Review: iPort Charge Case and Stand for iPad mini
Over the past year, we’ve seen major improvements to wireless charging systems for iPhones that have brought the concept from "impractical" to "reasonable," namely including BuQu Tech’s Magnetyze, which brought together a handsome case and a truly useful ecosystem of charging and mounting accessories, without a crazy price tag. We haven’t seen a comparable system for tablets yet, but iPort’s Charge Case and Stand for iPad mini ($100) is a strong step in that direction. Currently available for Apple’s first-generation 7.9" tablet — iPad Air and iPad mini with Retina Display are said to be forthcoming — it pairs a protective case with a charging base. Both have unique features that show some real thought went into the design, particularly the case.
With a body made almost entirely of hard, matte plastic, the case portion of Charge Case and Stand easily slides on to the body of the iPad mini from the top and bottom, with rubber rails protecting the metal back from being scratched. The first-generation mini fits tightly enough that the extra 0.3mm thickness of the Retina version may pose an issue; combine that with the lack of an opening for the second microphone, and it makes sense that a separate version is in the works. Despite the presence of electronics inside, the case adds little thickness, height, and weight to the mini; but for the 5/8”-tall chin along the bottom edge, it could pass for a standard protective case; the tablet can still easily be held in one hand. One of the coolest features of the case is the fact that it’s iPad mini Smart Cover-compatible, without leaving an exposed edge. The lid actually connects to the plastic case itself, and still covers the screen properly.
Our favorite iPad cases protect not only the body of the device, but also the buttons; this is the one area in which iPort falls slightly behind the competition. The Sleep/Wake and volume buttons are left exposed, as are the side switch, headphone port, microphone, and iSight camera. One of the most interesting aspects of this case is how the Lightning port is handled. A Lightning connector is integrated into the case and plugs into the iPad mini’s bottom, but iPort made that connector removable. The plastic around it can actually slide off without removing the case, revealing the port if you need direct access. It’s a really impressive and thoughtful feature that we’re happy to see as a part of the solution. Audio from the speakers is ported out through the front of the case, with no degradation in quality. Finally, there are two sets of contacts on the case. One is along the bottom edge, and the other the left.
The docking station included with the kit is something of a beast, weighing in at over a pound and a half. Weight can actually be a good thing for stands, though, as it helps keep them stationary. The dock is made of glossy and matte black plastic, with rubber lining the bottom, and a 12W/2.4A power supply permanently integrated. By pressing on silver pegs on either side, you can move the stand angle between three different positions, from about 25° up to 75°.
Raised contacts on the dock match those on the back of the case, and magnetically attach to them when placed in close proximity. Once connected, the iPad mini automatically begins charging, and because there are contacts along both the horizontal and vertical edges, it can do so in portrait or landscape orientation. This is a smart choice; we can’t help but think back to early prototypes of the first iPad with twin Dock Connector ports in a similar orientation. Because it’s a 2.4A charger, you get full-speed charging with any iPad that’s docked in the system.
In considering the final value of this system, it’s important to look at its constituent pieces. A good dock without any charging hardware or cables sells for around $30, and a case of this sort would go for $35. Adding a 12W charger and a Lightning cable will cost you another $40, assuming you go with Apple products. That brings you over the $100 cost before you even consider iPort’s wireless charging. Taking the design of the parts and the total value of the bundle into consideration, it’s easy to offer the Charge Case and Stand our high recommendation. iPort got so much right here, and little touches such as the removable Lightning plug pushed the solution over the top from very good to great.