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Safely Ensconced

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It's typical of iPad buyers to get a bit of a surprise when they find they also need to buy accessories and apps. Without the apps, the tablet is a pretty slate. And without some accessories, life can get uncomfortable.

One essential accessory is an iPad case. And sadly but truly, the famous Smart Cover doesn't come with the iPad and costs between Rs 2,000 and just over Rs 3,000. It protects the tablet's screen, turns it off and on, and apparently even cleans the screen. The back, however, tends to get dirty, so you may want to go for a colour that won't look dirty too easily. Some apps are coming up with snappy tricks, making the iPad do something when you lift the cover.

But what's almost impossible to do without is a carry case. The back of the device needs protecting, and if you plan to carry it around, you'll need to put it into a tight carry case, not leave it swinging loosely in your briefcase or handbag. Expectedly, there's a whole industry of cases, though most of them aren't available in India. Drop into the nearest Croma or Apple Store, or try some of the well-known gadget shops. But you should also look online to see what you can order. It's important that the case fits in well with your lifestyle. It's also important that you keep a large number of variables in mind when you start selecting.

To begin with, there's the style or type of case. There are cases that house the tablet on one side and a keyboard on the other. It's tempting to go for one of these because the tablet turns into a little laptop the moment it sits in such a case. Incidentally, it also takes away the ‘tabletness' of the device. The iPad usually fits tightly into the case, else it could drop out, and that means the user won't take it out too often.

But keyboard cases only house small keyboards — not regular ones. Typing on them is more painful than typing on a virtual keyboard. The keys — and especially the space bar — are jammed into the material and your fingers will struggle to get any work done. If you plan to take the iPad along on trips, explore external keyboards, including wireless ones from Apple.

Then there are mini briefcase-like cases. I own one of these and find it very useful because it takes the iPad along with the Smart Cover and has a handle for me to carry it around. There's also a pocket to put the charger, earphones, etc. But the quality of my particular case isn't the best and I think it will begin to show some wear and tear soon. I'm also unsure about the quality of the soft material on the inside. Nonetheless, it's not a bad form factor, though I can't put my separate keyboard in it.
Some iPad cases open up like books or folders — much like the Kindle's. Not a great many of these are available in Delhi, but stray ones are probably around. They make reading more fun and also protect the back of the iPad. But if you own a Smart Cover, you'll have to get it out of the folder-style case to use it. A more functional style is the folder type, which gives good protection and has pockets to put stuff into. It's a good option if you travel a lot.

Some cases only cover the back of the tablet. Obviously, these are neither here nor there. Sleeve cases are nice and professional-looking, but have no handles so you have to be careful while carrying one. Some have protective straps to make sure the iPad doesn't fall out when you're taking it out.

Cases are not cheap, and you won't want to buy them time and again. So, don't just get the first one that catches your eye. I certainly wish my case had more protective cushioning and a longish strap. I also wish it were made of a better material.

Indeed, the material is another variable. Is it synthetic or suede? Is it durable and easily cleanable? Is there a screen protector included (though I'm a little sceptical about these in case they make touch a little sluggish)? Are there wipe cloths? Is there an extra strap or something to prevent the device from jerking out? What about cushioning? YouTube has demos of drop-resistant cases, which you may like to check out. Also, check if the package is overly heavy.But how snugly does the tablet fit into the case? If it's too tight, taking it out could be a pain and somewhat dangerous. Again, some cases have stands. One particular case I saw had stands that could be adjusted for nine different positions for answering emails, browsing, watching movies, etc.

Finally, check what buttons the case may be interfering with, if it's a "play-through" type. The Apple iPad 1 case was a bit tricky with the charging port, for example. Some cases end up hiding the camera.

Explore the iLounge and to see what's happening on the case front. The trouble will almost certainly be worth it.

The author is a personal technology writer and media professional

(This story was published in Businessworld Issue Dated 15-08-2011)

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