With the release of the redesigned iPad Air, Apple has also made sure to design two new official accessories for the slimmer and narrower tablet. And like before, Apple has released a redesigned and enhanced Smart Case follow-up along with an iPad mini-inspired Smart Cover made to the iPad Air industrial design specifications. Sadly though, Apple hasn't learned anything from Microsoft's brilliant keyboard cover ideas this time like we had hoped it would, and instead of creating some refreshing new offerings, it has brought back the same old Smart Case and Smart Cover accessories albeit with somewhat negligible improvements compared to earlier iterations.
Today we're going to cover Apple's Smart Case for the iPad Air which is also out for the original and Retina iPad mini. It's Apple's new leather folio-style case with an unsightly price and predictable set of features. Should you get one, or would you be better off with some third party equivalent? You're one click, and a few scrolls away from finding out!
So you like Apple products and expensive cases for said Apple products...well you're certainly reading the right informative review, that I'll have you know. We say this because as an early adopter of the 5th generation iPad Air, you'll have to spend a whopping $79 of your hard earned money on Apple's Smart Case (or $69 on the iPad mini variant). Given the fast adoption rate, there will be plenty of third party offerings for the iPad Air that will either cost less or offer more bang for you buck. One of those very alternatives is the MoKo Smart Case, which is an exact replica of the original albeit it isn't made out of genuine leather, however it costs just $10 and claims to function and look the same as Apple's $79 version minus the Apple logo around the back.
The second and third alternatives are for real leather lovers. Vaja's handcrafted $160 Nuovo Pelle and $180 Libretto minimal and highly-protective folio cases are made from the most luxurious leather available, and are of course priced way above Apple's Smart Case which in comparison doesn't look all that expensive.
But enough of that, Apple's Smart Case brings with it its own special kind of value to the table. And that's a form-fitting fit designed to closely encase every contour of the iPad Air and feel as slim and as streamlined as possible.In that regard Apple's leather-made Smart Case does exactly that, and does so extremely well. It fits the iPad Air like a glove, snug with little to no gaps around the edge of the device similar to the great fit of the iPhone 5s Case we reviewed earlier. The iPad Air goes into the case sideways as it snaps securely into the rigid back casing which can be described as a snap-on shell. And again, the iPad Air Smart Case is constructed exactly like the iPhone 5s Case with an identical hard leather casing design that isn't very difficult to remove.
The original rubbery polyurethane version of the Smart Case first made its debut alongside the iPad 3rd generation, sold for $49, and soon after it continued to encase the 4th generation iPad with Lightning connector. Apart from a weird design reminiscent of Apple's original iPad folio case, the polyurethane Smart Case received a general recommendation from us as it did a decent job protecting the entire body of the iPad whilst also performing rather well for what it was worth. But it wasn't perfect and it had its fair share of caveats, which we're happy to see have been addressed with the iPad Air version of the Smart Case.
Instead of that rubbery polyurethane material, we now have aniline leather which is the same exact type of leather and grain used to make the Apple iPhone 5s Case. The Smart Case comes in the same exact six leather color choices available for the iPhone 5s Case including black, beige, brown, yellow, blue and red.
The leather Smart Case is a folio-style cover case designed with a slightly thinner Smart Cover as a magnetic front cover that's permanently attached to the rest of the shell, and can easily fold up into a triangle sand for typing and watching a video. The familiar segmented cover design of the Smart Case has been updated to fit the narrower width of the iPad Air using only three folding segments instead of the original four similar to the iPad mini Smart Case and Smart Cover accessories. The front cover now fully sits flush around the periphery of the iPad Air where the edge of the case meets with the bezel creating a more seamless, low-profile look that we think is a big aesthetic improvement compared to the older model.
Because the front cover sits flush with the edges of the Smart Case, it does make it somewhat more difficult to actually flip open. We noticed that if you try to flip open the cover from the middle side you'll encounter difficulty doing so, but if you rub your thumb in either the top and bottom corner, there's an ever so small overhang where you'll have enough grip to actually flip open the cover comfortably. Whether it was intentional or not, we think Apple should have pronounced a more easier spot for opening the front cover.
As you'd expect, the leather Smart Case features a sleep/wake magnetic closure which keeps the front cover flap secure when you're not using your iPad Air. The volume and sleep/wake control buttons are covered up by the leather yet remain fully operational and tactile.
If I was to describe the quality of the leather used for the Smart Case I'd have to say that it really isn't anything impressive. Yes it smells of naturally dyed leather, but it really thin and doesn't give the same premium impression that you get when using other leather cases from notable brands such as Vaja or Sena. Then again if you like smooth, flat textured leather you may really like what the Smart Case has to offer.
Apple has decided on aniline leather because of its grain characteristics. Meaning that like the iPhone 5s Case, the leather Smart Case will inevitably show wear and darken in color the more you use it. It'll also scratch easily and show other small wear which will only make the leather look more used but in a positively desired kind of way. The brown color in particular which is what we're reviewing here, will wear extremely nicely taking on that western type of worn look to its exterior which I think looks rather sophisticated. You may want to consider the color choice for the Smart Case because it will darken. Black and brown will be you safest options if you don't want your leather looking like it's dirty over time.
The back as you can see features an embossed Apple logo reminiscent of the polyurethane Smart Case, albeit much more subtle this time. Other than that, there's nothing much to see here apart from noting the Smart Case's sleek and minimalist styling which compliments the native shape of the iPad Air all the way around. Other small details to note are the precision back-facing camera and microphone cutouts.
Because the leather Smart Case is more of a rigid reinforced hardback casing rather than a thin flexible layer of polyurethane, it offers better protection then its predecessor against dents, impacts and of course scratches. But I wouldn't suggest opting for it if you're looking for maximum drop protection. One of the advantages of using a folio cover case such as this is the fact that it also offers screen protection when you carry around your iPad Air inside your gear bag or leave it unused. The Smart Case's cover is thin and stiff enough that it will help prevent damage from impacts to some degree when closed.
Around the bottom is where you'll find the Smart Case's perforated speaker grille which match up exactly with the number of perforations that make up the iPad Air's stereo speaker grilles. As for the Lightning connector port opening, Apple made sure to make a large opening in order to accommodate various Lightning connectors. We were able to plug in extra bulky connectors such as the Just Mobile AluCable, but you'll have to remove the case if you need to use Apple's 30-pin to Lightning connector adapter..
Heat-stamped with the iPad Smart Case branding, the interior has been color-matched to the exterior color of the case and is fully lined with this soft microfiber material that looks like suede leather but in fact isn't - which is understandable. The interior microfiber materials also extends out to cover the slim flat edge of the case giving you some additional thumb grip.
Apple claims that the soft microfiber-lined cover will help keep your display clean, and that isn't very true. Don't expect your display to clean itself nor will you be able to clean it using the interior of the cover.
If you were a fan of the previous Smart Case, you'll love the iPad Air version even more. Using the iPad Air inside the Smart Case is a very similar experience to the previous generation in the sense that you've got a flip cover to deal with, albeit the seamless low-profile design of the leather Smart Case is more refined and well-rounded in comparison. There are no more sharp edges to speak of which is fantastic. You can also see that the leather Smart Case looks a lot like the iPhone 5s Case in that it perfectly surrounds the iPad Air without covering its bezel, but instead it accentuates it with this thin periphery framing that is ever so slightly elevated above the iPad Air's glass touchscreen and bezel surface. Tempered glass screen protectors will not work well with the front flap cover as they will most likely cause issues with how it shuts.
Although the Smart Case is a very rigid case, I did find that if I held my iPad Air by the very edge where my thumb would overlay the Smart Case's microfiber-lined edge that it would flex out a bit when pressure is applied from the weight of the iPad itself. That being said, this only occurs around the middle part of the Smart Case's right side and you shouldn't experience any issues if you grab hold of your iPad Air by its bezel around that specific area.
Because of how thin the cover is, when folded back, holding the iPad Air is just as comfortable with it flipped flat around the back of the case. However, the cover will not be magnetically held around in that position. Though I haven't found it to be much of an issue as it really feels great to hold being so thin. You can fold the cover into itself creating this handle which greatly helps with grip as it adds this inconspicuous grip handle that not only prevents the cover from dangling when you're holding it with your left hand, but it gives your hand a meatier handle on that amazingly thin 9.7-inch tablet even right-handed users will find convenient
And of course, the hallmark of any Smart Case and Smart Cover - a viewing stand-forming foldable front cover. Just like a Smart Cover, the Smart Case folds to shape a stand suitable for two different viewing angles. The slanted typing angle is perfect to type on but isn't adjustable. But perhaps the most useful feature of all is the Smart Case's ability to stand your iPad Air horizontally giving you a more relaxed hands-free iPad viewing experience that you'll come to appreciate given that holding a 9.7-inch tablet isn't exactly comfortable when watching a video, a movie and other general usage where you just watch to sit back and enjoy.
Remember when we said that Apple has improved the Smart Case every so slightly? It now appears that the leather Smart Case features an improved horizontal viewing angle compared to its predecessor which we thought had a really steep angle that caused the whole case to be unbalanced. Not this time thankfully. There's a much more comfortable upright viewing orientation with the leather Smart Case version which is now much sturdier and doesn't tip over or wobble about when interacting with the iPad Air's touchscreen. Granted it isn't as versatile as a Surface 2 kickstand, but it does the job and it's very much a usable and welcome feature.
And as funny as this may sound, the Smart Case feels like a glorified iPhone 5s Case minus the front cover, which isn't a bad thing especially if you're already using one on your iPhone 5s. The biggest issue with Apple's Smart Case is that it's really expensive and boringly predictable. $79 for a simple leather folio case with no built-in keyboard is bloody pricy, but it's not exactly what we'd call a bad option either. You'll really like Apple's Smart Case for the iPad Air if you want a quality slim leather folio case that has a precise form-fitting fit with a polished, simplistic yet elegant exterior design that isn't cumbersome to use on a daily basis. It's a fairly decent improvement over the previous model, and we would have given it a high recommendation if only it came with a more compelling price tag.
Since Apple's iPad mini and Retina iPad mini $69 leather Smart Case is an identical, albeit smaller copy of what we just reviewed, our rating will also apply to that model as well.