Finding a good case for my iPad mini with Retina Display has been a bit of a struggle — many agree that the best one on the market is made by Apple, and frankly, it's not all that great. The Smart Case does a good job at protecting my iPad from bumps and scrapes, and the leather does look nice. But it's not very good at propping the iPad up for viewing, especially when I'm on a bumpy plane or train, and it adds a little more bulk than I'd like. Fortunately, I've finally found a great alternative to Apple's Smart Case, the $69.99 SurfacePad by TwelveSouth.
The SurfacePad for the iPad mini is made of leather, like the Smart Case, but softer to the touch. Inside is a soft, grey suede-like material. It's available in three colors: black, white, and a striking red, which is what I've been using on my iPad for the past few weeks. The red complements the white iPad nicely, though if I had the slate color iPad, I'd probably prefer black. Like the Smart Case, the SurfacePad is a book-like folding design that covers both the front and back of the iPad. Opening the SurfacePad wakes the iPad as expected, and the cover folds around back when it's open.
The SurfacePad is an attractive alternative to Apple's Smart Cover
Unlike the Smart Cover, and many other iPad cases, the SurfacePad doesn't hold on to the iPad. Rather, the back part of the case has an adhesive that sticks to the back of the iPad, leaving the edges exposed. The adhesive isn't permanent and doesn't leave a residue, but it does make it difficult to take the SurfacePad off if you want to switch to a different case or use a folding keyboard cover. Overall, this makes the SurfacePad slimmer than the Smart Cover, but if you're concerned about protecting the corners and edges of the iPad, this isn't going to cut it.
The SurfacePad keeps the iPad propped up even on bumpy airplanes
The best part of the SurfacePad is the way it supports the iPad when you have the case open. There are two invisible magnets on the front cover that grab the edge of the iPad and hold it in to place, even when on a bumpy flight. Contrast this with Apple's folding cover, which tends to fall down at the slightest disturbance. The most upright position is good for watching video, while the shallower mode is ideal for typing. There's also a third, even shallower, position that is supported by a folding kickstand inside the case for more comfortable typing.
The SurfacePad is the same price as Apple's Smart Case, so it doesn't really give you a better value. But I like it for its slimmer profile and sturdier support for viewing video. I also like that it doesn't completely cover my iPad — the gleaming chamfered edges poking out the side of the case offer a nice aesthetic. It can be more difficult to open than the Smart Case, which might be a deal breaker for some people, and I'm not sure how long the red leather will hold up before looking worn (it wasn't long before I spilled some of my lunch on the front of the SurfacePad, leaving a stain that I can't get out).
TwelveSouth offers a similar SurfacePad for the iPhone, and a larger model for the iPad Air is also in the works. Like the Smart Case, the SurfacePad isn't without its faults, but it's an attractive alternative and a solid cover for the iPad. Finally.