iPad Air Smart Case vs. Smart Cover: Which should you get?

2013 iPad buyers guide: How to pick the perfect Smart Cover or Smart Case for your iPad Air!

Along with the brand new iPad Air, Apple has also released two different accessories designed to protect and preserve it - Smart Covers and Smart Cases. Smart Covers attach via magnets and protect only the screen. Smart Cases wrap around and protect both the back and the screen. The cover leaves more exposed, but is lighter and sleeker. The cover keeps more safe, but at the expense of added bulk. So, if you've got an iPad Air, and you're interested in one of Apple's accessories, which one should you get - Smart Cover or Smart Case?

iPad 4 Smart Cover vs. iPad Air Smart Cover

#iPad 4 Smart Cover vs. iPad Air Smart Cover

Apple has changed the way full sized Smart Covers work with the iPad Air. Previously, from the iPad 2 to the iPad 4, the full-sized iPad Smart Cover had a metal hinge that hooked onto the iPad along the long, left edge, and four folds that could be rolled up into a typing or viewing stand. With the iPad Air Smart Cover, Apple has gone the way last year's iPad mini Smart Cover. The metal hinge is now covered by the material, and the four folds have been reduced to three.

When standing, the change results in a less upright angle - the iPad Air leans back more than the iPad 4 did with its version of the Smart Cover.

The difference isn't as noticeable when in the typing position. Both the iPad Air and iPad 4 present similar angles.

The change from 4 to 3 folds is a mixed bag. It results in a simpler, pyramid structure with no overlap, but at the same time it seems a little less secure. If you're careful, the end result is the same. If you're rushed, the tri-fold can be a little more difficult to nail immediately.

The metal hinge on the original full-sized Smart Cover was nice, but it did cause scratches for some people, both on their iPad's edge, and on other gear - like laptops - they may have in the same pocket of their bag.

Overall, the iPad Air Smart Cover feels like an improvement over the original Smart Cover, but one with its fair share of caveats.

iPad Air Smart Cover vs. Smart Case

Both the Smart Cover and Smart Case are extremely well built and are lined with micro fiber to help keep your iPad Air safe and clean. The two major differences between the Smart Cover and the Smart Case are these: The Smart Cover is made of polyurethane and protects only the screen. The Smart Case is made of aniline-dyed leather and also protects the iPad Air's sides and back. The Smart Cover comes in black, pink, yellow, blue, green, and - exclusive to Apple Stores - (PRODUCT) RED. The Smart Case comes in brown, beige, black, yellow, blue, and (PRODUCT) RED.

The black, blue, yellow, and red look universally good. The beige, like with the iPhone 5s case, is too fleshy for my tastes. Brown and pink look just okay.

The viewing angles, when standing, are fairly similar between Smart Cover and Smart Case, though my Smart Cover did recline to a greater degree.

Typing angle between the iPad Air Smart Cover and Smart Case were likely similar.

The protection provided to the back of the iPad Air by the Smart Case is nice, including the embossed Apple logo which only Apple is legally allowed to put on accessories, of course.

However, the Smart Case also adds considerable bulk compared to the Smart Cover. Because it's covering both sides, it makes the overall package thicker.

The iPad Air Smart Case does feel like it fits better, both in terms of sizing and magnetic seal, than the overly floppy iPad 3/4 Smart Case Apple released in June of 2012.

But the cost of protection is inevitably size.

Who should get the iPad Air Smart Cover?

You can go completely naked for even less bulk, or use a protective film, but the Smart Cover is an excellent compromise of good looks, good protection, and good functionality. If all you want to do is protect the screen of your iPad Air, without a lot of bulk, but with something that's easily removable and has ability to stand it up for typing or viewing, and you don't care that it's polyurethane instead of leather, you want the Smart Cover.

Who should get the iPad Air Smart Case?

There will no doubt be full on armor cases for the iPad Air, ironic as that might sound, and soon. However, if you like the Smart Cover-style magnetic closure and roll-up stand, but really don't want to risk any damage to the back of your tablet, and you like leather better than polyurethane, you want the Smart Case.

Know what you're getting?

If you've made your choice, here's where to go to buy online, including some alternatives offered by Amazon.

Still can't decide?

If you're really stuck between a cover and a hard case, head on over to your local Apple Store or authorize reseller and check out both in person. Also be sure to hit up the iMore iPad Accessory Forum with any questions you might have. It's filled with expert help, and the best community discussion on the net.

Once you've decided between the iPad Air Smart Cover, Smart Case, something else, or nothing at all, let me know!

Rene Ritchie

Editor-in-Chief of iMore, co-host of Iterate, Debug, Review, The TV Show, Vector, ZEN & TECH, and MacBreak Weekly podcasts. Cook, grappler, photon wrangler. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

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There are 31 comments. Add yours.

impaler says:

"Smart Covers attach via magnets and protect only the screen. Smart Covers wrap around and protect both the back and the screen. " I think you mean "Smart Covers attach via magnets and protect only the screen. Smart Cases wrap around and protect both the back and the screen." There's actually a couple similar errors in the first paragraph. Great article and nice comparisons, though!

o4liberty says:

I looked at the smart covers but not enough protection in my opinion so I picked up the Zagg keyboard case which protects the entire ipad.

CrzyP says:

I have an iPad 3 and the Smart Case has saved my iPad from total destruction multiple times. It looks weak, but it's very durable.

dave_ousley says:

While the magnet off/on feature is kinda cool, the roll-up to angle your pad is weak. It's not a robust solution to keeping the iPad in place because even a slight inadvertent touch can displace the position. I'd scrap using the cover or the case.

Twelve South makes a nice case they call BookBook. They have yet to release their case for iPad Air as of 11/03/13. My Air will remain naked until that release.

G.4 says:

Had a Smart Cover for my iPad 2 since launch day and loved it. I bought a few other cases over the past couple of years and always went back to the Smart Cover. I will definitely buy this "updated" one for the Air- I hate having a case on my iPad. I just want a way to prop it up and easily discard that when I want to play a game or just hold it normally.

Sam Threepwood says:

It's the first time I'm using apple's Smart Case and I'm disappointed. Is it just me, I discovered that the pyramid folding is not very robust and comes off real easy. I had a non apple cover on my older ipad and the magnet was so strong and secure. Do people have problems with folding their apple ipad air smart cases?

poiman says:

I think I'll go for the Smart Cover once I buy my Mini Retina. I already have one on my iPad 4 and I just feel that it is safer. Unfortunatly it makes you lose the great looks of the tablet itself but one can't have everything...

isteal says:

I picked up a black Smart Cover today. I really wanted the red one, but after seeing how dirty the apple leather 5s cases get. I decided black was the only option. I like the case so far. Nice protection and very little weight. Plus the edges aren't sharp like on the old smart case made of poly...

MooPenguin32 says:

I purchased the (PRODUCT) RED Smart Cover for my iPad Air. It seems to hold better when folded as a stand than the Smart Cover for the iPad mini. I'm not sure if there was an improvement or if it's in my head. There just doesn't seem to be the same amount of give, which is good.

I purchased the Smart Cover from Best Buy. Maybe they have a deal with Apple that allows them to carry it since it's supposed to be an Apple Store exclusive.

Sent from the iMore App

Ides of Buster says:

I picked up a Smart Cover along with my iPad Air. The back of the iPad Air is so gorgeous I couldn't bring myself to hide it with the Smart Case. To protect the iPad Air when I'm in transit, I place it into a Tom Bihn iPad sleeve I had purchased for my iPad 3.

gopherhockey says:

I got the smart case... I don't like how the new cover folds up and fits the left hand. The old one used to fit real nice, but the new one is too long to hold easily, and it pulls the case away from the iPad. I usually defend Apple's prices - even their expensive cables - but the $79 smart case is not worth the money. I also wish they had a poly option, I don't like the nasty fake leather - its cheap.. like Samesung cheap. I may return this in for a smart cover and some kind of clear film to protect the back, but it looks like the smart cover has the same dumb new geometry. I wish more people made minimalist cases - there are so many huge ugly options out there.

al_lopeztorres says:

I just ordered the smart cover. The smart case weighs almost a third of the weight of the air. I almost wanted to buy a mini because its lighter but really wanted a large screen, so I figured that a needed to keep it as light as possible. I also ordered a gelaskin to protect the back from scratches with some style and keeping the device as light as possible. In the future might buy a clear back case compatible with the smart cover like the set up I had with my ipad 2 which was nice.

vic867 says:

I bought the smart case, because after a week of having the iPhone 5s I already nicked a corner. I will be carrying around the iPad and will put a case on it immediately.

tiedemann says:

"Brown and pink look just okay." Ouch. I have the brown leather cases on my white 5S and white Air. I switched from black to white devices and wanted something different than black. I put some neutral kiwi polish on them based on the comments from another poster here and we'll see how it goes...

DRAppleGuy1593 says:

I'd say Smart Case since so far there really isn't many case options for iPad Air yet from other companies. No so sure it's worth that price mark though of $79. Seems pretty high even though a lot of people would say it's worth it for the protection on a $500+ device. The other option I hope other companies bring back is many make an iPad back cover that can go on and work with the Smart Covers and overall lower the price of protection.

daniebello says:

I love that you completely fail to show the smart case from the front, thanks imore.

Bido Salama says:

I orders a smart case for my iPad " Brown Color " , i think it is the best choise besides it is made from leather so it looks nice .

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joshrocker says:

While I love the concept of the Smart Cover, I think they're extremely over priced for what they are. I do love that you can remove them so easily and reattach it when needed. I think you need some of kind of prop for typing so I bought one for my iPad 3. When it's time to upgrade I'd probably get another but I'd do it begrudgingly since they're so expensive. I've always liked to go caseless on my devices since cases really ruin the design ascetic. The Smart Cover allows an easy solution for protection and design.

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thatnickjones says:

As a first time Smart Cover owner, I am in love. I can't really explain it. I've owned both the iPad 1 and the iPad 3 along with the new iPad Air. It's great for use around the house and simply throwing into my bag on the way to class. Granted, it doesn't provide any protection for the back, but I am waiting to get a more rugged case for certain situations.

Both are a overpriced, but I just can't see myself paying for the Smart Case. It's just a waiting game now as many case manufacturers are still in the process of getting their iPad Air cases to market!

WhyAreYouHere says:

Actually I got the Survivor Case for iPad Air, way better than Apple's, sorry Tim.

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Thetaman says:

Any difference really between the red smart cover on Best Buy and the "exclusive" one on Apple? http://www.bestbuy.com/site/smart-cover-for-apple-ipad-174-air/1712181.p...

MooPenguin32 says:

Nope. I bought the red smart cover at Best Buy yesterday. It is the same (PRODUCT) RED and comes in the same Apple packaging.

bookimdanno says:

I always go with a smart cover and compatible third party shell. I have to have a the cover removable, can't stand it flopping around when holding the iPad!

NetMage says:

I have always used a Smart Cover with a third party compatible back. I bough the Smart Cover for my Air and can't believe that Apple still doesn't provide a strong back hold when folding it over - as opposed to my preferred Speck SmartShell, which has a metal band to lock the cover when folded back (could be much better aesthetically but very functional). Unfortunately I think the SmartCase is even worse - it also doesn't lock the cover when folded over (with no excuse) and has an ugly and uncomfortable sharp edge hinge sticking out on the left hand side right where the palm of your hand would hold the iPad. Hope Speck releases a better Air compatible SmartShell soon!

bookimdanno says:

I hope so too... not sure what the hold is up over at Speck.

Nighthawk_Gold says:

I have bought both, I must admit I'm not a fan of the new case but as an ipad 1st generation user I like the total all round protection that the apple case provided. I'm yet to find a lighting dock which works with the smart case; Apple have failed to provide are replacement to the old style connector white iPad dock which is a surprise. I tried a Belkin one which connected to the ipad (ie held in place) but didn't provide a snug enough fit for the connection to be made for charging. In fact EVERY iPad/iPhone dock in the apple store: Bose, Philips, Sony (Best Buy) and ihome don't work with the new 'smart' case. Therefore I purchased the smart cover for at home which docks happily with everything and i'll keep the case for travel. So I would only buy the smart case if you don't want to dock or mind removing the iPad every single time.

bendbuddy says:

Why on earth won't Apple release a polyurethane Smart Case for the iPad Air?! I don't want to pay $79 for that fo-leather and the Smart Cover is dreadful. They had a polyurethane Smart Case for the last iPad. Grrrr. My iPad Air is still sitting in a box:(

BandMan says:

I purchased the three-fold Smart Cover two weeks ago, but today I saw that Staples had a full stock of four-fold smart covers in all colors and four-fold smart cases (including (Product)RED). Looking at the Apple web site and the Staples web site, you only see photos of the three-fold items. It must be that Apple has just changed-over to the four-fold. Does anyone know when/why this happened, and why would Apple not be showing that photo on their web site of products?

johnwhitley says:

The four-fold version is for iPad versions 2,3, & 4. The iPad Air is narrower than the previous models, and the Smart Cover for the Air took on the new design first used for the original iPad Mini.

Jonh Santa says:

Do other cases not made by apple, still lock/unlock the iPad?