Marware MicroShell Folio for iPad 2
Smart Cover-compatible plastic rear shells have recently been appearing en masse for the iPad 2, but until now, none have eliminated the need for Apple's expensive lid accessory -- most of the rear shells cost between $25-$35, on top of the $39 starting cost of the Smart Cover. MicroShell Folio ($70) from Marware has eliminated the need to buy two separate pieces by combining a hard plastic shell with an articulating front lid, pretty much replicating the combination for about the same price. While its price-to-performance level isn't quite up to snuff with a basic Smart Cover and the best rear shells we've seen, we do appreciate the features it brings to the table.
MicroShell Folio’s rear shell is made from a painted clear plastic that looks either black, white, or silver on the outside. The iPad 2 fits well in the case and stays securely in place. Along the top, the headphone port, microphone, and Sleep/Wake button are all left exposed, as is a very thin strip of the aluminum right along the edge. MicroShell Folio’s bottom opening is similar, with an gap running most of the way across that juts down a little bit to leave the Dock Connector port accessible. Instead of leaving the speaker fully exposed, Marware mostly covers it with plastic, effectively using a series of small openings so as to not block the sound. Holes for the side switch, volume rocker, and rear camera are all precisely cut.
Attached to the shell on the left side is the front cover. Much like Apple’s Smart Cover, it is divided into sections, although instead of four it has three. The material feels pretty similar to the polyurethane used by Apple, although the soft inner lining is just a bit fluffier. On a positive note, MicroShell Folio’s magnets activate the iPad 2’s screen lock just as they are supposed to, and also hold the lid in place. On the other hand, stand functionality is somewhat different. Folding the three sections of the cover forms a triangular stand, but unlike Smart Cover, the segments don’t magnetically attach to one another. Because of this, Marware built two thick ridges into the back of the shell. The first holds the cover in a triangular shape at a viewing angle. For the typing angle, one must maneuver the cover so that the edge presses up against the second ridge. It works just fine, although it may not be immediately intuitive, and adds rails to the rear shell that rivals don’t need.
As we said shortly after the iPad Smart Cover came out, the idea of paying $40 for a lid and then adding a rear shell for even close to the same price struck us as a poor value—the reason we didn’t recommend iPad Smart Cover to our readers. Marware’s option effectively charges you the same price as you would pay for an Apple-developed Smart Cover, plus a rear shell by most of the other companies out there. The end result isn’t as satisfying as the best such combination we’ve tested, nor as bad as the worst. In any case, $70 is too much to pay for an all-plastic folio like this, whether it is through the combination of a Smart Cover and rear shell or MicroShell Folio by itself. That being said, our editors really do like the combination of a magnetic lid and rear shell, and having most of the same functionality together in one unit is a definite plus; at a lower price, and with a fully magnetic stand design, this would be a runaway hit. If you can find this at a discounted price, consider it to be worthy of a higher rating than our currently limited recommendation.