With the debut of Apple’s second-generation iPad just around the corner, we wanted to revisit a number of stands for the first-generation model to see which have come closest to getting a “right” formula for design, materials, and pricing. As is always the case, it’s unclear as to whether these stands will be compatible with the revised shape and size of new iPad models, so our ratings are based solely on their suitability for use with the original iPad.
We’re just going to come right out and say it: putting the issue of its value as an iPad stand aside, we haven’t been able to take our hands off of Twelve South’s Compass ($40) for the two weeks we’ve been actively testing it. Made from lightly gloss-coated silver steel with rubber pads in all the right places, this foldable metal stand inspires so much fidgeting when it’s not in use that we’ve found ourselves constantly picking it up and playing with its hinges, opening and closing the stand enough times to constitute a year of use for less interestingly designed alternatives. Something subconsciously appealing in its weight, feel and lines just inspires playfulness, which is really saying something given how much we’d normally be focused totally on interacting with the iPad itself.
Thankfully, Compass is also a very good stand when judged solely for its intended purpose. Twelve South has designed it as a three-legged easel-like iPad holder that primarily operates on two angles. One is upright with a video-friendly 60-degree angle, with the rear leg providing just a little give for a steeper but slightly less stable position. The other elevates the iPad on a 15-degree angle for typing with basically no room for further adjustment. In each orientation, two rubber-coated feet fold out from Compass’s long legs, holding the iPad in place, with rubber padding on every edge that could touch a table or the iPad itself. It’s case-compatible, but safe enough to use with an unencased iPad, as well. A velvet and elastic carrying case is included for taking Compass on the road.
Compared with other “mobile stands,” which is to say ones that can be folded up and carried around rather than just left on a desk, Compass has some major advantages. Its physical size is the dominant one, as the closed size is 7.1” by 1” by 0.4”—smaller than almost every alternative on the market. The $40 asking price is also in exactly the right ballpark given the quality of the metal and convenience of the design. After an hour of holding Compass, there won’t be any question in your mind that it feels like it’s worth the asking price.
And it’s also a lot nicer-looking than most of its portable rivals. Only Just Mobile’s Slide eclipses it in elegance and functionality for the price, but then, neither stand has the complete edge. Slide’s rubber core requires frequent adjustment that the more position-limited Compass does not. Compass also folds up to an even more convenient size than Slide, and has a far higher fidget factor while providing less of a challenge during vertical orientation cable connection. Neither one will be ideal for every user, but either will substantially satisfy most people.
Our high recommendation of Twelve South’s Compass recognizes it as one of the very best stands released for the first-generation iPad. We’ve been impressed by its looks, build quality, and resilience to plenty of manhandling, while its ability to convert all but instantly from a solid blade-sized shape into an easel sets it apart from virtually every other iPad stand on the market. Compass is what Amzer’s budget-priced Foldo stand becomes when higher-quality materials and superior design considerations are brought to bear. The only type of iPad user who should look elsewhere is one who has no need for portability, in which case there are other and sometimes more expensive options such as Just Mobile’s Encore that are larger and arguably more convenient for pure desktop use. Even so, Compass is a cool enough option to nearly match the better dedicated desktop stands we’ve seen, at an aggressive enough price to be worthy of any user’s attention.
Updated October 3, 2011: Twelve South subsequently added two additional colors of Compass to its lineup: a glossy-finished red, and a matte-finished black. They both come with the same velvet carrying case as before.
Company and Price
Company: Twelve South
Compatible: iPad (2010)