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Review: ZAGG LEATHERskins for the iPad 2

Ever since the release of the original iPad over a year ago, there has been a collective search for the perfect way to carry the device, carried out by companies and consumers alike. Should we put this new tablet in a case? If so, what should it look like and what should it be made out of? Do we need a screen protector? How about a rear skin? What should they be made out of, and how should they be applied?

We have seen enough iPad case and cover products and solutions to fill an encyclopedia. While many are just cheap knockoffs populating the pages of eBay and various cheap accessory vendors, there are a lot of high quality products out there with a lot of thought and solid design behind them. Unfortunately, with so many choices with similar designs, functions, and price points, what we end up with often feels like a lot of “noise.” Few products stand out enough from the rest to be recognizable, which can make it difficult for consumers to find the right solution to meet their needs. Because of this, the accessory market can be tough to keep up with, even for those who make it our business to do so.

With the release of the iPad 2, Apple decided to take this case race and turn it on its ear. Apple did have a first-party offering for original iPad, but it was forgettable to say the least, and paled in comparison with higher quality third-party cases. For their second attempt, Apple pulled out all of the stops and put their well-known design chops to good use. What they came up with was the Smart Cover- a, thin, stylish, and easily removable combination of screen cover and stand that integrates beautifully with the iPad 2’s thinner design. The Smart Cover also offers customers plenty of choices, as it comes in two materials and a variety of colors. It was everything that the original iPad case wasn’t. With the Smart Cover, Apple took a big step toward solving the ultimate iPad accessory question.

Unfortunately, as compelling as the Smart Cover is, Apple has only given us half of the solution to our case quest. The Smart Cover does not offer any protection for the back of the iPad 2. For many, including myself, a Smart Cover and a smile just isn’t enough in a world full of things hazardous to a mobile device. I have personally been using Smart Covers (yes, I have more than one) in combination with a rear skin to at least give me some scratch protection and add a little extra grip to the back of my iPad 2. However, there have been a lot times, especially when using my iPad in more inhospitable places, that this combo left me feeling a little nervous that it wasn’t fully protected.

However, just as with the original release of the original iPad, third-party manufacturers have rushed in to fill the void, offering a plethora of options for Smart Cover compatible rear protection for the iPad 2. Just as before, we have a growing list of similar products that are trying to all do similar things, while somehow distinguishing themselves from the pack. One product that has managed to stand out in my eyes is the LEATHERskins line from ZAGG. They are an interesting marriage of the two primary protection methods for the iPad. They are thin, and stick to the back of the device with adhesive like a skin, but are actually made of the same materials as a high-end case. This combination is definitely interesting, and right up ZAGG’s alley when you think about it, since they are one of the pioneers in advanced mobile skins and coverings.

The LEATHERskins product actually isn’t new. They have actually been around since April of last year, and are now available for a variety of smartphones and tablets, including the iPhone 4. To be honest, they just didn’t interest me before. I do remember seeing them on ZAGG’s website and thinking that they were a cool concept, but I was sort of locked into the idea of using a full coverage case with the more substantial iPad 1. To be fair, this was more a product of the weight and size of the device, rather than anything objectionable about the LEATHERskins themselves. However, within a week after I laid my hands on the iPad 2, my view on how to carry and cover the device changed dramatically.

I had originally thumbed my nose at the idea of using a Smart Cover. It seemed more like an overpriced toy than something I would use to protect my iPad 2 screen everyday. However, I eventually broke down and got one after not finding anything else that I liked, and quickly changed my mind about it. I have two of them now, and I absolutely love them. The design compliments the iPad 2 so perfectly, and the stand function works much better than I thought it would before I tried them.

Getting a rear skin to protect the back of my iPad 2 was something I was already comfortable with, so I picked one up soon after the iPad 2’s launch. However, I also started looking around at different Smart Cover compatible cases and accessories as they became available. I tried a few, but none of them really clicked with me. They were either too big, too slippery, too expensive, or didn’t work well with my screen protector, which I wasn’t about to part with. The Smart Cover is popular because it works perfectly with the iPad 2 while doing its job, without compromising the aesthetics of the device. Unfortunately, none of the initial Smart Cover compatible rear covers that I tried came even close to the same level of performance.

While I was working on my Logitech Bluetooth Keyboard Case a couple of months ago, I happened to be browsing around the ZAGG website, and I re-discovered the LEATHERskins. The first thing that came to mind is how intriguing this product would be with Smart Cover compatibility. I got in touch with my PR contact at ZAGG, and he gave me a cryptic, but upbeat reply that lead me to believe that a product update was a strong possibility. Within a few weeks, the official announcement was made, and I knew that I would have to give them a try.

I was quite surprised when I looked at ZAGG’s updated page after the LEATHERskins actually launched. Not only was ZAGG still offering the standard full-sized LEATHERskins for the iPad 2, in all of the previously available colors and styles, but they also released color matched versions for all of Apple’s Smart Covers. This even included polyurethane models that look and feel exactly like their Apple counterparts. Lots of other case and cover manufacturers are producing color matched cases that pair with Smart Covers, but none that I have seen are matching them with the same material. That distinction really sets the ZAGG LEATHERskins apart from other competitors.

I had the opportunity to test both a Blue Polyurethane and a Tan Leather Smart Cover Compatible LEATHERskin for this review. First, let’s take a look at the installation process. The LEATHERskins come with three separate, tabbed plastic backings overlay the adhesive covered back.

The tabs are numbered, and have brief instructions printed directly on them. The suggested installation is to peel the small middle section first, line up the camera lens hole and port notches, and then press the center of the skin down to fix it to the iPad 2. Then, you peel the larger top section and press it down, followed by the bottom section after that.

Like a lot of skins made for the back side of Apple devices, the ZAGG LEATHERskins have tabs and flaps that cover the corners and sides of the device.

However, while these parts of most skins, especially those that are the wet-apply type, can be difficult and time consuming to line up and stick down evenly on the iPad’s curved edges, the LEATHERskins were a breeze to set. Both of the skins were BY FAR the easiest and fastest rear skins I have ever put on. This is another huge plus in my book.

The first LEATHERskin that tried out was the Blue Poly model. I have to be honest. The Blue Poly Smart Cover was the first one that I purchased, and at the time, I absolutely loved it. However, since I got my leather model, I’ve hardly touched it. As good as it is, it just can’t compete with the feel of real leather.

However, pairing it with the Blue Poly LEATHERskin definitely breathed some new life into it for me.

The first thing you tend to notice with any of the LEATHERskins is the look. They are a near-perfect match with the Smart Covers they pair with, and the Blue Poly is no exception.

I especially like how the color pops with my white iPad 2 and really compliments it.

The second thing that immediately stands out is the feel. Just as with the looks, the Poly LEATHERskins are a dead on match when it comes to the feel of the material. Unlike all of the competing Smart Cover compatible products, these skins bring a unity to the device. The front and back feel like they go together when you put your hands on them.

The biggest compliment that I can pay to the ZAGG is that the end result with the LEATHERskins feels like what Apple should have done themselves. This back cover really fits with the device the same way that the Smart Cover itself does.

After a week of use, the Blue Poly LEATHERskins looked exactly as it did when I put it on. I didn’t notice any obvious scratches or wear over that time.

I realize that a week isn’t too long of a test run, but I am a heavy iPad user. I take mine with me to work and use it there every day, sometimes in some not-so-friendly environments. I also have three young kids who LOVE to get their hands on it when they can. So, a week with me is a pretty good short-term litmus test. I’ve come away pretty impressed, as the LEATHERskins have held up very well for me at this point. Based on my brief trial with it, the Poly LEATHERskins look like the way to go if durability is a primary concern.

As for the Tan LEATHERskin, there are both a few similarities and obvious differences between it and the Blue Poly model. As for the look, just like its counterpoint, it is a dead on match with the Smart Cover in the color department.

However, the grain and the feel of the leather are a bit different. The Smart Cover’s leather is much softer, and the Tan and Cream models have a natural grain that gives each one a unique appearance that is very easy to see. The Tan LEATHERskin’s texture is a bit rougher than the Smart Covers, and its surface has a much more uniform color.

Don’t get me wrong. The LEATHERskin does not feel cheap. Not by a long shot. There is just more difference between it and the leather SmartCover than their synthetic counterparts. However, that shouldn’t come as a surprise, as synthetic materials will always be more consistent across a line of products, and therefore easier to match. Also, the slightly rougher texture is probably an advantage in the long run, since it is on the side that will be taking on the majority of normal wear.

I have also noticed differences between the Tan LEATHERskin and the Blue Poly model in how they wear. While the Poly model showed virtually no wear after my testing, the Tan LEATHERskin, like most anything made of real leather, shows some nominal signs of use over time.

However, this isn’t really a negative with leather as it is with synthetics, as it tends to take on some “personality” thanks to it. In fact, after a week with the Tan model installed, the little bit of wear actually makes it look more like the Smart Cover than it did out of the box. Again, don’t get me wrong. The Tan LEATHERskin isn’t poorly constructed, and doesn’t perform badly. It’s just different from the synthetic model. In fact, as much as I liked the Blue Poly model, I actually prefer the way the leather version looks and feels.

Before I declare ZAGG’s LEATHERskins the undisputed king of the Smart Cover compatible back covers, there are a few caveats to keep in mind. For instance, there are some limitations to be aware of. First of all, since the LEATHERskins are adhesive backed skins, they lack the versatility that removable cases provide. Once you apply the LEATHERskin, it isn’t coming off so easily. As good as the LEATHERskins are and as well as they perform, people who like to swap between different accessories from time to time may find this quite limiting.

Another issue that comes into play is that, due to their increased thickness over traditional device skins, LEATHERskins prevent the use of some iPad 2 accessories. For instance, since I installed the Blue Poly LEATHERskin a couple of weeks ago, I have been unable to use the ZAGGfolio case that I recently reviewed. While it is compatible with ZAGG’s InvisibleShield skins, the LEATHERskins are thick enough that the iPad 2 will no longer fit under the case’s plastic clips. This will probably be the case for most any form-fitting iPad 2 accessory. While this limitation won’t matter to a large number of iPad 2 users, any form-fitting iPad 2 accessory. While this limitation won’t matter to a large number of iPad 2 users, people who have already invested in other high-priced accessories may find the inability to use them with the LEATHERskin a problem.

I have to admit that the LEATHERskin’s lack of versatility is the biggest roadblock to me using the it full time. If there was a way to quickly and safely remove and re-use them, I would be totally on board. While this certainly isn’t recommended or endorsed by ZAGG, when it came time to switch between my two skins when it came time to switch between my two skins I was able to carefully remove the Blue Poly model and put the plastic backing on again to cover the remaining adhesive. The adhesive seemed to hold up pretty well, and I feel pretty confident that I could put the skin on one more time and have it stay on.

However, while this may work, it is obviously not ideal for someone like me. In response, I actually went so far as to suggest a possible solution to this dilemma to my PR contact at ZAGG. For those who really love enjoy the look and feel of the LEATHERskins, but want more versatility in how they can use them, why not offer a thin, light, snap on, Smart Cover compatible case that fits the form of the skin? Then, the LEATHERskin can be applied to the surface of something removable. Also, if and when the skin wears out, gets damaged, or falls out of favor, it can simply be replaced on top of the same shell. Sure, there would be a trade-off in the increased size over the LEATHERskin alone, but for someone like me, that would probably be just fine. If I had this case option, the LEATHERskin would immediately become the everyday back cover solution for my iPad 2. I can dream, can’t I?

There are a couple of other potential issues to keep in mind as well. They are the price and ultimate durability of the LEATHERskins. The LEATHERskins cost $49.99 for the leather models, with the poly models running $29.99. When you consider the price of traditional cases and skins, the price of the Apple Smart Covers, and the LEATHERskins’ high quality materials that match its counterpart’s look and feel, I don’t think that these prices are at all unreasonable. Sure, LEATHERskins aren’t cheap, but most other high quality iOS accessories aren’t either.

What gives me a little pause isn’t the price alone, but the price and durability together. I stated earlier in this review that my LEATHERskins have held up very well, and that I have been quite pleased with them so far. However, my findings only take one week of use with each skin into account. That isn’t long enough to really put the LEATHERskins through the ringer and see how they come out. I can report that iSource’s Patrick Jordan has been a LEATHERskin user a bit longer than I have, and that he is still very pleased with his. At the time of this writing, his black leather model has been on his iPad 2 for around a month. He told me that, other than the same kinds of normal and light wear that I have seen, his is still in great shape.

What really raised my eyebrow on the durability front is the packaging of the LEATHERskins. Printed right in the top right corner of the back of the package, in big letters, is ZAGG’s 45-Day guarantee.

45 Days? That’s less than 2 months of guaranteed use from a skin that can cost me as much as $49.99? Ouch. Mine and Patrick’s experience so far lead me to believe that most LEATHERskins will probably be going strong well beyond the stated 45 days. However, that isn’t something that you can’t ignore. ZAGG’s InvisibleShield skins have a limited Lifetime Warranty, so there is a very clear distinction here. This is just something that anyone who purchases should take into account.

Don’t get me wrong. I don’t think ZAGG is reluctant to stand behind their LEATHERskins product. I think the drastically reduced warranty has more to do with the natural durability of the materials that the LEATHERskins are constructed from. They just don’t hold up the same as a one-piece plastic skin like the InvisibleShield. Finding out that you only have 45 days is just a little shocking when you first see it.

Despite whatever concerns I may have about versatility, price, or durability, I love ZAGG’s LEATHERskins. I really do. Unfortunately, in the end, this love affair is bittersweet. Thanks to the combination of my need for extra protection in harsher environments, and my constant gadget and accessory hopping, LEATHERskins will not be a long-term solution for me. At least not yet. I’ll be crossing my fingers and hoping for a compatible rear case to come along someday.

Considering that most of the competition in the iPad 2 Smart Cover compatible back cover market have trade-offs themselves, ZAGG’s LEATHERskins still stand out for me as the best product of an imperfect bunch. The look and feel of both the leather and poly models just can’t be beat. If you love your Smart Cover, price isn’t a barrier, and you don’t need extra protection for rugged environments, then ZAGG’s LEATHERskins are an excellent choice to compliment your favorite accessory for your favorite tablet.

The Leather Smart Cover compatible LEATHERskins retail for $49.99.

The Polyurethane Smart Cover compatible LEATHERskins retail for $29.99.

Both are available directly from ZAGG and from their retail distributors.

The LEATHERskins used in this review were provided by ZAGG for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.

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  • HongKong

    Terrible customer service. Bought a defective skin (cut wrong), and they refuse to replace. Caveat Emptor!!!

  • Robstrats

    I find the poor review in the response to be absolutely a lie. I’ve had a few problems with Zagg products and the customer service and replacement policies are AWESOME! In fact, every couple of months I take advantage of them and get a fresh one on the house. Just send back the old one, no questions asked. The leathers have (I think) a 45 day policy. The clear skins are a lifetime warranty.