Review: Element Case Joule Stand for iPad
It's seemingly easy -- very easy -- to build or buy a stand for the iPad. Some users have whittled down wood blocks, others have picked up cheap easels or picture frame holders, and a few have converted their iPad box inserts into makeshift trays. But these makeshift solutions all have common weaknesses: they look cheap, provide little functional versatility, and don't fully replace the user's desire for a properly designed iPad mount. Most are "make do with" options as people await real accessories. As of this point, they have three iPad-specific choices.
We reviewed Griffin’s $50 A-Frame last week, and as this week draws to a close, this combined review looks at Luxa2’s H4 iPad Holder ($50) and Element Case’s Joule Stand for iPad ($129-$139)—rivals that similarly rely upon sculpted aluminum to hold the iPad upright at varying angles for passive viewing, typing, and potentially game playing. All three of these stands are capable of holding your iPad on a recline in either portrait or landscape mode, but from there, they differ dramatically, and the best overall option in the bunch is also the most reasonably priced.
If we had to choose just one of these stands to recommend to all of our readers, it would be the H4 iPad Holder, due more to its overall combination of versatility, polish, and pricing than its looks. H4 is the sequel to H1-Touch, a physically smaller but functionally identical version sold for iPod touch- and iPhone-sized devices, and has the same advantages: an iPad-matching aluminum base with a cable managing slot, and a rotating, pivoting cradle with expanding rubber-tipped metal arms that can hold a bare or encased iPad as firmly as you prefer. Like the other two stands, it feels solid and sturdy even without an iPad resting in its cradle; but unlike Griffin’s A-Frame, all of its edges are polished to prevent iPad or finger damage.
All three of these stands have some sort of aluminum base, but only H4 has a cradle with such versatility. Because the cradle has a rubber-padded, hand-like design with fingertips pointing out to serve as grips, its edges are open, enabling it to provide full access to the iPad’s Dock Connector port, speakers, side controls, headphone port, and microphone. Once you place the iPad in the cradle, you can rotate it 360 degrees and tilt it on virtually any angle you might prefer, including completely parallel to the surface the stand is on, only six and a half inches up in the air. The only angle it can’t tilt to is completely perpendicular with the surface it’s on; there’s always at least a modest recline. We mention this solely because users looking to use the iPad as a nightstand TV may—depending on the heights of their nightstands and beds—find the steepest angle to be less than ideal, though neither other stand does better, and current-generation iPad screens remain visible on off-angles.
H4’s biggest weaknesses are interrelated, and a result of the cradle’s design. Yes, Luxa2’s moving metal and rubber arms are definitely the most accommodating we’ve seen on an iPad stand, just as they were with the iPhone and iPod touch on H1-Touch. They can be positioned to hold devices considerably narrower and somewhat wider than the iPad, as well as the current iPad inside almost any play-through case we’ve yet seen. But they have a splayed chicken-like appearance when the iPad’s not there, masked only when the iPad’s inserted—both A-Frame and Joule just look nicer. Also, placement of the iPad in the cradle is a little more challenging than with its competitors when the cradle’s in landscape orientation rather than portrait. These are relatively small but non-trivial issues for some users, and should be fixed in an H4 sequel.
Element Case’s new Joule Stand for iPad is, by comparison with both H4 and A-Frame, exceedingly stylish but extremely expensive and functionally quite limited. The core piece looks somewhat like a tube, but is actually a substantial-feeling solid aluminum base with a groove down the center for the bottom or side of an iPad, a U-shaped Home button cutout, a pill-shaped speaker cutout, and three circular holes on the back. You insert a matching included pipe into your choice of the three holes to change the stand’s angle of tilt. Rubber stabilizes both parts on a flat surface, and a foam lining protects your iPad from being scratched by the metal in the stand.
Though Element Case’s photos of Joule depict it in an attractive chrome finish, which is sold for the $129 base price, the versions that arrived here for review were different: one is called “brushed aluminum” and also available for $129, while the other is nearly identical in finish but black, and sold for $139. The company will also offer Joule with laser-engraved graphics or custom coatings, though the prices aren’t yet listed on its site; an iLounge logo added to the front of the black stand was crisp in detail and brownish gray in color.
Joule has several positives in its favor and a bunch of negatives that preclude it from receiving our recommendation. On the plus side are its elegance and what it does do: in addition to requiring the least space for travel purposes, Joule continues to look sharp when there’s no iPad inside, and holds the iPad with a minimum of visual interference on each of the three possible angles it can be set for. One is steep enough for frequent typing, while the other two are increasingly more upright, eventually resembling H4 at its gentlest recline. You need to turn the iPad on its side by yourself to switch the orientation, just like A-Frame, but unlike H4. This isn’t a problem, and since there’s no need generally to have the iPad on a 45 degree or less rotation, H4’s fully revolving cradle arguably has more turning capability than is really required.
But Joule’s negatives outweigh its advantages. The $129 and $139 asking prices are hard to justify given the functionality offered here, particularly when you consider that you’ll need to fidget with the rear pipe to adjust the angle, and lose the more gradual adjustments offered by competing designs at much lower prices. A more serious issue is that Joule doesn’t work properly with literally any of the iPad cases we’ve tested—even the millimeter-thick Incipio Feather can’t squeeze fully into the groove—so you’ll only be able to use it with a bare or nearly-bare iPad. Some users mightn’t mind this. As we’d never consider using our iPads without something protective on, we mind a lot. Then there’s the Dock Connector issue: Joule is the only stand of the three that won’t let you recharge your iPad when it’s in portrait mode unless you’re willing to turn it upside down and run the cable from its top. That’s not such an elegant solution given the accessory’s otherwise minimalist design.
Overall, our buying advice at this point in time is as follows: if you’re looking for a truly budget-priced, budget-quality solution, you can skip any of these stands in favor of something cheap or homemade, but if you want a mounting solution with versatility and good looks, these stands provide different alternatives. Luxa2’s H4 has the best overall combination of pricing, adjustability, and device compatibility, but the least attractive design, while the same-priced A-Frame from Griffin is more attractive and equally aggressive in price, yet a little less flexible and polished around the edges. Joule is the cleanest of the designs, and available with the most colors and customization, but it’s also the least versatile and by far the most expensive stand of the group. You can choose which works best for your home or office.