Review: iPad Smart Case by WaterField

Posted by Zealot on Jun 15, 2010

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ipad month I have had the privilege over the last few weeks to use and review quite a few different iPad cases from many different vendors, and will be getting quite a few more still. Overall, I have been impressed with the quality and diversity I have been finding. No question that case makers have been bringing their A-games to Apple’s newest lifestyle toy and have been reminding me that cases have come a long way in my years writing and blogging on mobile technology. Back when I began, the only choices you had for most devices were “hard case” or “soft case”, if that…and lord did I get sick of vinyl.

So why the ruminations about the state of cases today? Well, I have played with and reviewed some really good cases lately, even some great ones. However, the last few days I have been using a case that has made me pull up short and reconsider what I really want in a case…since it is making me think my expectations have been set too low. The Smart Case for iPad by WaterField is everything I normally avoid in a case…and is one of the best, if not THE best case I have ever used.

So what am I talking about, what elements of the Smart Case do I normally avoid?

WFSleeve1 Well first of all, nylon. I hate nylon. I must prefer leather, preferably black, when I am choosing a case. I tolerate nylon with a gear bag usually since leather bags of that size are often prohibitively expensive and I go through A LOT of gear bags, but cases? No nylon. Leather all the way…for the look, the feel, the quality, the attitude. I just can’t help it, I come from a generation that tends to identify nylon with “cheap”.

…but the Smart Case is made of nylon. The heaviest grade, highest quality nylon I have ever seen in a case of this nature. It feels rich and solid, the texture feels good under my fingers and allows for a solid grip. The stitching is internal so there are no threads to catch on anything, and the bottom seam is stitched in a lattice pattern for maximum strength.This isn’t that flimsy windbreaker crap, this is “tent for climbing Everest” nylon. It feels like it will wear and age like leather. It reminds me of the times I have had to wear Kevlar…it feels THAT protective. It also has the advantage of being very very light, much lighter then I am used to with leather. The case feels barely there, but totally present. I hate nylon, but I LOVE this nylon.

WFSleeve4 Next, I tend to stay away from Sleeve cases. I like to be able to lock my devices down, seal them in, and keep them protected even as I use them. I can’t help it, I just don’t trust sleeve cases. It is too easy for large devices to slip out of a sleeve case, and when the device in question is an iPad that is even a bigger worry than normal. Admit it, the thing has the aerodynamics of a very expensive cake plate. If it slips out of the case and its the floor, forget about it.

…but the Smart Case is a sleeve case. The iPad slips in the top with nothing to hold it in place. However this case is so well fitted, so tight that it grips the iPad, holding it in nice and snug. It takes a bit of force to get it all the way into the case, and even more force to slide it back out again. In fact, there is a leather tab solidly stitched into the bottom of the Smart Case to make it easier to remove the device, so it is not that tight because it is new, it was designed that way. The fit is more precise and exact in the Smart Case then in most book style cases I have used. It is perfectly tailored to the device. I don’t trust sleeve cases, but I trust this one.

I also don’t tend to go in for padded cases. They are usually placebos, fluffy bits of nothing that will just flatten after a few weeks, leaving you with a case with no protection at all. Good quality, thick leather is enough in most cases…if that won’t absorb an impact, then a millimeter of cheap cotton batting won’t help. I also don’t like the look of most padded cases, quilting stitches and what not. I really don’t need a device case that looks like it was made by some Mary Guild somewhere.

WFSleeve3 …but the Smart Case is padded. Not just padded….PADDED. Ming Vase transport padded. Under the nylon there is a thin layer of high impact plastic to take direct impacts, then under that compression foam, which is part of what keeps the fit so snug around the iPad. The case doesn’t feel fluffy in the least, but firm and well padded…like sheepskin. Everything about the padding feels carefully selected and constructed and more importantly, it feels like it would actually WORK to protect a device, which is especially important when all that padding is wrapped around a device which is basically just a screen with delusions of grandeur. I don’t believe in padding, but I believe in the padding of the Smart Case.

So if those were the things I avoid, what elements does the Smart Case have that I always look for in a case?

WFSleeve2 Attention to detail for one. The sides of the Smart Case are thick, soft leather, providing the perfect amount of give, but not too much. They also add a touch of luxury to the case, in lovely counterpoint to the heavy nylon. Because the sides stop about an inch and a half from the top of the Smart Case it makes it very simple to slide the case in properly, or to get a good enough grip on the iPad to slide it out.

Then functionality. Along one side of the case is a wide, deep mesh pocket that stretches a good deal to accommodate pretty much anything you need, then slowly tightens up again when it is empty. The pocket can be used for just about anything…connector cable, phone, wallet. It is the sort of pocket that makes it easier to just grab the iPad in it’s Smart Case and go without worrying about a gear bag if you don’t need to.

WFSleeve5 Sensible design next. When it is fully inserted into the Smart Case, the top edge of the iPad rests about half an inch down below the lip of the case. The padding automatically forms around the edge of the device a bit, not only helping to ensure that it won’t slide out, but also making it less likely that you will accidently press the power button, or that something in your gear bag will hold it pressed down to bleed out your battery.

Finally creativity. The inner lining of the case is made of ultrasuede. Not only is it very very soft to protect the iPad screen and casing from any accidental scratches, it also acts as a cleaning cloth when you slide the iPad in and out of the Smart Case. That is the kind of thinking that makes a great bag into an excellent one.

Leaving the Smart Case itself for a moment, I was also tremendously impressed with WaterField’s customer support. The PR representative I dealt with (Heidi) went to great pains to make sure I got the case I wished to review, and took time to teach me enough about their products to make an educated choice. Then, when shipping became problematic, she stayed involved with the whole process. Everyone at WaterField, right up to Gary Waterfield himself, was a pleasure to deal with.

Now, I have a dilemma. I always like to mention some additional elements I would like to see in a case, even when that case is excellent…but to be honest I am struggling to find anything about this case I would do differently. Maybe black leather instead of brown…maybe a couple sturdy D-rings on the sides so the Smart case can have a strap attached. Both of those are matters or personal preference really…the case is missing nothing, it is everything it should be. In fact, it is more than it should be. The Smart Case goes above and beyond the call.

The Smart Case from WaterField is truly one of my favorite cases of all time, certainly my favorite Sleeve case of all time, and likely to be with me for a long long time. It won me over, step by step. It has my strongest personal endorsement and I can promise you that you will not be disappointed in this case. I can’t wait to review more WaterField cases if this one is any indication of what I have in store.

The Smart Case for the iPad is available in six colors for $59 from WaterField.

See the Smart Case in action in this video from WaterField.

Zealot (839 Posts) - Website | Twitter | Facebook

By day a department manager and writer for a major network device night Zealot stalks the mean magnetic streets, striking fear into the hearts of bandwidth abusers and theme park mascots. Zealot has been involved with mobile devices for more than a decade now, starting off with dumb phones, moving to PDAs and then to smartphones, notebooks and netbooks with the odd PMP thrown in. Most of his mobile time currently is spent on a Treo Pro, Zune HD, Thinkpad T61, HP Mini 311, iPod Touch 3G, iPad 16G or a Hackintoshed Compaq Mini 704. He proudly groks the Geek community and considers himself a Neo Maxi Zune Dweebie (thanks Wil Wheaton!).


  • mobilitysite

    Posted: Review: iPad Smart Case by WaterField

  • Galley

    I’ve had the iPad Smart Case for nearly three years, and it’s still in like new condition. I also just purchased the 11″ MacBook Air version. These sleeves are pricey, but they are handmade in San Francisco, and worth every penny!


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