Out of all the junk that I own, there are a few objects which I love to use. And I mean “love” on a base, visceral level. These are the things that are so well suited to their tasks that they not only never get in the way, but they make doing that task better.
Works With: iPhone 4/S, 5
When I heat milk and cocoa in my small De Buyer saucepan, alone in my quiet kitchen late at night, I smile when I unhook the pan from its hanger and feel its durable heft; I smile again when I pour the cocoa into a thermos and feel the pan’s perfect balance. Even washing it and hanging it up again is a pleasure.
I also love to use my dented, stainless steel Klean Kanteen “Reflect” water bottle. It’s design is so simple, just two pieces of steel, a silicone ring and a bamboo disk, but it does its job so well that I really do take it everywhere with me. And it’s so trustworthy that I’ll toss it into my bag along with my iPad and never worry about it leaking.
Which is to say, some things are not just well designed, they’re actually wonderful objects in their own right. And Twelve South’s SurfacePad for the iPhone is one of those objects.
Just like Apple’s Smart Cover, the SurfacePad doesn’t really seem like anything until you stick it onto the back of the iPhone.
The SurfacePad looks like nothing when it comes out of its (nicely-designed) box. It’s a flap of red leather (also available in white and black) with a microfiber lining and coating of some sticky nano-substance on the inside of the back cover. But that’s to miss the point. Just like Apple’s Smart Cover, the SurfacePad is a symbiote, and it doesn’t really seem like anything until you stick it onto the back of its companion.
Peel back the protective film and line up the case with the back of your iPhone. Then press it into place. The sticky coating is reusable, so you have more than one chance to get it right. You can even remove it (not that you’ll want to), use another case for a while and then switch back.
Once it’s in place, you have a soft, light and minimal cover which packs a surpyringing number of clever features.
What It Does
Once stuck in place, you have what amounts to a book cover on your iPhone. The edges are left open (apart from the left edge, which is covered by the spine, and there’s a cut-out for the camera and LED lamp (this cutout isn’t quite deep enough to accommodate an Olloclip). And yet despite this seeming lack of protection, the iPhone feels a lot safer.
The front panel is rigid, protecting the screen. The leather is non-slip enough that you can put the phone face down anywhere you like without worrying. And because its leather, it gets better as you abuse it and scratch it.
The stand is so useful that I wish the iPhone’s home screen worked in landscape.
But there’s more. The front cover actually joins the back panel at a vertical seam halfway across the back. This becomes a hinge that lets you prop the phone up in landscape orientation. The oft-mentioned use case for this is movies, but I never watch movies on my iPhone because my iPad is always nearby.
But it is perfect for sticking on the top of the fridge while I’m cooking (quick access to the FF button for skipping ads in podcasts) or on the nightstand to quickly check the time in the middle of the night. Or even to leave propped up on the desk or bed just so you can see your notifications. In fact, so useful has this feature turned out to be that I have found myself wishing that the iPhone could show its home screen in landscape like the iPad.
I hate iPhone cases. I even removed the fantastic Spigen glass screen protector because it made the slim iPhone 5 seem bulky. But like the Smart Cover, the SurfacePad adds so little weight and bulk that you don’t notice it. In fact, the iPhone 5 with SurfacePad attached weighs just 140 grams on my kitchen scale, which may be incorrect. Apple says the naked iPhone 5 weighs 137 grams, and Twelve South says the SurfacePad weighs 26 grams. All I can say is that it’s light enough for me.
To use the phone, you just open up the case and fold the flap behind. Or you can quickly check things one-handed by letting it fall open into your fingers, with the iPhone in your palm. You’ll get used to it very quickly.
One note: the leather softens up after a few days of use. One of our writers said that his case wouldn’t fully close, but that was after using it for like a day. It will soon settle in.
And finally, there’s a nice touch on the spine. The leather is thin enough that you can feel the volume switches and use them while the case is closed. And should you need help remember which button is which, there are two little embossed circles with + and – on them.
Every design has compromises. The SurfacePad is light, minimal and beautiful. It is not rugged, it won’t wake up your iPhone when you open it (actually, that’s Apple’s fault) and it probably won’t stop some serious damage should the phone take a tumble onto the asphalt. Then again, you probably won’t drop it or knock it off the table thanks to the added grip.
For comparison, think again of Apple’s Smart Cover. It offers minimal protection, and yet is just about the best case there is. And if you want something more rugged, or task-specific, the SurfacePad can be temporarily removed, just like the Smart Cover.
There’s just one thing that annoys me. The front cover gets in the way of the camera when folded back. The trick is to not fold it back. Instead, open the cover like a book, with your finger on the volume switch. You can then use the switch to trigger the shutter, and also to keep the flap from opening all the way. And for landscape shots, you can use the flap as a sunshade.
The SurfacePad joins the vanishingly small number of gadgets that I love to use. And I mean “love” on a dirty, man-to-man level.
Sure, it’s not ideal, but this is a book. What’s the alternative? Chopping a chunk out of the front cover and leaving a portion of the screen unprotected. That would just be dumb. Like I said – compromises.
If this sounds like a rave review, that’s because it is. I test more gadgets than is probably healthy, and very, very few of them are so good that I’d actually buy them. And of those, a vanishingly small number would rank up there with my saucepan, my water bottle or my iPad mini. The SurfacePad is up there. I’ve even started refusing some iPhone cases for testing because I don’t want to take the SurfacePad off my iPhone.
Now, if only TwelveSouth would make one for the iPad mini…
Product Name: SurfacePad
The Good: Super light and so good looking you won’t want to take it off
The Bad: Taking photos can be tricky.
The Verdict: Even if you hate cases, you’ll love this one.
Buy from: Twelve South