Review: iBackFlip Studios Somersault for iPad
We were surprised by how much we liked iBackFlip Studios' iBackFlip Original last year, so we were excited to receive the company's new Somersault ($100). Compatible with all three iPads, this new bag takes the same basic concept -- a sling carrier with a flip-open iPad holder -- and builds on it. While Somersault is larger than the original iBackFlip, there's a reason: it's also capable of carrying an 11" or 13" MacBook Air alongside your iPad.
Like the previous version, Somersault is primarily made of nylon, which is a smart choice for a bag like this. It’s mostly black, although you have a choice of a red, grey, or blue accent stripe across the front. The bag measures 14” wide by 10” tall, and the only major exception to the shiny nylon is netted, padded material on the inside of the shoulder strap and the back of the bag. That strap is adjustable using a clip in the middle. Three main pockets store extras: one on the front of the bag is suitable for smaller, flatter accessories, a large zip-open portion behind it is wide enough to hold Apple’s Wireless Keyboard, and in the back, there’s the MacBook Air holder. Additionally, a zipper on the shoulder strap opens to reveal an iPhone-sized pocket. Three elastic bands above this can be used to carry pens, styluses, and the like, while two clips at the opposite end are well-suited for keys.
While those features may sound like they could describe any generic computer bag, this one is very much designed around Apple’s tablets. Between the two larger pockets, in the center of the bag, is one more zippered opening. Inside you’ll find an iPad-sized frame, as well as two elastic stylus holders. The idea is that you can flip the bag around from your back to your chest, unzip it, and start using your iPad immediately; nylon straps hold it at your desired angle, and can be unsnapped if necessary. In our testing, the iPad sits at an angle that makes it somewhat impractical to use when standing, but works fine when sitting.
That frame, while better than the simple elastic bands used in the original iBackFlip, turns out to be the most problematic part of this version. Although access to the ports and buttons along the edges is acceptable, the bezel coverage isn’t quite right. With the iPad 2 and new iPad, it’s a little loose, covering a portion of the screen, as well as about half of the Home Button. It’s still usable, but compared to the rest of the case, the tailoring is surprising. Although we appreciate iBackFlip Studios’ trying to accommodate as many iPad users as possible, this is an instance where it would clearly have been better to design specifically for the more recent generations.
Somersault incorporates two other iPad-specific features, neither of which we’ve seen implemented by other companies. The first is an embedded magnet system that wakes and locks the iPad when its pocket is opened or closed, much like we saw in the first iBackFlip. If it seems like a bag might not be the best place for such a feature, well, you’re right. We found the feature worked unreliably, with peak performance when the bag was tilted back. It’s enough of a problem that we recommend turning the feature off in the iPad’s settings menu, otherwise you risk accidentally unlocking the tablet and draining the battery. The other feature is even more unique: unzip the first large pocket and you’ll see a hole reinforced with a metal grommet. This is to expose the tablet’s camera, allowing users to take pictures while the iPad is still in the bag. The company suggests launching the camera app, and then using the volume up button on a pair of headphones to activate the shutter. We’re note quite sure when exactly this would come in handy, but it’s an interesting idea. This also requires that you turn off the auto-locking feature though, as the camera will not snap pictures when the iPad is locked.
In several key ways, Somersault is a clear evolution over iBackFlip Original, and if everything had been executed perfectly, the $30 price hike wouldn’t strike us as unreasonable given how much more it can hold. We really appreciated that iBackFlip Studios improved on the things we faulted in the original, namely the iPad holder and the lack of room for other stuff. The overall aesthetic appeal is greater too; the company got the look and feel right on this one. Unfortunately, along with those improvements come new issues that really detract from the value of the bag. Magnetic locking simply must be turned off in order to risk unintentional battery drain—pretty much nullifying the fact that the feature is included—and the iPad frame could use further refinement, particularly for iPad 2 and third-gen iPad models. As solid as Somersault is as a carrying case for an iPad and a MacBook Air, the signature feature really hasn’t been polished here to the degree required for anytime, stand up/sit down iPad use. When it comes to an iPad-window equipped bag, we’d sooner recommend Hex’s Varsity Messenger Bag, but Somersault still does have some merits. It’s worthy of a limited recommendation, but with some post-release tweaks could become considerably better.
Updated May 16, 2012: Since the publication of this review, iBackFlip has cut the price of Somersault from $100 to $90. It has also informed us that it has upgraded the magnets inside the bag so that the sleep/wake functionality is not an issue, and that it will be altering the iPad frame to provide better Home button access.