “plain” and “neutral.” If you are, this is a very good option. It’ll be available soon.
#2 - Tie: Speck CandyShell ($50): After a little tweaking, CandyShell became the best overall iPhone case we’d tested last year, and the iPod touch version is also excellent. The iPad case has one huge advantage over most of its rivals—play-through or otherwise—but also a related disadvantage. Speck’s design uses glossy and matte plastics to provide more body coverage than any other play-through case out there, including a mesh-like speaker grille, full button coverage, and a small headphone port hole; there’s no screen protection, a big miss for the price, but it’s otherwise great. The problem and asset are both in the Dock Connector area. A flap makes CandyShell the first completely compatible case with Apple’s iPad Dock and iPad Keyboard Dock, letting you flip a panel open to expose the Dock Connector whenever you need to do so—a novel feature. But every other thing you may want to connect requires you to open the flap, too, which is a pain. What we’d loved about the iPod and iPhone versions of CandyShell was that they were basically recommendable to everyone—they pretty much worked with everything. This one is highly recommendable to people who plan frequent use of Apple’s Docks, but less so otherwise. The price is pretty high considering the lack of screen protection, too.
#2 - Tie: Belkin Grip Vue ($50): On pure sex appeal, Belkin’s Grip Vue scores high: this precision-molded TPU plastic case obviously had an early assist from Apple, as it was in stores on day one and has perfectly aligned holes for everything from the iPad’s microphone port and speakers to flush—too-flush—button covers. It’s shiny, sleek, and available in different colors—we’re not huge fans of the purple one, but you may be. Apart from the question of whether the glossy texture may make the iPad too slippery in your fingers, the big issues here are the price, the lack of screen protection, and the really really too small port holes, which are just barely large enough for Apple’s cables, preventing even the iPad Camera Connector from fitting. Tailoring is so tight that the screen lock switch is hard to flip, and the case has a tendency to peel at the sides of screen protectors, though they can be put back on without a major issue. This is a nice case, and one of the best-looking out there, but a little bit of extra work would have made it great.
#3 - Tie: Incase Grip Protective Cover for iPad ($40): Incase has two different silicone rubber cases for the iPad, both relatively clean and simple designs with no screen protection. This one is the thinner and more mainstream, with rear grips that make the iPad easier to hold in landscape mode, and its holes and button covers are elegantly tailored, though the Dock Connector hole is too small for anything but Apple’s cables. A black standalone video stand is included and works decently.
#3 - Tie: Incase Protective Cover for iPad ($40): This one basically just turns the iPad into a big, colorful block of matte-finished rubber—potentially useful if you’re planning to hand the device over to a child, but less than ideal if you’re aiming for thinness. The headphone port is decently sized, but the Dock Connector hole is Apple-level small, so the Camera Connector Kit won’t plug into this case; speaker and mic holes are very, very small. But the elegantly simple elevated button protectors are nice. A black standalone video stand is included and works decently.
#3 - Tie: Incipio Dermashot for iPad ($35): Less expensive than Incase’s versions, Dermashot has more generously-sized holes that are still quite nicely tapered, though the Dock Connector port hole is too small for the iPad Camera Connection Kit. We generally hate cut-outs in cases for the rear Apple logo, but Incipio manages to achieve a similar effect without a hole by thinning the case around a square in the center, which makes the case more comfortable to hold, as well. The only usability issue with this case, which includes screen protection at a lower price than the Incase options, is the slightly floppy bezel coverage in front, which could stand to be more stiff.
#3 - Tie: Incipio 1337 / Leet Case for iPad ($35): 1337 or Leet is supposed to be an iPad gaming case, but is really just Dermashot with L-shaped thicker corners and different colors—the case is otherwise identical in benefits and issues. The grips are extremely thick and add weight to the case, but do work to make the iPad easier to hold; like Dermashot, you give up the included video stand found with Incase’s options.
#3 - Tie: Simplism Silicone Case Set for iPad ($30): A lower price, included screen protection, and a dimpled, anti-rock back are the major differentiators of this case relative to some of its rivals; different colors may also float your boat. The thin rubber used here is sufficient to protect the iPad, though it feels a hint beneath Incipio’s in floppiness, and constantly feels a little dusty. Apple’s cables work, but the iPad Camera Connection Kit doesn’t, so bigger accessories will be an issue going forward.
#4: Capdase Soft Jacket2 Xpose ($31): There are two things we love about this case—Capdase has nicely blended frosted and glossy clear rubber together into a really sharp-looking iPad case, and it has included a hugely versatile video stand that’s easy to store and capable of flipping between different orientations and purposes. The fact that there’s a screen protector in the package at a great price is also wonderful. But the huge hole in the back for the Apple logo is a non-starter for us, and this case—unlike most others—fully exposes the top and side buttons while recessing them in a way that makes them difficult to use. The Dock Connector and headphone port holes are tiny, too. We love half of it and really dislike the other half; so close but yet so far. Pray for a Soft Jacket3 with the issues fixed, because this would be an awesome pick if they were.
#5 - Tie: Belkin Grip Swell ($50): The price is crazy high, the rubber is on the rough side—a tear started forming after only a few insertions and removals—and the accessory holes are almost too small for even Apple’s cables. There’s no screen protection, either. But Belkin’s nice wavy rear pattern, partially transparent, partially opaque, feels good in the hand and provides grip missing from other cases; this is also the only iPad case we’ve seen of its type with Home button protection. This is another “so close, yet so far” design.
#5 - Tie: Capdase Flessi Jacket - Zuede ($TBD): We don’t have pricing for this bad boy yet, but we do know that it will come with a screen protector, and for some odd reason, we like it despite some very obvious issues. Flessi Jacket uses what feels like vulcanized neoprene as a soft, suede-like (“zuede”) base, and has just enough of a hard plastic frame to retain its shape when an iPad’s not inside. As little as we like fully open bottoms, this one sort of works because it’s there for iPad insertion and removal, making accessory connection easier than Capdase’s Soft Jacket, too—the top’s the same. But there’s no button coverage, no video stand, and no other frills; the case will also pick up smudges and dust because of its fuzziness. It’s a lot, lot better than it could have been, regardless.
#6 - Tie: Hard Candy Cases Sleek Skin for iPad ($40): We really, really wanted to like the two play-through cases from Hard Candy, but they really needed some extra time in the lab. Sleek Skin is translucent and shiny, with a detachable front flap that we like in concept, but getting the iPad into the case feels like a wrestling match, it bulges a little thereafter, and there’s no button protection for the top or side. On a positive note, the iPad Camera Connection Kit can just barely make a connection when inside Sleek Skin. Hard Candy is going to be a big player when they iron out some of the kinks in these cases.
#6 - Tie: Hard Candy Cases Street Skin for iPad ($40): Our comments on Street Skin are the same as for Street Skin, except that this case is opaque, thicker, and just a little less compatible with accessories—the Camera Connection Kit doesn’t work. But it’s also more distinctive in design than the Sleek Skin. With some revisions, it may well improve.
#7: Griffin FlexGrip ($35): Griffin’s supposed to be in the process of fixing FlexGrip, which we received in pre-release form and noted was a little off in fit. Since then, we haven’t seen the updated version, which jumped in price by $5; our expectation based on the version we’ve seen is that the case will be on the very thin side relative to most competitors—a potential issue for the iPad—but will be highly accessory compatible on both the top and bottom, with partial button coverage. The rear grips taper inwards rather than outwards, and help more in portrait than landscape orientation. We’re interested to see if it gets better.
#8: Newer Technology NuGuard Silicone ($18): In very short summary, NuGuard Silicone feels like a cheaper, crappier knock-off of FlexGrip—as if it came from the same plant in China, using an earlier mold. There are two similar indented grips on the back, less precisely tailored holes, including a Dock Connector hole that isn’t even quite right with Apple’s own cables, and a bulging issue. Six colors are the only reason it’s even a little interesting; no screen protection is included.
#9: Macally mSuitpad ($20): Yes, Macally has the best of the iPad play-through cases, and also the worst. This super-thin design manages to look bad, feel bad, and constantly flip off in the front when your hands are on the screen; the only good thing we can say is that it’s as accessory-friendly as the far superior Metrolpad on the bottom, and moreso on the top thanks to a larger headphone port hole. The lack of button protection is atypical for a rubber case, however, and we’d stay clear of this one for that and other reasons.
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