Apple’s iPad Air Smart Cover is equal parts protective layer and tablet stand, and as a purchase it’s almost a no-brainer. If you have past experience with the accessory you probably understand why, but if not, here are our impressions of the latest iteration.
As with the iPad Air (see our full review here), the latest Smart Cover has seen a design makeover. Obviously, the size has changed to accommodate the new dimensions of the Air, and this leads to a few other tweaks.
No longer is the Smart Cover a four-panel operation. It’s folding segments now number three. The cover also features no visible moving parts. Older iterations featured an exposed metal hinge where the case attached magnetically to the side of the iPad. This is no longer the case with the iPad Air’s version.
The case’s polyurethane panels are wrapped with a soft-touch material on the outward facing side and a velvet/felt lining on the side that comes in contact with the iPad’s edge and display. These material extends over the entirety of the cover and creates the hinge.
When attached, the Smart Cover does little to add to the overall footprint of the tablet. Added thickness is marginal (a little over a millimeter). About the only noticeable addition is at the point where the cover’s hinge attaches to the tablet. It has no effect on the Air’s portability, however.
The Smart Cover is available in a variety of covers, all of which mirror the design language of iOS 7. As with the iPhone 5C, color choices are of the bright, pastel variety (save for the more stark black option).
Functionally, the Smart Cover is nearly identical to previous versions produced by Apple. The case attaches to the iPad Air by magnetic force alone and remains attached quite firmly. Strategically placed magnets on either side of the folding panels help to keep the case against the display or back of the device when closed or opened, respectively. The magnet also acts to trigger a sensor that will wake the device when lifting the Smart Cover.
Unfortunately, the magnetic connections aimed at keeping the cover closed (or open) aren’t quite as strong as the one attaching the case to the iPad overall. It isn’t a deal breaker, but more often than not the Smart Cover will flop around a bit when holding the tablet.
When these edge magnets are used to fashion the cover into a tablet stand, the results are much better. The Smart Cover can fold into a triangular stand that can be used to hold the iPad Air in several position. Best used for landscape orientations (the slate can be positioned to either stand more upright or lay closer to a surface), it is also possible to stand the tablet in portrait mode. This is a less stable arrangement and probably not recommended by Apple.
If there is one drawback to using the Smart Cover in stand mode it is that it offers a good deal of give. This means interacting with the iPad Air via touch controls causes the tablet to bounce a bit. A second hand is needed to offer stability. Fortunately, as long as the stand has been formed correctly (felt side facing out), there is little risk of the whole thing collapsing. It’s actually pretty sturdy.
The Smart Cover adds a level of functionality and protection to the iPad Air that makes it almost a required buy for those picking up the tablet. It’s a wonder Apple doesn’t bundle the thing with the tablet in the first place. While some may prefer the naked tablet experience, the Smart Cover adds a splash of personality while serving a quite useful purpose.
For those seeking even more protection for their premium tablet, there is Apple’s Smart Case. The Smart Case duplicates the form and function of the Smart Cover, but its front panel comes attached to a case that envelops the back of the tablet, preventing scratches and other damage.
At $39.99, the Smart Cover doesn’t come cheap. But it’s a small price to pay for its stylish, multi-purpose design.