The iPad air is a beautiful bit of design, but it's also a slight, delicate little thing. It's built to last, but even Apple's engineers haven't mastered defending it against the horrors of the loose change and pointy pens running wild in your rucksack. It needs some protection, and your arms need a rest from holding it up while you binge on that latest House of Cards season.
But not all cases are created equally. Some thin, some sturdy, some a snug fit, some with multiple viewing angle options, they remain surprisingly pricey, meaning you're going to want to pick one that suits your needs precisely. We've gathered five of the most promising cases together for this group test.
There were a few things considered when deciding upon which case was the best for the new iPad Air tablet. Firstly, it had to offer some protection -- it's not much use if a poorly-fitting case lets all manner of grime or damaging objects slide inside. Secondly, it had to offer some sort of standing option, and be stable while the tablet was upright in it. Lastly, the case, if possible, shouldn't add too much extra weight or thickness to the tablet.
Extra points were awarded for offering the magnet-fuelled Smart Wake feature, firing up the tablet once the case was opened. Thumbs also pointed upwards for multiple viewing angles being offered and also for ease of removal -- sometimes you'll want to take that iPad back out and revel in its sleek design, and you don't want to have to wrestle with the case to do so. I'm leaving keyboard cases out of the equation this time -- they have very specific criteria I'd like them to live up to, and pitting them against standard cases seems a bit pointless.
It makes sense to have Apple's own Smart Case as a benchmark against which to test the competition, so the Cupertino company's £65 offering is in the mix. Belkin's no-nonsense Cinema Dash Cover Case, priced at £39.95 from John Lewis, was also tested, alongside the quirky Cygnett Paradox Texture at £34.95. Lastly, I played about with two cases offering 360-rotational stands, allowing for both portrait and landscape orientations: the £29.99 Everything Tablet iPad Air Case / Stand with 360 Rotary Function and the £44.95 Targus Versavu Rotating Case.
There's lots to be said for an interesting design, but when it actually hinders the practical purpose for which the item has been made, then it's all been for nothing. That's the problem faced by the Paradox Texture from Cygnett. On paper, its origami-inspired build (folding over to support an iPad Air standing in landscape orientation) sounds great. In practice, it wasn't very useful -- the tablet had a tendency to slip over, with the case unable to support its weight, while the folds in the case tended to "tent up" when laid across the screen, allowing for things to slip between the case and the display.
A vibrant red, the Everything Tablet case got off to a bad start as I struggled to get the iPad Air into it -- the finishing on the inner frame was a bit rough, meaning I had to risk scratching the edges of the iPad to squeeze it in. Once inserted though it fared a little better, offering both vertical and horizontal stand orientations. It wasn't without flaws though -- the rotating clasp that allows for both orientations felt a little flimsy, while standing the iPad up vertically at the case's most-acute angle caused the iPad to topple. Overall, it was just a bit too thick for my liking too, with the paper-thin iPad lost in its considerable girth. It did at least offer decent protection to the tablet, with generous padding good to defend against a fall or two, and a Smart Wake function (though this sometimes failed to trigger).
As you'd expect, Apple's Smart Cover is the slickest-looking of the bunch, wrapping its rubbery shell around the iPad so thinly and tightly that it adds hardly any extra thickness to the overall device. It also has a Smart Wake function, powering up the tablet's display from sleep as it was opened. Folding the front cover around the back to stand the iPad worked well (the typing angle is comfortable too), though it wasn't quite as stable as I'd have liked, and the inner soft leather at the front was a real magnet for dirt and grime. The whole cover, in fact, got dirty very quickly, and took some scrubbing to clean up. Being as thin as it is also means that I couldn't see it offering much protection from a drop, though it hugs the tablet snugly enough to prevent items nestling between it and the iPad's screen. Being Apple's own product, it's naturally the most expensive of the bunch though, and £65 is too much to pay for a case without a keyboard.
Though it's not much of a looker, the Targus Versavu was a well performing case all round. Made of a tough, textured plastic, it offers the same 360-degree rotating vertical and horizontal stand positions as the Everything Tablet case, but is much sturdier in its execution. The case and tablet never toppled once, regardless of angle. That's probably down to the fact that the case itself is quite weighty too, but it's a fair trade-off to make for some added protection for your tablet. Its two slip ups? It doesn't offer the Smart Wake feature, and its elasticated clasp to hold the case shut was a little fiddly to find -- especially if the rotating inner frame had been turned to a side where the clasp couldn't catch.
Out far in front was the Belkin Cinema Dash Cover. Its textured padding felt lovely in the hand, and didn't add too much thickness to the tablet while still giving it some protection. Fitting snugly inside a discrete inner frame, it stood stably, and could be folded over into a comfortable typing position too (though it only offered landscape orientations). With Smart Wake functionality, its one annoyance was its magnetic clasp, which hung distractingly above the display when sitting in the horizontal stand position.
The Cygnett tablet aside, each of the cases I tried had something endearing about them. The Everything Tablet case was both versatile and well padded; Apple's Smart Case a sleek and functional accompaniment to the tablet; the Targus Versavu a durable case with varied viewing options. The Belkin case however had a premium feel that all the other cases (aside from Apple's) lacked. Subtle and stylish, offering protection and a stable standing position, it wasn't even the most expensive on our list, but it certainly felt like it was.