STM marquee case for the iPad Mini review

Ever since I bought my first Apple Smart Cover for my old iPad 2, I have been sold on it as an ideal method of protection for a tablet screen. It’s thin, light, and both the polyurethane and the leather materials feel good in the hand. The fact that it pulls triple duty, also serving as a two position stand, as well as a automatically turning your device on and off doesn’t hurt, either.

However, one major drawback of the Smart Cover is the lack of any built-in protection for the back of the iPad. This spawned a cottage accessory category all its own- rear iPad covers that are Smart Cover compatible. You can find them in all kinds of materials, colors, and price ranges, and they have proven to be very popular. Apple even took note of this trend last year and released their own Smart Case, a Smart Cover with matching protection for the back of the iPad built-in.

So, users of the larger screen iPad 2-4s are pretty well set, having lots of Smart Cover and Case options that are readily available. Unfortunately, the selection for iPad Mini users is far more limited. While Apple did release a Smart Cover for the Mini, a Smart Case is nowhere to be found yet.

The larger problem, however, is that the Smart Cover for the Mini doesn’t quite measure up to its big brother. Apple went with a plastic hinge on the Mini’s version, which is larger and doesn’t hold as securely. Also, because the screen is smaller, the Mini’s cover only has room for three rigid sections with two flexible joint between them. This is in contrast to the larger version’s four sections with three joints.

Unfortunately, this means that the stand angles for the Mini aren’t nearly as useful as what you get with a larger iPad.

With Apple’s own offering for the Mini not as strong, there is a lot more room in the market for Smart Cover and Case-like accessories for the iPad Mini to fill the void. Unfortunately, like Apple’s own Mini Smart Cover, the majority that I have seen also have plenty of drawbacks. I got one of those inexpensive generic cases from Amazon right after I got my Mini, just to have something to put it in until I found a case worth spending a little money on.

I’ve put up with its shortcomings to this point, but now I have finally found a case that has relegated it to my old gadget storage drawer- the STM marquee. While it shares some of the same basic characteristics of these other, less expensive cases, it has the quality materials, design, and execution that they sorely lack.

 

Look and Feel

Considering that your chosen case may end up being the primary way that you look at and hold onto your iPad Mini for the foreseeable future, look and feel are critical factors. The case that I was using prior to the marquee did an adequate job of protecting my iPad Mini, but it looked and felt as cheap as it was. Needless to say, there was a noticeable difference when I laid eyes and put hands on the marquee. This case is in a much different league.

The marquee is one of three iPad Mini cases available from Australian case and bag manufacturer STM, and the only one that has a leather exterior. It is available in black, white, blue, and pink. I received the blue version from STM for this review, which I think looks really good.

Of course, the fact that it closely resembles the Memphis Grizzlies’ Beal Street Blue doesn’t hurt at all.

It isn’t just the color of the marquee that stands out. In just a few minutes of looking it over and putting your hands on it, you can see that this is a high-quality case. The leather has an attractive fine grain, and is almost as smooth as Apple’s full-sized Smart Cover.

However, STM’s leather is heavier, and feels much more durable, so it provides a satisfying middle ground between form and function.

You can also see some variations in the grain and feel of the marquee’s leather that remind you of the differences between this and synthetic materials.

Some users may be put off by this, but in my personal opinion, it is the variations that give a nice leather case character and charm that no synthetic can match.

Another attractive feature of the marquee’s exterior is the embossing. I hate when companies stamp a huge, eye-catching logo on the outside of their cases, especially if it is a different color than the case. Ugh. I understand the need for branding, but it also pays to keep it tasteful, and attractive for the user.

As you can see here, STM understands this point well. Their logo is embossed in the bottom right corner of the screen side of the case. It is definitely visible, but tastefully so. It seamlessly blends in with the look of the rest of the case. STM’s web address is also embossed lightly at the top right of the bottom side of the case.

One way that you can tell the difference between a case from a company that cares and one that just cranks out knockoffs is by looking at the trim and the seams of the case. As you can see below, the gray trim goes very nicely with the blue leather, and is smooth, with no jagged edges.

Also, the fit of the leather where it meets the trim is very clean and even. It’s easy to take this for granted, but as I mentioned before, leather is an organic material that has variations and grain. It isn’t easy to precisely fit such materials to a piece of plastic with uniform lines and angles, so I appreciate the quality of the workmanship.

One more feature worth mentioning is the microfiber lining on the inside of the leather cover. It is every bit as smooth as the material on Apple’s Smart Cover.

While Apple really oversold the marketing of the Smart Cover cleaning your screen for you just by opening and closing it, the soft interior does add extra protection for the screen against not only falls, but also scratches.

Even better, however, STM also lined the rest of the case with the same material to cushion the back of your iPad Mini, and prevent scratches there.

Like many of the items mentioned above, this isn’t overwhelmingly impressive on its own, but put all of the look and feel elements of the marquee together, and you end up with a case that is definitely a cut above the run of the mill fray.

 

Design

All of the look and feel elements of an iPad case can’t come together without good design. STM definitely did their homework in this department. While the marquee’s basic form bears resemblance to a plethora of inexpensive, lesser quality iPad Mini cases, its overall design is light years ahead.

First of all, the marquee has a hard plastic back.

This is a big distinction for three reasons. First, the microfiber lined plastic provides superior drop protection over the synthetic material back. Also, the rigid plastic back and sides of the marquee mean that the iPad Mini can be clipped and held securely in place with no obstructions to the bezel, screen, Home button, or front-facing camera.

Last, plastic also allows for more definitive cutouts to be made for the buttons, ports, and rear camera of the Mini.

A second key design element of the marquee is the superior stand design. It offers better angles and more stability than even Apple’s own Smart Cover.

The key element of the marquee’s stand is the clip on the back of the case. While my inexpensive case has a similar clip, the one on the marquee is placed higher up on the back side, which gives users a steeper viewing angle.

This is far superior, since this orientation is usually used for browsing the web and viewing media.

The inexpensive case’s angle is too steep to view as comfortably from close-up. Since the iPad Mini has a smaller screen that you have to be a little closer to to see clearly, this is definitely an oversight.

In the typing position, the marquee has FAR greater stability than the case I was using.

The leather panel and cloth hinge on the back are thicker and much more stable under the pressure of your fingers typing and navigating.

One of the coolest design features of the marquee is the magnet in the stand clip.

The magnet means that the clip will always sit flush with the back of the case when not in use, and that it will hold the front of the case securely when using either stand position. Kudos to STM for this really nice touch.

The last notable design feature of the marquee is the stylus/pen slot.

The decision to put it on the back of the case, just above the stand clip, is a little odd, but it works fine, all the same…most of the time. Being on the back, carrying a stylus doesn’t mar the look of the case like it would if it were on the edge. It also doesn’t get in the way when using the media stand mode.

Unfortunately, it does get in the way when the case is at the typing angle.

I also appreciate the fact that the stylus holder is small enough to fit a capacitive stylus, which tend to be on the small size when compared to a pen. However, it is also flexible enough to accommodate a large pen, as well.

 

Performance

STM’s marquee case for the iPad Mini knocks it out of the park when it comes to real-world performace. It’s thin, light, easy on the eyes, and feels good in the hand. Oh, and it does a great job protecting your investment, as well. Now, to be fair, there are other case models from STM, as well as a vast array of competitors, that offer a higher level of protection for the iPad Mini. The marquee is designed to be thin and light and offer adequate protection, and it accomplishes all of those goals. However, if you need more device protection for harsher environments and use cases, you might want to look elsewhere.

Another point to consider is that leather, while very durable, isn’t necessarily meant for every situation. If you plan on taking your iPad Mini boating, to the beach, or somewhere else where it may be exposed to a lot water, you might want to pack a different case for the trip. Leather and humidity do not mix. Of course, very high humidity isn’t all that great for your iPad, either.

Despite the small caveats, the marquee does exactly what it is designed to do, and is definitely worth consideration if you want something with a higher end look and feel. This case would definitely look at home in any meeting or professional situation, and it performs very well when it comes to providing basic full-device protection, and looking superb while doing it.

 

Value

There is no disputing the intelligent design and quality construction of the STM’s marquee case. It’s a home run in these departments. However, anything of quality comes at a price, and in this case, the price is quite high. The marquee retails for $80, which is definitely on the high end of the spectrum for iPad Mini accessories. However, looking at the some of the premium iPad case competition reveals that this price isn’t at all out of line with the rest of the market.

For example, Vaja’s Libretto case for the iPad Mini, which has similar construction, high-quality leather, and a ton of customization option, starts at $180. Yikes. This is obviously the very high end of the spectrum, but Vaja makes one heck of a custom leather case, if you didn’t already know. Another example, a little closer in price to the STM marquee, is the iPad Mini case lineup from Piel Frama. These cases retail for $119 US, and also come from a vendor known for their high-quality leather cases.

So, while the $80 price tag for the STM marquee seems quite high in comparison with the cases typically seen at the local electronics store or while browsing around on Amazon, it is very much in line with similar competition. After trying out several “off the shelf” cases for Apple products over the last three years, I can assure you that the difference is noticeable. When you put your hands on the marquee, you will know where that extra money went.

There’s something to be said for this feeling of knowing you bought something that’s a cut above average. I remember buying a Piel Frama case for a Compaq iPaq PDA that I had years ago. I just happened to get a good deal on it, so I spent a little extra money. Wow. What a difference. Anyone that put their hands on it made a comment about how nice it was. That has always been my favorite mobile accessory purchase (partially due to nostalgia, I guess).

I haven’t bought a case like that since. I’ve been using smaller, non-flip cases or battery cases with my PDAs and phones since then, so I haven’t had reason to indulge again. As for the iPad, I was sticking more to the heavier duty keyboard cases, like the ZAGGfolio and the Logitech Ultrathin Keyboard Cover. However, the Mini is a different story. I’ve been looking for a nice leather case that looks great, offers enough protection for my usage, and doesn’t add a lot of bulk. The marquee IS that case. When I got it and put my iPad Mini in it for the first time, I was reminded of that old Piel Frama case years ago.

Since we are talking about value here, to be perfectly up front and honest, the case I used in this review was a sample sent to me by the manufacturer. So it wasn’t my own money that put this case in my hands. However, after spending over a week using it as my daily driver for my iPad Mini, I will be putting my money where my mouth is, and picking another one up for my wife. She really liked the marquee as well, so it will make a lovely birthday present. (Now I just have to convince her to let me keep the Blue. She’s not a Pink kind of girl). It’s easy to say something is a good value when you didn’t pay for it, but it’s quite another story when you’re footing the $80 bill.

 

Conclusion

STM’s marquee case for the iPad Mini is a nicely balanced marriage of form and function. It looks and feels exquisite, but isn’t just a pretty face. There are some thoughtful design choices here, and enough protection for users who aren’t subjecting their devices to difficult or extreme conditions. While the $80 price tag may seem like a lot of money, think about the alternative of a $30-$50 case that isn’t quite what you want or that you aren’t completely satisfied with.

For me, that extra $30-$50 is well spent for that extra bit of satisfaction over the life of my iPad Mini. That’s why I will be shelling out $80 of my own money to purchase another marquee. It’s that good. The bottom line is that, if you want a high-end leather case for the iPad Mini, without the price tag of a custom or boutique vendor, the STM marquee should be at the top of your list.

 

The STM marquee case for iPad Mini is available from J&R and Radtech for $80.

 

The STM marquee case for iPad Mini was provided by STM for review on iSource. For further information regarding our site’s review policies, please see the “About” page.