Never have I felt worse about buying a gadget accessory than I did buying the Speck SmartShell, a flimsy plastic cover for the back of the iPad 2 which Speck somehow summons the stones to sell for $35. Worse, I bought it in Europe, where it goes for €30, or $40. After a few months of use, though, it turns out to be the best iPad “case” I own (and I have rather a lot).
The SmartShell, as you may have guessed from the name, is a slim shell that plays nice with the Apple Smart Cover. It has cutouts for all the ports, and a magnet on the back which can hold the Smart Cover open — a rather more useful feature than you might think.
Previously, I used my iPad 2 bareback, with just a Smart Cover protecting the screen. My keys seemed to have sneaked in a few times to scratch the screen, but this worked pretty well for a while. Mostly. The trouble with keeping an iPad in an unpadded man-bag is that the corners dent very, very easily. I bashed them in on one iPad. Then, then the microphone failed and a Genius replaced it, I bashed them in on the new one. Clearly help was needed.
The SmartShell clicks easily into place, where it remains very snug, but easy to remove if needed. I leave it on almost all the time, but the iPad needs to come out to fit into my Kensington keyboard case. The plastic has a silky but grippy outside surface, and the case wraps all the way around those delicate aluminum corners. It’s not going to offer the protection of a padded case like the Extreme Edge I used for the iPad bike mount, but in combo with the Smart Cover it’s good enough.
And while the case adds a little thickness to the iPad, it also makes it easier to hold thanks to the grippy surface. In fact, there’s another hidden advantage to this extra bulk. Like shrugging off a piggy-back passenger, or dropping the panniers from a fully-loaded touring bike, once you take it off, the iPad seems even thinner and lighter than it really is.
And another bonus is that it can act as an accessory holder. I superglued a steel washer to the case, surrounding the camera lens. Now I can stick on my magnetic accessory lenses without sticking anything to the iPad itself.
Are there any downsides? I haven’t found any, except the price. It might be cleverly designed, but we all know it costs the factory a dollar or two at most to make one. Other than that, it has rarely left the iPad since I bought it.