At this point in the iPad 2’s lifecycle, it has become more common to see hard plastic shells that are compatible with Apple’s iPad Smart Cover than ones that aren’t. Unfortunately, many of the new offerings we see are often more of the same; there’s not much originality to be found. Two recent additions have special touches that set them apart just enough to warrant brief reviews: blueLounge’s Shell ($30) and Coolous’s SoftShell ($35).
blueLounge’s Shell, like most of the shells we have seen from other companies, is made of hard plastic and latches onto the tablet around the four corners. This is enough to hold the iPad 2 securely, even though it doesn’t snap in place around the entire perimeter. Thankfully the company took the time and effort to engineer a design that extends all the way to the top and bottom edges; many companies simply use long openings that expose too much of the iPad 2’s aluminum back.
This shell has cutouts for the headphone port, microphone, side switch and volume rocker, and Dock Connector port. There’s a series of dots over the speaker to allow sound through, and in a very unique move for a plastic shell, a small tab that provides Sleep/Wake button coverage. It’s a nice touch, but depending on how you install the case, you may have issues. On our first try the cover fit in such a way that the button was being held down. After removing and reinstalling it, however, it worked properly. As for the left edge, where the Smart Cover attaches, there’s simply a long opening all the way down that leaves a bit more of the back exposed than we’d like. It’s not a fatal flaw in the design.
SoftShell, on the other hand, is a rubber shell that has some differences—mostly positive—in comparison to Shell. Rather than just wrapping around the corners, this one has a lip that runs all the way around the top, right, and bottom edges of the iPad 2’s front. While this does provide some screen protection, it also slightly interferes with the magnetic connection between the device and the Smart Cover. The lid still stays in place most of the time, but falls away when placed on deeper angles.
Coverage along the edges is almost perfect in comparison to other shells we’ve seen. All of the openings are clean and well-sized, allowing access and accessory compatibility without exposing too much of the iPad 2’s back. Both the Sleep/Wake button and the volume rocker are covered, though the former feels a bit more “clicky” than the latter. The only real omission is speaker protection, which isn’t a huge issue but still noteworthy. We liked the well-tailored Smart Cover opening along the left side, as it comes much closer to the spine than Shell’s does. Of the two, SoftShell is the only one that includes any extras; Coolous ships the shell with a cleaning cloth.
Both Shell and SoftShell have one other feature that sets them apart from competitors: uniquely textured rear designs. Instead of simple flat material, the companies chose to do something different. blueLounge offers three different versions of its case: a surprisingly intricate floral pattern, as well as golfball and tartan options. SoftShell, on the other hand, has a fountain-like pattern of ridges. We like both companies’ styles, and see the patterns as more compelling than SwitchEasy’s similar attempts with the Avant-Garde Series for iPhone 4/4S. SoftShell feels particularly good, with the ridges making it a bit easier to hold the iPad 2.
Due to the sheer cost of pairing a Smart Cover and a compatible shell, we’ve yet to find a model worthy of an unqualified high recommendation; you’ll wind up paying at least $69 between the Smart Cover purchase, and the add-on rear piece, which is ridiculously expensive given that fully protective cases can be had for much less. Of these two shells, Coolous’s SoftShell is the one we prefer by a small margin, as it provides more button and side coverage while feeling a little nicer. The price is on the high end of what we’ve seen from other Smart Cover-compatible shells, but still in the same ballpark. SoftShell earns our general recommendation with a B rating. Shell from blueLounge is a pretty good choice as well. The inclusion of Sleep/Wake button coverage really sets it apart from other plastic shells that we’ve seen, and the designs are nice too, with a slightly lower price tag. It is also worthy of a general recommendation, but for slightly different reasons.
Company and Price
Compatible: iPad 2