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
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.
- iPad Air Smart Cover - $39.00 - Buy now (opens in new tab)
- iPad Air Smart Case - $79.00 - Buy now (opens in new tab)
- Amazon iPad Air accessories (opens in new tab)
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 is one of the most respected Apple analysts in the business, reaching a combined audience of over 40 million readers a month. His YouTube channel, Vector, has over 90 thousand subscribers and 14 million views and his podcasts, including Debug, have been downloaded over 20 million times. He also regularly co-hosts MacBreak Weekly for the TWiT network and co-hosted CES Live! and Talk Mobile. Based in Montreal, Rene is a former director of product marketing, web developer, and graphic designer. He's authored several books and appeared on numerous television and radio segments to discuss Apple and the technology industry. When not working, he likes to cook, grapple, and spend time with his friends and family.