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Tuesday
Dec032013

Spigen Tough Armor Case for Retina iPad mini Review

The Tough Armor case for the iPhone 5s has won Spigen our esteemed Editors' Choice Award, and now there's a Tough Armor version made for Apple's new and powerful iPad mini 2 with Retina display. Spigen's toughest iPad case ever is once again claiming that its the slimmest case that provides even more protection than other bulkier cases out there. Judging by our past experience with the Tough Armor case for the iPhone, it's easy to believe that the iPad version of it will impress no less. And in fact, as soon as we slapped it on our iPad mini we knew that it would be added to our all-time favorite cases for Apple's new powerful pico-sized tablet. With that said, the Tough Armor isn't perfect and it indeed comes with a few caveats worth reading about before pulling that quick-scoping trigger of yours. So be sure to jump over the hedge for our full in-depth review of the new Tough Armor case for the iPad mini!

Some things are best left open for discussion, but not this. Because we truly believe Spigen has achieved the unachievable with the Tough Armor. It's probably the best looking drop protective case ever made for the iPad mini, and that may be a fact not just a personal taste. Whether you like the gaping hole around the back or you cannot stand the sight of it, as soon as you put your hands on the Tough Armor case you'll want to know two things. How much does it cost, and where can you get one. The latter will have us say it costs $40, but you can find the Tough Armor case for the iPad mini on Spigen's not so secrete Amazon page for a lot less. While the prices do fluctuate a bit, a Tough Armor on Amazon will set you back just $28, which is a pretty fantastic deal considering that most iPad cases run for around $50 a piece. Although we even think that at $40, the Tough Armor is a steal bargain. It's that good. But not everyone will find it as amazing as we do, because the Tough Armor for the iPad mini does come with a few little drawbacks. 

The first is that it adds significant weight which is noticeable no matter how you cut it. But chances are that you are already willing to accept the additional heft since the Tough Armor is all about providing drop protection, and that comes at a cost. It by no means is a good alternative for an ultra-slim and lightweight hardshell case, but it will most likely save your $400+ investment from utter disaster. And isn't that more important than some lightweight case you can barely feel adding protection? We don't think it is, but then again if you're not known for dropping your precious gadgets on the floor then you might be better off with something a little less shielding. 

The Tough Armor adds about 5.5mm to the overall thickness of the Retina iPad mini which isn't very bulky, though the added weight is more noticeable.

Hybrid cases are more commonly known to form the best type of protective cases, and it's true when talking about Spigen's Tough Armor case. Not only does it feature a two-layer hybrid construction, a hard polycarbonate outer middle shell and a shock absorbing TPU interior layer which also happens to offer protection all around the iPad mini. There's also Spigen's famous four corner air cushion protection, the same type of design found on the Tough Armor case for the iPhone as well as Spigen's likeable Ultra Hybrid cases. What this means is that when your iPad mini drops to the ground and makes a corner impact, which is actually one of the more probable impact points on tablets and smartphones, the Tough Armor's air cushioned corner will compress in order to absorb the impact like a shock absorber before that force can transfer onto your device.

How well does it work? It's hard to tell or really test, but from the looks of it we think it's much better to have as a reinforced corner feature than one that doesn't have the ability to flex upon impact as a result of an accidental drop. LunaTik's innovative Seismik case for the iPhone employs a similar concept which is part of its aesthetic styling, albeit a lot more geometric in design making it slightly more effective. But I digress.

If you were able to hold your iPad mini across using only one hand, you can still do the same with the Tough Armor case installed. Not that you would because it'll end up hurting your wrist, but it's definitely still possible nonetheless. And it only goes to show that it is still a very manageable drop protective case that remains relatively slim in profile.

There is that feeling of doubt when you've got a great big hole exposing the back of your iPad mini along with its Apple logo. And we're once again disappointed in the fact that Spigen hasn't included a clear protection film to apply over that particular exposed area as it has done with other cases quite a few times before. That Apple logo opening is deep enough that you'll most likely not live to see any scratches or any kind of damage show up though. What's more is that the fit is so snug around the back that no dust or harmful debris will trap underneath the iPad through that opening. Granted it's a matter of personal preference, but I must say that I really like the look of the Tough Armor and its large round rear logo opening which not only compliments the device in a arguably tasteful manner, but allows me to appreciate a tiny amount of the clean rear aluminum design of the iPad mini.

An ample 1.7mm lip around the bezel of the iPad mini protects the glass touchscreen from coming in contact with a flat surface when placed face down or during an accidental drop. More than that however, the lip creates this edge for your thumb to hold onto when you're holding up your iPad mini so that you have some more meat to grab onto which is great because it helps you hold your device securely and with less stress-causing tension.

A quick note about screen protectors - the Tough Armor's lip periphery does fit precisely around the iPad mini's bezel but it grips tighter around the corner edges which may cause regular screen protectors to lift if not applied perfectly. And as for tempered glass screen protectors, fortunately the Tough Armor's 1.7mm lip clearance is designed to still offer protection even for applied glass screen protectors. However, we haven't tested this ourselves using Spigen's own Glas.t for the Retina and non-Retina iPad mini.

Also worth mentioning is that the Tough Armor's interior TPU layer is entirely covered with a "cross-net" pattern which Spigen says will help reduce heat emitting from the iPad mini's back while also providing additional impact absorption. We love seeing this kind of attention to detail. It's also important to say that Spigen uses a really terrific TPU material which is anti-stretch, meaning that it maintains a firm profile all around the device instead of expanding over time instead of flexing out of proportion. So far the fit of the Tough Armor cases including the one we're reviewing for the iPad mini has performed extremely well in keeping a firm and tight snug fit all around the device with not a single hint of play anywhere. I should say that despite a firm and secure fit, getting the iPad mini into the Tough Armor as well as removing it is a piece of cake.

If we take a quick look around the bottom of the case we can see the Tough Armor's individually laid out openings for the iPad mini's Lightning connector port and dual, bottom-facing stereo speakers. Although deeply recessed, we found that all of our Lightning connector adapters and cables fit just fine. And that includes the 3.5mm headphone port at the top where we were able to use all of our various 3.5mm audio jacks with the Tough Armor's recessed, albeit nicely chiseled cutout. It's worth noting that there is no bottom material drooping/stretching underneath the home button.

One of the noticeable things that make the Tough Armor a great case to use is that it really does feel incredibly nice to hold. Spigen does an amazing job to implement all of these curved lines and tapered edges that effectively slim down the form factor into something that's a lot more forgiving and thoughtful when compared to other cases with the same level of protection. As a result, the Tough Armor for the iPad mini feels like an extremely polished, high quality case. Especially for the price you end up paying. Oh and don't mind that little imperfection near the Tough Armor branding. Notice that the Tough Armor's TPU is textured very slightly with a matte finish making it less slippery and a lot nicer in terms of aesthetic appeal.

It really isn't a big surprise as to why we like the Tough Armor case on the iPad mini so much, it's an identical blown-up version of the one we reviewed for the iPhone 5s and iPhone 5. Albeit, there are of course a few little differences between the two. Unlike the iPhone variant, the iPad mini Tough Armor features these inconspicuous little rear corners guards which prop the back surface ever so slightly above the surface on which you place your device on top in order to maintain a clean looking, scratch-free material finish. It purely benefits the Tough Armor's own aesthetics more than helping protect your device, but it's certainly a welcome feature no less.

The integrated control buttons are also a little different, yet remain having that very likeable flat design which makes pressing them a pleasure. Yet despite the beveled and contoured shape of the iPad mini, the Tough Armor's buttons have more of an upright support with only a subtle slant backwards making them much easier to press compared to most iPad cases that simply follow the original positioning of the buttons, and more often than not that makes for an inconvenient and awkward button pressing.

There are precise cutouts for both the iPad mini's rear-facing and top noise-canceling microphones, as well as a surprisingly spacious yet deep opening for the silent/rotation lock switch above the volume buttons.

We're genuinely impressed yet again by the Tough Armor and we cannot wait until Spigen releases even more color options for its incredibly protective case. But the one and only downside when using the Tough Armor is that is adds a bit of additional weight to the iPad mini, of course in addition to bulk which is understandable and not a drawback given that the Tough Armor is designed to be a rugged protective case and not some ultra-slim featherlight.   

If you're the type of person that really cares about cosmetic perfection, you may find the black Tough Amor to be a deal breaker. That special soft-touch smooth coating it has on is a magnet for showing fingerprints and other oily smudges ridiculously easily. Now you can of course wipe those all away with your shirt or a cleaning cloth, but as soon as you pick your iPad mini up you'll just imprint the finish all over again which is a bit annoying if you're someone who is bothered by these sort of things. There is some good news however, because you can pick up a silver, white or a champagne colors currently available which will not show fingerprints nearly as easily as the black color due to their more resilient finish which isn't rubbery in texture.

Speaking of soft-touch coatings, Spigen's black colored Tough Armor is the only model to feature this subtle finish of rubbery goodness. The Tough Armor for the iPad mini is otherwise also available in the same four identical colors as its iPhone sibling - Satin Silver, Metal Slate and Champagne Gold. All of which have a slightly smoother plastic feel to their hard polycarbonate surfaces which coincidentally aren't as grippy as the black soft-touch coated Tough Armor case. So be sure to keep that in mind when picking between colors.

What more could we ask from Spigen's Tough Armor case? It's pretty much perfect at what it was designed to do, and that's to offer terrific drop protection whilst looking a lot better than its competition. Not only that, but the Tough Armor is one of the best, most well designed tough cases out there that isn't some awkward-to-use bulky and senseless case when you come to pick it up. Most importantly, we feel confident in the Tough Armor's ability to protect an iPad mini if it were to fall off a table or out of clumsy hands. We really like Spigen's thoughtful attention to small detail and use of great materials.

We also really like the price, though that being said, the Tough Armor will add a bit of noticeable heft to your iPad mini. And if you pick up a black Tough Armor case with a matte soft-touch rubberized coating, you'll experience an oily fingerprint fiesta. Then again, it's worth suffering some natural cosmetic imperfection for the sake of great grip and pure softness. If you like the idea of the Tough Armor's slick tough exterior and that round Apple logo rear see-though window design, are willing to carry a little more weight in exchange for svelte drop protection, we think you'll really like what the Tough Armor for the iPad mini is laying down. Than said, the Tough Armor is without a doubt worthy of our solid recommendation. I'm afraid it's unexpectedly a bit too hefty for us to award it with our Editors' Choice Award.

As mentioned earlier, this isn't going to be a case that'll suit everyone's taste and needs. And if you don't like the idea of fortifying your ultra-portable iPad mini, then Spigen's Tough Armor may not be the case for you. We do hope that Spigen will soon release a lightweight Slim Armor that won't be as tough and protective, but will at least offer a broader user appeal. And if you're trying to find something that's a little lighter in weight, slimmer and still offers enough to protect your investment - although not as well as the Tough Armor, may we suggest Magpul's $27 Field Case case for the iPad mini.

Spigen.com

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