Review: The Joy Factory SmartSuit2 for iPad 2
Folio-style cases are becoming increasingly numerous for the iPad 2, as Apple's tablet naturally lends itself to a book-like appearance and benefits from the integrated stands found in many of the designs. Today, we're reviewing six recent folio case models: The Joy Factory's SmartSuit2 ($60), Noreve's Tradition Leather Case (€85-€95/~$120-$134) and Tradition B Leather Case (€90-€100/~$127-$141), and United SGP's Argos ($95-$98), Leinwand ($90-$93), and Stehen ($85-$88). These cases all have a lot in common, but of course, each takes a slightly different approach to the style, and none incorporates any particularly exciting features.
Of the bunch, SmartSuit2 is the most unique. Made from a mix of obvious plastic and artificial leather, it combines a traditional shell with a Smart Cover-like front lid. The tablet snaps securely into place in the back shell, which covers most of the device’s metal rear. Along the top edge, there’s a thin sliver of exposed metal, with deeper indentations for the headphone port, microphone, and Sleep/Wake button. The bottom edge has clearance for the Dock Connector port as well as the speaker, while the front cover has magnets that activate the iPad 2’s automatic locking feature, and also folds into a stand for either viewing or typing. Unlike Smart Cover, however, there are no magnets on the left side of the lid, so it cannot magnetically form a sturdy stand. Instead, SmartSuit2’s lid simply relies on the weight of the iPad 2 to hold the triangular shape. What’s most notable here is that SmartSuit2 is $10 less expensive than Marware’s comparable MicroShell Folio, more functional, and certainly better-looking.
Noreve’s standard Tradition offers the benefit of being available in a multitude of real and faux leather colors and textures—something the different prices reflect. It is made of a reinforced rear shell, lined on the inside with embossed black leather, and a flat front lid. Unfortunately, the shell isn’t very good. The shape is slightly off, which leads to the iPad 2 not sitting flush against it, and leaves gaps between the two surfaces; consequently, the tablet is really just held in place by 3.5” lips on the left and right sides. Not only are the headphone port, microphone, Sleep/Wake button, side switch, volume rocker, Dock Connector, speaker, and rear camera totally exposed, but so is almost the entire outermost edge of the iPad 2.
The lid on our review unit—a patent leather gold model—is slightly puffy, providing a bit of bump protection, and has magnets that activate the automatic locking feature of the iPad 2. Inside, there are two document pockets, as well as four business card-sized slots. To hold the whole thing shut, a tab folds over from the back. Round magnets with smaller concentric circles attach to one another. Unless you’re specifically trying to line them up correctly, it’s pretty difficult, unlike Apple’s auto-aligning magnets on the iPad Smart Cover. It’s also surprising that Noreve didn’t integrate any sort of stand functionality into this design.
Although its name is almost identical, Tradition B turns out to be fairly different. Sold in the same array of shades, it uses more form-fitting yet less protective backing. Instead of a full shell, the tablet is held in place by the same kind of curled over edges we have seen from many companies. In fact, the design is almost identical to the Protekto Organik iPad 2 Easel Case from LuxMobile and Scosche’s foldIO P2 Case. We didn’t like them when we saw them in March—and they’re less than half this case’s price. Tradition B turns into a stand the same way, too: pop the left edge out of the holder, and it can be positioned in one of three grooves on the inside of the front lid. The only real benefit is in the inclusion of magnets in the cover, which also hold the case shut and wake it upon opening. Protekto and foldIO didn’t have this feature.
United SGP’s designs are all variations on the same general theme. Argos has the same kind of rear leather shell as Tradition, and while the color options are more limited—five as opposed to almost two dozen—the rear shell is at least closer to correctly designed. The iPad 2 sits flush inside and is fully protected on the sides, save for where the edge breaks to allow access to the volume rocker and side switch. There are long openings along the top and bottom with dips for the buttons and ports, each of which are totally usable. United SGP has again used a metal mesh insert to protect the speaker, and we continue to think it is a smart idea with nice, iPad 2-matching looks.
The outside of Argos’s front cover is flat all the way across, with both magnets and a small lip to latch onto the tablet, holding the folio shut. Inside, the case has two fold-out stands, one nested inside the other. The smaller of the two provides for a good if somewhat unsteady typing angle, while the larger is made for portrait viewing. Each is attached by a ribbon and and held in place by magnets. Although the design of these stands helps Argos look very clean, we’re not big fans of the stands, as they don’t feel completely sturdy. This turns out to be an issue with each of the SGP cases we look at today.
Stehen uses the exact same style of rear shell as on Argos; the look and fit are identical. Where the cases differ is the front cover. On Stehen, the lid is significantly thinner because it doesn’t hold any stands, though there are still magnets inside. Here, the lid folds under the shell and bends at about two-thirds of the way from the right edge. Sewn into the back are two flaps into which the cover can be tucked into. While both work to stand the iPad 2 up for viewing in both portrait and landscape orientations, the typing stand is a bit more precarious. Unless the small, soft portion of the lid is manually pulled outwards—a position it does not naturally take—the case will collapse.
Leinwand is another story, though a similar one. From a distance, the back looks nearly identical to Stehen’s and Argos’s except for the addition of a slim seam line that runs from the top down to the bottom, enabling the shell to fold nearly in half. “Nearly” is the key word here, though, as the fold actually is just to the left of the iPad 2’s top microphone, and the leather top winds up covering the mic entirely. Poor trimming of the interior microfiber lining winds up just barely covering the headphone port’s edge, too, and the Dock Connector port hole initially appears to be trimmed too tightly, as well. While the mic, headphone port, and Dock Connector port all can still be used in the case, the implementation just seems a little off.
So is the front lid. Unlike Argos, which has a pretty stable front lid thanks to both the magnets and the small clasp, Leinwand and Stehen’s front lids tend to move around due to weak magnets inside, so you can expect to hear some clicking and inadvertent activations/deactivations of the iPad 2 auto-lock feature when these cases are tossed into your bag. Leinwand adds another wrinkle, as the three-segmented front lid looks like it can be turned into a triangle for stability, but really can’t. Instead, you pop the iPad 2 out of half of the rear shell, then flip one of the lid’s segments inside to provide a less than entirely stable stand solution with a relatively large footprint. It just doesn’t seem to have been fully thought through.
Overall, The Joy Factory’s SmartSuit2 is the best case out of this bunch of folios. It’s the most affordable, pretty protective, fits well, and has a nicely designed front cover. While it’s not as beautiful or flashy as some of its rivals, we have no qualms in recommending this case; it is worthy of a B+ rating. It’s almost at the same level of quality as PixelSkin HD Wrap from Speck, but the price point isn’t as aggressive. Both cases from Noreve are much less exciting. While the variety of different leathers is appreciated, they aren’t real standouts, and some—including the patent leather versions—just are not worthy of the very high cost. Of the two designs, we preferred Tradition, but that’s only because we really didn’t like the retread design of Tradition B. Due as much to pricing as anything else, neither is worthy of our recommendation; Tradition rates a C, while Tradition B comes in at C-.
The cases from United SGP are also too expensive, but they at least look nicer, are more protective, and more functional. Made from real leather, Argos is cleanly implemented, and feels good, meriting a B rating. Other than the high price, its biggest problem is how precarious the stands feel. Stehen uses a different stand design but suffers from the same problem; it doesn’t feel terribly sturdy. The front cover is also thinner, which feels cheaper, and the design merits a B- overall. Leinwand has a different and even less appealing stand concept. While we really liked the leather’s look and feel here, we can’t help but feel that the lid and stand concept was half-baked, and really could have used some additional thought. It merits a C+. All three of United SGP’s designs could seriously benefit from being turned into a single model with a smarter design.