What makes a great iPad case (or, why my iPad's frumpy)

How do you best clothe an iPad? If you're like me, you ignore being fancy and just focus on making it easier to hold.

Scott Stein Editor at Large
I started with CNET reviewing laptops in 2009. Now I explore wearable tech, VR/AR, tablets, gaming and future/emerging trends in our changing world. Other obsessions include magic, immersive theater, puzzles, board games, cooking, improv and the New York Jets. My background includes an MFA in theater which I apply to thinking about immersive experiences of the future.
Expertise VR and AR, gaming, metaverse technologies, wearable tech, tablets Credentials
  • Nearly 20 years writing about tech, and over a decade reviewing wearable tech, VR, and AR products and apps
Scott Stein
3 min read

Making a device that's somewhere between a laptop and an iPhone comes with challenges beyond app design. As I've been wondering since I've owned an iPad, what exactly makes a good iPad case?

I know one thing: it's not the same thing that makes a good iPhone case.

First of all, I'm terrified to drop my iPad. I've heard the stories, and I'm not about to test mine the same way. I don't trust myself to even hold it in bed--I'm afraid it'll slip out of my hands and shatter somewhere while I'm sleeping.

An iPhone gets held to your ear. A hard shell seems best, one that prevents scratches. The iPhone can tolerate a drop or two (or five), at least from my experience. I'm not worried about that. I just want a hard shell for it.

Booq's sleeve: sleek, but the naked iPad's got to come out eventually. Scott Stein/CNET

As for the iPad, I'm never likely to use it in motion, and at a subway station or bus stop I'd prefer it to be protected even when reading. The screen on an iPad is tremendous. Though the glass is scratch-resistant, I prefer a cover if at all possible

Many case makers, however, are treating the iPad like a giant iPhone in terms of their case design. I've seen some sleeve/hard-shell concepts that seem a little ridiculous.

Others are treating it like a laptop, offering soft-skinned neoprene sleeves and slipcases. Booq has an iPad sleeve for $29 that is a nice little slipcover, reinforced on the back. Its top is exposed, but the iPad's glass screen nestles against the hard back, fully covered. It's best for sliding the iPad in a backpack or bag.

But, though it's easy to remove the iPad at a moment's notice, the iPad is then exposed when in use. I'm back where I started without a case.

In the Apple case: instantly less stealable. Scott Stein/CNET

Apple's microfiber case doesn't look tremendously appealing at first glance. At $39, it's expensive. And it's more of a skin than a padded case, offering basically no drop protection. It does, however, have a booklike cover, making the iPad more comfortable to hold when reading on a subway or standing up. The case also cleverly bends back and provides an angled riser for browsing/typing on the iPad in landscape mode. In fact, the iPad in its case suddenly becomes a far better desk tool at work.

It's also almost impossible to wrangle the iPad back out of the Apple sleeve afterward, as if the microfiber sleeve is telling me to leave the iPad in forever. I still like removing it from time to time--after all, to be frank, the Apple case isn't much of a looker. It attracts dust. It's a little frumpy.

Yet it's also cozy, weirdly. Plus, an added bonus I've discovered in public: the semi-unattractive case makes for great attention-deflecting camouflage when commuting. The iPad becomes almost unrecognizable, a black slab in a black case, all silver metal curves tucked away.

Treating the iPad like a book, or an e-reader, seems like the best approach for a case purchase. But maybe that's because that's my primary use for the iPad: it's my e-reader with privileges. A digital book with a whole lot of other gravy. I prefer to leave the sleeves and hard shells behind. Maybe you feel differently?