Review: iSkin Solo Smart for iPad 2/iPad (3rd-Gen)
Most of the now numerous Smart Cover-compatible iPad 2 cases we've seen have the same basic structure: they're hard plastic shells with long openings along the left edge to accommodate the lid's magnetic metal spine. There are a few exceptions, however, and that list now includes Splash Products' Vapor II ($30) and iSkin Solo Smart ($50). Both are play-through cases made of softer, more flexible materials than the shells we've previously reviewed, with special lips designed to hold the Smart Cover in place.
Vapor II is a followup to Splash’s Vapor—practically identical, save for the added compatibility for Smart Cover owners. The whole body is made of TPU; most of it is frosted, but there are raised, glossy, convex scoops on both of the long edges. There’s no button or port coverage, but the case does extend all the way to each of the four edges and have appropriate openings. It is worth noting that the hole for the microphone is very large, similar to early iPad 2 cases that assumed a Thunderbolt or USB port would appear on the tablet’s top.
Installation of Vapor II can be confusing: rather than one long opening for the Smart Cover, there are two nub holes with a full lip between them. The idea is that the rubber shell fits over the lid and holds the spine in place. It works, but doesn’t look right. The shape of the lip is more matched to the curves of the iPad 2’s edge than the Smart Cover, so it doesn’t lie flat against the spine and appears as if it’s not on correctly. In addition, due to the thickness of the case the Smart Cover doesn’t sit flat, which means that its magnets can’t grab hold of the tablet to stay put. Rather, it falls away when tilted past 90 degrees.
iSkin’s case Solo Smart is a bit different, using the same kind of soft material, but also integrating harder plastic along the left side. Overall, it provides a firmer but still flexible backing. The rear is flat and glossy while the inside is textured, providing a cloudy appearance. Unlike Vapor II, Solo Smart has really good coverage along its edges—both the Sleep/Wake button and volume rocker are covered, and there are sturdy protectors for the headphone and Dock Connector ports. It’s a small detail, but we also liked the eye-shaped opening for the rear camera.
Unlike every other case we have seen in this category, Solo Smart is made to be used with or without a Smart Cover. It has a Cover spine protector, the aforementioned polycarbonate portion, and the company is using the term CoverLock for it. It fits much better than Vapor II’s, as it is tailored to Apple’s lid and not the edge of the tablet. For those wishing to use the case without a Smart Cover, iSkin also includes a snap-in soft plastic insert with four ridges that correlate to slots on the edge of the case, as well as plastic nubs to fit where the metal ones normally would. Although it doesn’t stay very well on its own, with the iPad 2 in the case it doesn’t move and provides much appreciated coverage. It’s 75% of the solution it could be with additional design time.
Both cases’ spine covers do hold the Smart Cover in place, preventing accidental removal. Some users will like this, while others might prefer the ability to remove Apple’s lid at will; we see it as an overall benefit. A negative of both of the cases is that they can affect screen protector films. In our testing, each peeled up the right corner of the film on our iPad 2. Neither of the cases come with film, either.
Solo Smart is the better of the two cases, but it’s impacted by the price—$50 is just too much for a TPU play-through case, especially when most competing Smart Cover-compatible shells fall within the $25-$35 range. While you do get the added benefit of being able to use it with and without the lid, this feature will really only impact users who have a Cover and decide not to use it for some period of time; there are plenty of other good options that cost less for users who don’t have Smart Covers. On the other hand, Vapor II offers more limited protection and a worse implementation of the spine cover at a more reasonable price. For different reasons, both cases merit the same B- rating; each could have stood to be at least a little better designed.
Updated April 10, 2012: iSkin has released a revised version of Solo Smart, now compatible with both the iPad 2 and the third-generation iPad. The design is exactly the same, and it comes with the same pack-ins; the only difference is a more accommodating body. As such, our original review from July 8, 2011 stands.