Where the iPad 2 fails to impress, the Smart Cover shines

"Have you seen the lines at the box office!" exclaimed Roger De Bris, the FAB-ulous director of the play-within-The Producers, Springtime for Hitler. "It's an avalanche! It's a torrent! It's the biggest hit on Broadway!"

Well, not Broadway literally, but the iPad 2 is producing lines, sell-outs and now shipment delays in the face of nearly unprecedented sales. When I sauntered to the Apple store on Fifth Avenue in Manhattan last Friday afternoon to buy mine, I was shocked to find the line had snaked completely around the block.

Why was I shocked? The iPad 2 is available in literally 10 times the number of locations than last year's original, but the lines were still longer this time.

Why the avalanche and torrent? I have a theory!

Objectively, iPad 2 is a minor update. Sure, it's much faster than the original, but the original isn't exactly sluggish. It's a little thinner and lighter than the original, but the original isn't exactly an anvil.

The only obvious upgrade is a not-so FAB-ulous 0.69 MP rear camera, which takes awful still pictures (although it does capture decent 720p HD video), and an affront of a front VGA camera. No memory card slot, no USB or Thunderbolt jack, no Retina display and no improved screen reflectivity, which means Amazon can keep running those not-so subtle ads about how you can't read a tablet in the sun but you can read a Kindle.

iPad 2 isn't a bad tablet, despite the camera shortcomings — it may be the best tablet available — but I still don't think it's FAB-ulous enough to warrant the ridiculous rush.

What is?

The Smart Cover

Okay, maybe I'm being a bit facetious, but the Smart Cover is, in my mind, the coolest and most innovative aspect of the iPad 2.

Take a couple of minutes and check out the inter-active graphic and video here on the Apple site.
Smart Cover works exactly as advertised. You almost slap it on. The magnets catch to form a hinge, and the whole thing aligns perfectly every time. It creates a snug, secure fit but can be easily removed with a bit of a jerk.

Lift up a corner, and iPad instantly, and I mean instantly, wakes up. When it smacks down on the screen, iPad goes to snoozer's land. How it does this I don't know — and don't tell me. I like thinking it's magic.

Here's what it looks like all folded up:

iPad-2-with-Smart-Cover-02.jpg

As you can see, the cover is a tri-fold, but the segments aren't the same size. It's intelligently designed to form a triangle wider at the bottom than the sides (or whatever the correct geometric terms are) to create a balanced base for either typing or video viewing.

The screen-size of the cover is microfiber and helps keep the display clean. If you want to take the cover off, just jerk it off. It easily folds accordion-like nearly flat so you can stick it into a pocket and not have it spring apart.

There are five polyurethane ($39) and five leather ($69) colors. I bought the red leather version.

Smart Cover really is really cool, a brilliant bit of engineering and styling.

And yet...

Short-Sheeted

I've been using the iPad 2 and the cover for two days and discovered the Smart Cover doesn't solve all the problems a cover is supposed to solve.

It will not protect your investment. The Smart Cover covers only the screen — the rear is left exposed to possible scratches from whatever is in the bottom of your bag or briefcase. And Smart Cover will not protect your iPad 2 against drops or other acts of klutziness (when will Apple move to Corning Gorilla Glass on both its phones and tablets?).

These acts of klutziness are exacerbated by iPad's still slippery rear and slightly lighter weight — it's like trying to grip a thin wafer of soap.

The front and the back of the Smart Cover look nearly identical, which means you'll spend a couple of seconds trying to figure out which way it goes on. I'm going to subtly stencil or label the top to make it easier to tell. And when you drag the cover to snap it on, you have to be careful not to accidentally scrape the metal hinge across iPad's screen if you miss.
On a solid tabletop, the triangle typing stand is fine, but the tri-folded stand is unstable when propped on your lap — the iPad keeps shifting annoyingly on the triangle's apex edge. And it needs a middle angle position between typing and video viewing for game play and especially Web surfing.

Smart Cover to The Rear

While the Smart Cover conforms perfectly to the screen, it's too big for the sloping back. When holding the iPad with the cover wrapped around the rear, the cover folds often buckle and the last segment flaps around.

When shooting a photo or video with the rear camera, the Smart Cover hinge is at the bottom, which means the you have hold the cover up on the rear (Home key on your right). You'll then have to fold back the top third segment to expose the lens (I tuck it in behind the middle segment), but the segments still buckle and flap around depending on how you hold it (although it does makes for a firmer grip when holding it up to frame and shoot your images and video).

Because the Smart Cover attaches only to one spine of the iPad 2, you'll find yourself disengaging the orientation lock so you can view what's on-screen with the cover hanging down from the top (Home key on your left) so you don't have to hold it up.
And, when you flip the cover around, the microfiber side is exposed to air and particles and anything on your lap or table top on which you lay the iPad that can then be transferred onto the screen.

Yes, the Smart Cover is way cool, way too cool to exult in it's coolness and show it off. But I may buy a second slip case before I drop it into my backpack and expose my iPad 2 to the real world.

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