A thick rubberized shell with a textured grip gives the $30 Targus Vucomplete+ a different feel from other Smart Cover-compatible backs. It feels more rugged, and provides better traction for pick-up-and-carry and one-handed subway reading. An open hole reveals the Apple logo with a bit of distinctive flair. While we appreciate the Vucomplete+ case thickness, it actually gets in the way of the iPad 2's ability to stand up in landscape mode using the Smart Cover. Sometimes, too thick is too thick.
Currently our favorite of the bunch, Belkin's $30 lightweight back cover, the Snap Shield, comes in pink, smoke, or clear. Our clear back has a slightly cloudy finish and a rubberized back texture, making it softer to hold and easier to grip. We've also noticed that it masks scuffs a little better than shinier all-clear covers. Corner-to-corner and edge-to-edge protection covers all exposed edges except for volume, headphone/power on, the 30-pin connector, and a cut-out rectangle for the speaker. The thin-profile back case adds little thickness to the iPad 2.
It's hard to find much innovation in the narrow field of snap-on Smart Cover-compatible iPad 2 back cases, but Speck's $35 SmartShell throws a clever wrinkle: a metal back panel magnetically attaches to the folded-back Smart Cover and holds it in place. Speck offers the SmartShell in orange, blue, pink, black and green colors, with a soft-touch finish, but the clear model we tested is hard and transparent. Speck's cover offers thicker rounded edges for a little extra bumper protection, but the added thickness made it harder to open the Smart Cover at certain angles.
The $20 Vucomplete is a thinner plastic back cover shell, more fragile than the Vucomplete+, but also much thinner, transparent, and more invisible. It shares a lot in common with Joy Factory's clear SmartFit cover, but Targus' is $10 less expensive.
A light polycarbonate shell with a soft feel wraps around the back of the iPad 2, exposing only the top and bottom edges. The $35 Smart Feather also has a unique side flap that encases and secures the Smart Cover hinge, keeping the Smart Cover from accidentally falling off. Of course, that also means that the Smart Cover can't be removed without detaching the Smart Feather, which could be a drawback for some. Color options match Apple's Smart Covers, too, and the Smart Feather is packaged with a clear screen protector as a bonus.
The socially developed $18 Fender bumper is offered by Quirky, a site that crowdsources product designs. Theoretically, this should mean that the Fender addresses user needs the best. The preproduction sample we tried is lightweight and has rubber edge bumpers for shock protection, but no back panel. Its raised shell will protect an iPad 2 from getting abrasions on a flat surface, but it won't protect it from loose bag debris. However, it will show off your Apple logo.
The thinnest, lightest shell of the handful we tried, the $30 SmartFit is thin and glossy for a nearly invisible look--you can barely make it out on the iPad 2 in the picture. The polycarbonate case comes in clear or smoke (clear is shown here). Side edges and the back are completely covered for general scratch protection. The one drawback: the plastic shell's so thin it feels like it might easily snap if removed and stored in a bag separately.
Although it's made of thicker plastic than the rest, and adds a bit more weight, the soft-to-the-touch shell on the $40 Smart Back Cover feels the sturdiest, and covers the iPad's edges the most thoroughly. Like the Smart Feather, the Smart Back Cover comes in shades that match Apple's Smart Covers. Its higher price doesn't seem justified, though.
The Aviiq Smart Case looks and feels a lot like the iLuv Smart Back Cover, but mixes in an anodized aluminum plate to match the iPad 2's finish. It comes in colors to match the Smart Cover, but the aluminum plate's the part to change colors, while the edges remain gray. For this reason, we actually prefer the gray/silver combo featured here--it's the most invisible solution. But is an extra sheet of aluminum worth paying a premium for? Aviiq's case costs $50. We like the feel and finish a lot, though, even if it adds significant weight.
Despite the name, this skin of the Bodyguardz Armor Carbon Fiber case isn't made of carbon fiber; it's actually a PVC-based film. The textured skin is applied on the back of the iPad 2, and stays adhered to protect against scratches. Even though it's an adhesive skin, the armor comes off without leaving much residue. The downsides: the skin, once removed, can't be reapplied, and the thin PVC won't protect against impact. It's also strangely expensive at $30.