Review: Apple iPad mini Smart Cover
It's been almost two years since Apple first introduced its iPad Smart Cover alongside the iPad 2. At the time, we gave Apple credit for the ingenuity of the lid/stand, but disliked both its lack of body protection and relatively high price -- especially the more expensive and not-particularly-special aniline leather version. For the iPad mini, Apple has decided to stick with the lid concept: the iPad mini Smart Cover ($39) is obviously smaller than its full-sized counterpart, but includes additional modifications. This time, the company skipped the leather version altogether, instead offering six polyurethane color options: pink, light gray, dark gray, green, blue, or red, the latter part of the (PRODUCT) RED family.
Fundamentally, the iPad mini Smart Cover is very similar to its predecessor. The front of the 5.3” by 7.87” lid feels like “nice enough” plastic that we wouldn’t describe as premium material. On the reverse side is a microfiber layer that can be used to wipe down the iPad mini’s screen when it inevitably attracts fingerprints or dust; this material feels quite nice, basically indistinguishable from suede.
Apple made two major changes to the cover other than shrinking it down. The first is the elimination of one of the lid’s columns: rather than four bars, iPad mini Smart Cover has only three, with the one closest to the right edge measuring roughly 1.2” wide, and the other two at around 1.8”. All three are internally reinforced with thin pieces of metal. Additionally, the metal spine along the left edge—where the Smart Cover magnetically latches onto the iPad—has been replaced with one covered in polyurethane like the rest of the lid. It’s glued to a strip of material extending from the edge rather than integrated as one piece, but the bond is strong, and we have no concern that they’d actually separate from one another accidentally.
As expected, the iPad mini Smart Cover snaps right onto the iPad mini’s metal body using matching sets of magnets. You simply move the two into close proximity and they come together with a pretty tight hold, but pull apart when you want them to. Unlike the iPad Smart Cover, which only connects in one centered orientation, the smaller lid will adhere pretty much anywhere along the iPad mini’s left edge. It must be placed right around the middle to connect properly. When in place, it lays flat across the surface of the display and runs right up to the edges. It can also be folded behind the iPad mini when the device is in use. Just as with its predecessor, it maintains the signature lock/unlock feature as the cover is closed and opened.
Like the full-sized Smart Cover, the diminutive version can also fold into triangular landscape and portrait orientation stands. Because the larger one has overlapping segments, Apple had to figure out how to magnetically attach iPad mini Smart Cover to itself with one fewer column. The solution comes from a surprisingly strong connection formed between the lid’s left and right edges. It doesn’t look like the three sides should maintain a triangular position so strongly, but they do. The angles Smart Cover makes are well suited for typing or unadjustable video viewing. It also serves as a nice grip when the iPad mini is being held.
iPad mini Smart Cover is very much a smaller version of the original, and it doesn’t address any of the issues we found objectionable with the earlier version—it remains an overpriced, modestly protective front cover with a convenient but limited stand. Taken as a whole, it is functionally impressive, but its lack of protection for the price remains a real issue. Many users will want or need to purchase an additional shell to protect the iPad mini’s back and sides, which significantly adds to the overall cost. Even for the full-sized iPad, $39 seemed like too much to pay for a lid, and considering the smaller Smart Cover has 40% less area and no metallic spine to keep the price up, it’s just too expensive for what you’re getting. Some will feel that the elimination of the metal spine diminishes the visual appeal, although others will appreciate that there’s no longer metal that can tarnish or contrast in color with the newly black-backed iPad mini.
All things considered, the iPad mini Smart Cover is a reasonable stand that happens to also be a lid and is easy to carry around—factors that may make it appealing to some users, and ones that have made the original iPad Smart Cover more appealing to one of our editors than it initially seemed upon release. The single biggest issue remains its price tag, which is enough to purchase a good protective case; if it sold for less, it would be worthy of a higher rating. At some point, people will stop paying premiums for Apple-branded accessories that don’t have enough actual value to justify their price tags, but we suspect that this won’t be the straw that breaks the camel’s back.