I cannot imagine using my iPad without a case. It's not that I'm paranoid about protecting it so much as I just find it very difficult to type on without some sort of prop. Perhaps how I use my iPad is unusual: I draft blog posts on it, use it to keep notes in meetings, and use it a lot in the kitchen for recipe display. Since I first bought the official Apple case mere days after getting the iPad, I haven't used my iPad naked for more than a few hours without missing the ability to stand it up.
The official case was (a rarity for Apple) both highly practical and incredibly ugly. The seam around the edge might have helped with impact absorption, but it also made the iPad feel like a cheap novelty. Over the last year of iPad ownership, I've looked at multiple options, but have never found one I really wanted -- mostly due to analysis paralysis, I suspect. I ended up sticking with the official case, as much as I disliked it.
As such, the new Smart Cover for the iPad 2 looked highly relevant to my interests, but after deliberation, I decided not to upgrade, so that wasn't an option for me. Then our sister site Engadget pointed out that the Smart Cover is remarkably similar to Incase's Convertible Magazine Jacket for iPads (Extra Capital Letters Unwieldy Name Edition). So, naturally, I ordered one immediately, and having used it non-stop for the last week, these are my thoughts.
The Magazine Jacket, like a lot of iPad cases, consists of a plastic frame clipped around the iPad with a fold-around cover hinged in the left side. The frame is covered in that sort of satin-finish rubber-feeling plastic that is often used to give a non-slip finish to gadgets. The flappy cover is similar to the neoprene finish of the Apple case, but it's thinner and stiffer. Overall, it feels good in the hands -- high quality. It weighs 7.7 oz (220 g).
Securing the iPad in the frame
The frame grips the iPad at the upper and left corners and along the right hand side (relative to holding the iPad in a portrait orientation). The rubberised support clips around the body of the iPad slightly, giving a snug fit, and the satin finish shouldn't mark the iPad's aluminum housing. Note that it's quite fiddly to pull the iPad in and out of the case -- if you regularly want to remove your device for, say, using the Apple dock, then this probably isn't the case for you. (And no, sadly, this case isn't compatible with the Apple iPad dock.)
Using the Magazine Jacket as a prop
The backside of the frame has two struts that act as supports for the case when acting as a stand. The case can be used in three different modes.
The first is designed for typing on. The front cover folds into a triangle and acts as a prop, putting the iPad on a roughly 15 degree angle. It feels very study on a flat surface and less "squishy" than the official case, but note that the triangle doesn't have any mechanism to hold itself in a folded position other than the weight of the iPad itself. If you pick the tablet up to move it, the triangle will often unravel, meaning that you have to fold it back up before you can put it down again. The Smart Cover gets around this problem by having four folds instead of three and using magnets to couple two of the folding faces to each other. Notably, this means you can't use the Incase in prop mode on your lap, in bed or on other uneven or shifting surfaces.
The second setting is the typical movie watching mode, and it angles the iPad at about 65 degrees. The same triangle fold is tucked up against the lower of the two support struts. Once again, this is sturdier than the Apple case -- which I have sometimes found can tip forward if the iPad isn't on a completely flat surface -- but once again, picking the iPad up will cause the cover to unfold immediately, and it will have to be re-folded before you can put it down.
The Magazine Jacket also offers a third angle, at about 35 degrees, by folding the cover in one place and hooking it around the higher strut. This is surprisingly useful -- for example, it's the perfect height for when I'm using the iPad while standing at my kitchen counter.
The case also sports an elastic strap that you can loop around to keep the cover closed. This works fine -- it's a nice and tight fit -- but the thickness of the strap (it's almost an inch across) makes it slightly fiddly to snap around the cover. I would have preferred a simple elastic thread like the official Kindle case uses. One nice thing, however, is that you can tuck your hand under the elastic and use it almost like a handstrap style case. I wouldn't trust the entire weight of the iPad to this, but if you're reading in bed, the strap can provide enough tension to keep it upright and is less fatiguing than gripping the tablet with your fingers.
The Incase design isn't perfect. As previously discussed, when it's acting as a prop, the folded cover will almost always unfold if you pick the iPad up, and the elastic keep-it-closed strap is a little awkward to use.
The struts and strap also get in the way when you are holding the iPad in your hand; they prevent you from folding the cover back flat, as shown below. It's sufficiently awkward that I have found myself often leaving the cover hanging loose rather than folding it back around.
I'd also criticize the size of the cut-out in the frame for the rotation lock switch. Although the volume rocker works OK because you only need to push on it, the hole around the switch is small and narrow enough that it makes the switch difficult to use unless you have quite long fingernails. I've resorted to changing it back into a mute switch using the new toggle option in iOS 4.3 so that I can use the on-screen feature to turn the orientation lock on and off.
While not perfect, I'm personally very happy with my new case; the limitations I've noted above are only minor issues for me, whilst the sturdiness of the prop feature and useful middle-angle setting are very welcome features. If you have serious Smart Cover envy but don't want to upgrade to the iPad 2, this might be just the salve for your urges.
There are some additional photos of the case in our gallery below.