If I can think of one nagging annoyance about using an iPad, it's this: propping the darn thing up can often be more challenging than it needs to be.
Yes, that's what Apple's Smart Cover is for, to some degree: you can stand your iPad in landscape mode or settle it down to an elevated typing angle. That hasn't stopped others from dreaming up solutions to the same problem, mostly in the form of folio cases that bulkily transform into stands.
Startup company Rolling Ave. has another solution: turn a back cover into a convertible stand. The iCircle is a smooth plastic shell that fits around the iPad 2 or third-gen iPad and has a circular ring in the center. Pull the ring, and a stand pops out that can rotate into portrait or landscape mode.
The iCircle looks the part of a hip iPad accessory, and has a stylish flair. It snapped easily onto the back of my iPad, and I liked the color: a glossy, creamy white, with a circular aluminum center that exposes the Apple logo. Black's available, too, if you prefer that.
Just as advertised, the iCircle works as a very functional stand. Flip the circle-shaped, magnetically attached centerpiece down, and it holds the iPad at a comfortable angle. You can also flip the iCircle into a third orientation for typing. The angle's a little too elevated compared with the more comfortable Smart Cover virtual-keyboard mode, but it works.
The iCircle is Smart Cover friendly, too: a little cut-out side section accommodates the Smart Cover's magnetic hinge, and works well to accompany the iCircle as a front-and-rear-covering iPad travel solution. The iCircle's plastic back leaves too many of the iPad's edges exposed, though, which I didn't appreciate. I prefer a more thoroughly-protecting back cover.
That's not the iCircle's only flaw: far from it. You can only use the iPad's 30-pin USB cable in landscape mode with the iCircle; in portrait mode, the cable gets squished on the bottom. The iCircle also feels far too flimsy and flexy for a $70 iPad accessory. It didn't suffer any problems over the week I used it, but the overall construction quality doesn't feel as solid as it initially appears.
For starters, the centerpiece ring isn't solid metal: it's a hollow ring of aluminum and alloy that feels lightweight and almost plastic. The hinges underneath are sturdy, but delicately oriented. The magnets attaching the ring to the case feel weak, too. I don't know if the iCircle would survive a single drop onto a hard floor (then again, what iPad accessory would?). Also, consider that the iCircle's design creates an odd bulge in the center, adding thickness to the iPad. It rests flat on a table, but it's not entirely comfortable to hold.
As much as I've appreciated the iCircle's flexibility as a case/stand, and I love the idea behind this accessory, the Smart Cover plus a flat back cover that's far less expensive would do the same job for most people. If the iCircle were half the price and twice as sturdy, I'd recommend it in a heartbeat. It's too expensive and niche in its current form, but a noble first effort.