How to find a good iPad Mini case or bag

So may options to choose from...but they're not all perfect. Here's how to start winnowing out what you really need for your little iPad.

Sarah Tew/CNET

iPads don't come with their own protection. In fact, these sleek metal and glass beauties ship naked. That just won't do: you need a case. But when it comes to the iPad Mini , I quickly discovered, what makes a good case or bag is a very different proposition than for the larger iPad.

To help you pick out something good, here's what I've observed so far over the last couple of months of hard-core iPad Mini use. Let's take a look, shall we?

Sleeves galore. Sarah Tew/CNET

Sleeves: The Mini is extremely thin, and feels as slight as a regular Kindle. The larger iPad, comparatively, feels like a very thin laptop. I usually treated my large iPad like a laptop in terms of carrying it in a bag, picking some sort of padded sleeve. For a Mini, some sleeves feel like overkill -- and some don't fit well if the Mini's already in a case.

Some of you may be more tempted to carry around your Mini nearly naked and simply use a sleeve for travel in between. Sensible, considering it keeps your iPad Mini unbulky for everyday use. However, you'll very likely baby your Mini in public for fear of dropping it, unless you simply aren't like me. Nevertheless, if you go with a sleeve, go simple, and consider whether you'd like that sleeve to have a pocket.

Waterfield makes several decent options; the attractive and thickly padded Outback Sleeve ($39, top right) fits the Mini very snugly, which means you'll need to travel with a naked iPad Mini (or with a Smart Cover, just barely). It also exposes one side of the Mini, potentially to scratches in a gear-filled bag, but the sleeve's worn leather and canvas design is the best-looking I've seen.

The Waterfield Travel Express has lots of room inside. Sarah Tew/CNET

The iPad Mini Travel Express ($59 to $69, bottom right), on the other hand, goes big and offers plenty of space for an iPad Mini in any case. It also has some extra stretchable pockets inside for charge cables and other gear. For a messenger bag that lacks extra compartments, this is a perfect insert.

Something like the X-Doria SleeveStand ($29, bottom left) is a tidy, snug little plush pocket with one small side sleeve, converting into a stand for viewing the Mini by stretching its unzippered jaws wide and gripping the iPad with rubber clips. Stand mode wasn't ideal, but this type of bag is perfect for in-flight front-pocket use.

Or, go even simpler: a bare-bones foam sleeve. The Tom Bihn Cache ($25, top left) is made for inserting into its bags. It's simply an iPad cozy.

Bottom line: Keep the sleeve simple, and you don't need one if you prefer a standard case, but it's essential if you prefer an unclothed Mini.

From left: Cases by Marware, Pad & Quill, and Griffin. Sarah Tew/CNET

Cases: The iPad Mini has completely different proportions compared with the large iPad. The side bezels are extremely narrow, and that means cases have to be smarter. The Mini feels like a Kindle or other e-reader, and so I feel it's ideal for a folio-like case with a flip cover, a design that's not always perfect for a large iPad. As you can see from the photos, it's my favorite way to clothe a Mini (or any 7-inch tablet, really).

That doesn't mean all iPad cases are made alike, even folio ones.

The Marware C.E.O. Hybrid. Good protection, exposed edges. Sarah Tew/CNET

I started out using the Marware C.E.O Hybrid ($43), a case that grew on me. The leather exterior offers an excellent hard shell and padding, and the case flips out to become a video- and FaceTime-ready stand, but the design of the case leaves good chunks of the Mini's side edges exposed to potential scratching in a bag. The Hybrid only has a few prongs that make contact with the Mini, so access to much of the display is unfettered. That's a surprisingly key consideration, since the Mini's bezels are so thin; many apps require use of touch areas even at the far edges of the iPad's display.

The Griffin Slim Folio. Sarah Tew/CNET

On the flip side, the Griffin Slim Folio ($39) has a microsuede inner lining for a snug fit, but the case uses a leatherlike covering around all side bezels. That's nice for general protection, but as you can see, it makes access to the edge of the Mini's screen difficult. That doesn't matter for e-reading or video playback, but for many games or sketch/photo-editing apps, it's not ideal at all.

The Pad & Quill Graduate Artist Series case. Sarah Tew/CNET

My favorite might be Pen & Quill's Graduate Artist Series case ($69), which uses bookbinding techniques for its handmade silk screen design. Book-style cases have been around since the original iPad, but with the Mini it's a perfect fit. The smaller side bezels mean the case isn't that wide, and the whole package matches the size of a softcover book. Most importantly, the case offers full access to the front of the iPad, so edge-to-edge touch gestures won't be a problem.

Smart Cover: More accessory than case. Sarah Tew/CNET

There's also Apple's own Smart Cover ($39), an excellent and minimal solution for the bare-bones Mini user (see sleeves, above), but the back of the iPad isn't protected. Does that bother you? The Smart Cover's easy-to-use stand mode and virtual-keyboard elevation make it a pretty useful tool...but it's not a case. It's really an accessory. At least it's small enough to tuck away in your bag in case you think you'll need it later. I use it when typing.

Bottom line: Get a folio case, and make sure it doesn't restrict edge access. For more, browse through our list of the top iPad Mini cases .

The Tom Bihn Cadet (left) and Ristretto. Sarah Tew/CNET

Bags: I've faced this challenge before: is there such a thing as a good iPad bag ? Perhaps you're best off tucking the Mini into a regular backpack or messenger bag and calling it a day. That's a perfect solution if the Mini is just one more gadget in your life, but what if the iPad Mini changes the way you travel? What if it means you don't need a bag that's quite so big?

I prefer bags that have plenty of room for other small essentials, random cards and cords, and loose change. Tom Bihn happens to make two of my favorites: the Ristretto and the Cadet. They're both expensive. Other bag makers offer similar concepts, but here's what I like in particular about both of these.

Messenger bag: The Tom Bihn Ristretto ($135) is made for any iPad, and it even fits many Netbooks. A padded back compartment holds the iPad, and a larger front area plus a second zippered compartment offer lots of extra space. This is the model for the perfect iPad messenger bag: restrained but roomy, with no sacrifice of pockets. This is the cafe bag or vacation bag done perfectly.

Laptop-style brief: The Tom Bihn Cadet ($170) is closer to being a ruggedized laptop briefcase, outfitted with extra space. The 11-inch Cadet feels tiny, yet it's able to just swallow up a 13-inch MacBook Air even though Tom Bihn's site doesn't even claim it can. A padded inner sleeve clips into the case for extra security, and two zippered outer pockets hold cables, loose bits of gear, and your phone. Many laptop briefcases skimp on extra pockets as well, but the Cadet is perfect for carrying on a plane or taking away for a weekend...or even daily commuting.

The ECBC Harpoon. Sarah Tew/CNET

Backpack: One of my recent favorites is the ECBC Harpoon Daypack. This bag holds a thick 15-inch laptop with ease, but it's slim enough to not weigh you down, and it has plenty of subpockets that are perfectly sized for an iPad Mini.

Bottom line: I treat 7-inch tablets like superpowered portable e-readers. It's not a laptop replacement, but it'll do the job for commuting. Pick a bag that doesn't cater too much to the tiny Mini, but takes advantage of the reduced space requirements. In other words, split the difference, and make sure the bag has tinier sleeves and compartments for tablet storage.

 

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