SurfacePad For iPhone Two Months Later: Used, Worn and Broken [Review]

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Worn leather looks great... Right up until it falls apart.
Worn leather looks great... Right up until it falls apart.
SurfacePad for iPhone by Twelve South
Category: Cases
Works With: iPhone 5
Price: $35

Back in February, I reviewed the The SurfacePad from Twelve South and called it the “Best iPhone Case Ever.” And had it stayed pristine and continued working like it did for the first few weeks, that would be it.

But it didn’t. The lovely, minimalist leather cover certainly kept working, but while it might be a great design for something like an iPad, for an iPhone – which is constantly being shoved in and out of pockets – it’s just too fragile. That, and it sucks for taking photos.

The Good

Old vs. New.
Old vs. New.

The SurfacePad is a slim slip of leather which adheres to the back of your naked iPhone, and wraps around the side and front. It’s a little like a Smart Cover, only without the magnets. It even doubles as a handy-dandy stand for propping the iPhone up in landscape mode, useful for top-of-the-fridge based activities, as well as the mythical movies-on-a-phone scenario.

As designed, the SurfacePro is fantastic.

As designed, the SurfacePro is fantastic. The thing is so light and slim that it’s even good for case-haters like me. There’s a cutout for the camera, the microsuede interior keeps the screen clean and the case just looks classy. You can even control the volume through the case when it’s closed: the buttons’ positions are marked with neat little embossed plus and minus symbols.

If you only use the case for a week or two, you’ll be happy. However…

The Bad

The SurfacePad just isn’t built to withstand the rigors of the modern-day jeans pocket. I keep my iPhone in the front-left pocket of my pants, screen facing in. It sits here whenever I am clothed and not using the phone, and so I probably pull it out many tens of times in a day. This action (admittedly I wear some pretty tight and skinny jeans) quickly causes the edges of the case to fray and split. The front cover is made up of two parts with a hard plastic plate sandwiched between them. This plate is yellow. How do I know? Because the edges of the cover are glued, not stitched, and came apart shortly after my initial review.

And it’s not just me: Several readers wrote me to tell me that their SurfacePads had done the same thing.

You can glue them back together with superglue (which works fine, although I managed to get a lump of something in there) but then an different section will become detached.

And it’s not just me. Several readers wrote me to tell me that their SurfacePads had done the same thing.

IMG 6087
It’s a shame, but I’ll be tossing this case into the recycling bin. They do recycle old cow, don’t they?

You could just keep gluing until all sides have been resealed, but that wouldn’t help with the sag. When new, the front cover doesn’t quite lay flat when closed. This soon settles in as the leather becomes more supple at the spine. But this deterioration continues until the spine-side edge of the front cover starts to detach internally and creates a bubble of leather that sticks up whether the case is open or closed. Yes, gluing might fix this too, but unlike the edges, which present their internals for you to slather with superglue, to get to this bubble you’ll have to cut your way in.

Possibly deliberately, or possibly because of crossed lines, I received a second review unit a few days after the problems started to appear. Maybe a second try would yield better results? But I couldn’t bring myself to mount it up, first because of the readers’ mails which had already confirmed that I wasn’t isolated in my experience, but also because of one really annoying design aspect of the SurfacePad.

It makes it really hard to take pictures.

This is true of any book-like case: opening the case and folding it back will cover the lens. The choices are to let the flap hang, or to just try to shove it out of the way. The problem here is that I use the iPhone camera with the volume buttons on the top, so I can use them to snap pictures with my right index finger, just like on a real camera. And in this orientation, the cover either needs to be propped up like a sunshade for the screen with my thumb (tricky) or left to dangle, hopefully out of site of the lens.

The Verdict

So now I’m back to a naked iPhone, or an iPhone with a transparent plastic bumper case. I loved the SurfacePad, but it turned out to be less of a lifelong romance and more like a summer fling, lasting just a few beautiful weeks before the magic wore off and I saw the puffed, leathery face for what it was (yes, I should probably pick younger women for my affairs, but what can I say? I love me some GILFs).

Should you buy it? If you’re after an everyday case that will withstand the rigors of all-day pocketing and de-pocketing, then no. No way. If you keep the iPhone in a purse or jacket pocket then you should read my original review, which still stands (apart from the whole longevity thing, of course).

IMG 6086
Product Name: : SurfacePadThe Good: Looks great, lightweight, protects.The Bad: Wears out and breaks in weeks. Makes camera hard to use.The Verdict Avoid, unless you don’t take photos with your iPhone, and you never put it in your pocket.

Buy from:

Twelve South

[rating=poor]