Until you’ve actually used the iPad for a few days, you mightn’t realize that something very important is missing from Apple’s box, but the omission will soon becomes obvious: hand-holding the iPad becomes tiring, particularly at night, so you’ll most likely want a stand — perhaps even two or three for different rooms around the house. Your options today are cheap stands such as plastic or wood photo holders, good but not great holders like Apple’s iPad Dock, and a collection of new custom-designed metal stands from accessory companies including Griffin, Thermaltake, and Element Case. Griffin’s A-Frame ($50) is the first we’ve actually received for testing, and though it literally has some rough edges, it’s otherwise a very good option.
The A-Frame is a solid aluminum stand for the iPad that uses gray plastic for padding and hard metal everywhere else, providing an attractive, iPad-matching mounting solution for desks and other flat surfaces. In addition to the plastic, which is in soft rubber form for a bottom-of-iPad lip, desk pads, and two back-of-iPad rings, A-Frame consists of two pieces of metal: one holds the iPad, and the other serves as a pivoting rear arm, allowing you to adjust the iPad’s viewing angle from almost completely upright to a gentle recline that’s similar to the one on Apple’s official iPad Dock.
Yet unlike Apple’s Dock, you can use A-Frame with play-through encased iPads—obviously not sleeves—and turn them on their sides for landscape-orientation viewing.
The importance of these two features cannot be overstated, particularly after trying Apple’s Dock and seeing how limiting it is; there’s very real convenience in being able to just drop the iPad into A-Frame while it’s still inside a case, and change the iPad’s orientation to landscape mode at will.
Given that the other landscape viewing options available today are to hold the device with your hand or try to prop it up on other things for the duration of your videos, having a stand transforms the iPad from a cool little handheld computer into a downright addictive alternative to a television.
Additionally, though it mightn’t be obvious from pictures, A-Frame permits both USB cable and speaker access through holes and grooves cut in the bottom rubber padding. In practice, the speaker groove works seamlessly to rechannel a vertically-oriented iPad’s sound without diminishing its volume, and if you supply your own cable, charging and synchronization aren’t a problem regardless of whether the iPad is upright or on its side.
A-Frame isn’t perfect, however. Griffin’s web site suggests that it’s useful either standing up or laying down, but we found virtually no value in using it in the latter position; if its bulging rear hinge was thicker, making its angle on a flat surface more pronounced, this might have been different.
More importantly, Griffin’s aluminum machining process isn’t quite up to Apple snuff. While A-Frame looks beautiful, all it takes is a few seconds of handling before its unpleasantly sharp and occasionally slightly rough edges become obvious. Though these edges never make contact with the iPad or table thanks to the rubber padding, A-Frame really needs gentle, iPad-like beveled sides in order to feel safe to carry around in your hands. We found ourselves wanting to just set it in one place and not touch it.
Hopefully, Griffin will polish the rough edges in a post-release tweak, as A-Frame is otherwise a really nice accessory, matching the iPad’s looks and expanding its usability past Apple’s own solutions for both desks and nightstands. Though its $50 asking price isn’t cheap, and may well lead some users to question its lack of electronic functionality relative to Apple’s iPad Dock, we’ve found A-Frame to be more useful than Apple’s design for everything other than line-out audio; it or something like it will soon be considered as mandatory for iPad users as a smart protective solution.
Updated July 12, 2010: At some point after the initial production run of A-Frame, Griffin updated the stand with a version that was supposed to have been improved, with polished edges that weren’t as rough on the fingers.