The iPad is a powerful tool, but it’s also not meant to go in public naked. Apple’s stated as much by making a case, and then the Smart Cover for the second generation iPad. And it makes sense — even though the iPad is a beautiful looking tablet, it’s a fragile one at that, and is designed to be used at different angles, in different positions, and not just flat on a table or in the hand. Thus, the need for a case was born.

But it’s more than that. While the iPad is a status symbol, the case it wears is an even stronger one. Were you hustled into buying at Best Buy, or is yours a sleek case that defines who you are and what your iPad is used for? After all, it’s not called a case for nothing: it makes a case for the type of person you are, and how you dress that most important — and stylish — tablet computer.

Beauty is just as important as function in this roundup though, so all of the ten cases underwent rigorous testing for both everyday use and pizzazz. Which is the best for you? Read on and find out.

Standard Cases

Typical iPad cases are made out of cloth, such as polyurethane or leather, and are generally pliable and easy on the hands. They’re also thick yet light, don’t have that techy-look of shiny, glossy gadgets, but aren’t as clean-cut. Cloth, by and large, is the standard for iPad cases. They offer adequate protection from minor damage, but won’t protect much from a serious drop.

Apple Smart Case

Apple’s very own iPad case, aptly labeled the Smart Case, is a simple mix between the current Smart Cover and the original iPad’s cloth case. Unlike the case used for the original iPad, the Smart Case doesn’t fit so snug on the iPad 2 or iPad (2012). Users snap the iPad into the hard shell, and a Smart Cover protects the edges of the glass. The case holds the iPad steady, but it isn’t a perfect fit.

Beyond that, the cover doesn’t snap exactly into place, from one end to the next. It isn’t sized perfectly, a strange change of pace for Cupertino, which allows the cover to not close properly half the time. More of a nuisance than anything else, this coming from a company that specializes in making products perfect solely in terms of end-user experience is surprising.

Even then, the Smart Case is a very solid case for the iPad. It’s thin, comfortable to hold across or upright, and even with the annoyances is much better to use on a daily basis than the Smart Cover. It looks sleek, but isn’t an upgrade from the actual iPad itself.

Seidio Expert

The Smart Case is thin, but not this thin. Seidio’s Expert combines the Smart Cover a very thin synthetic leather case and a unique sticker that keeps the iPad in place, instead of additional cloth or something else to stabilize it. The Clean-Grip adhesive pad on the back is designed to withstand up to 700lbs. of force; in the company’s promotional video for the case, a guy drags a car in neutral with the case attached to the hood. Serious stuff, especially considering that the iPad weighs less than 1.5lbs.

Then again, seeing a $500 tablet hang from a case with no support can be unsettling. But it’s entirely safe; the adhesive is remarkably strong, so the worry is completely psychological. Setting the iPad properly is more of a challenge, and the case would be much improved if a stitched outline were on the cover for placement direction. Properly aligning the iPad for the camera hole and so the case closes properly is a bit too troublesome, especially since removing it from the Clean-Grip panel is much harder than it looks.

I found the Expert to be a very charming case, except that using a powerful adhesive, while clever, looks almost cheap when open. If the iPad had flat edges like the original, this case would look far less alien, but the tapered edges of the tablet makes the whole thing just look strange. Still, it looks perfectly normal and fairly stylish closed. Open her up though and the iPad’s rounded edges bulge out inappropriately.

iPevo Origami Folio

As the thinnest and lightest iPad case tested, the iPevo Origami is remarkably cheap and effective. The cloth corners sticking out from the edges and simplistic design don’t do the case justice, which does almost everything the competing cases do at half the cost. It works as a smart cover and folds, as the name suggests, like origami to hold the iPad upright or at an angle by bending the cover flap into shape. Properly bending the cover takes some getting used to, but once you are it’s as easy and convenient as Apple’s tri-fold design.

The thin profile and comfortable cloth give this case a nice, solid feel, especially when holding it with one hand. The Origami even covers the home button, and clearly has no regard for the aesthetic design, but it offers additional protection to the case by covering everything but the actual display. The entire glass bezel is covered, which helps keep it clean and makes the iPad more comfortable to hold from both the front and back. So what it lacks in looks, the Origami makes up for in practicality.

Speck WanderFolio Luxe

Of the tested cases, the WanderFolio Luxe is the most diabolically expensive. At $130, it’s more than triple the cost of some of the less expensive cases, but it’s also the most fully-featured standard case. Not only is the Luxe leather-bound and thick for great feel and protection, it comes complete with a six hideaway pockets right in the cover for carrying whatever you need, from paperwork to money to credit cards. I personally wouldn’t trust keeping secure documents in an iPad case, but in this day and age of carrying all of your belongings in just pockets sans bag, why not.

The WanderFolio’s thick frame feels very solid in the hand, both open and closed. The leather has excellent grip and is quiet and almost elegant, while the inside of the cover is felt for easier grip. It all snaps shut with a small magnetic latch. And instead of relying on the cover to stand the iPad upright, the WanderFolio has a piece of the case which disconnects from the tablet and acts as a support. This keeps the iPad standing at anything up to a 40 degree angle, but any higher up and the case slips.

The Luxe is expensive, so Speck offers a lower-priced yet nearly identical model named the MagFolio Luxe for $100, with the same great leather but no pocket. There’s also the $60 MagFolio and $70 WanderFolio which use thinner, lower-quality leather, which are otherwise identical models.

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Hard Cases

Cases with hard shells are built to take the brunt of a serious drop while remaining thin and light. They offer good protection, but sacrifice the general good feel of leather in place of security. The iPad is also difficult to remove from any hard case, because it literally snaps into it. And because of the size and weight of the iPad, being able to hold it comfortably is a big deal, so striking that balance is a difficult task. All three of the tested hard cases were unsatisfactory for everyday use because they completely miss that balance.

Griffin Intellicase

The thinnest of the hard shell cases, Griffin’s Intellicase is simple and to the point: a case to snap the iPad into and a smart cover that works just like Apple’s year-old design. What’s really appealing about Griffin’s case is just how thin the frame is. For travel, it’s great. The case is designed to slide in and out of a bag with ease, but not necessarily the hand.

Instead of a tactile, grippy surface, the back panel is slippery in the hand and gets harder to hold over time. That, combined with the somewhat cheap cover that folds into a slot on the back instead of rolling up makes the Intellicase less than visually and physically appealing. It gets the job done, and that’s just about it. So don’t expect to look like a prince walking around with it.

Knomo iPad 3 Folio

Knomo got so very much right with their iPad 3 Folio, while equally screwing up. The hard shell is smooth yet grippy, almost rubbery. The hard leather case is the best leather of any tested case, all the way down to the smell. Even the holes in the shell look sleek and brilliantly designed. And it’s by far the sleekest, best looking iPad case there is.

And then there’s how it was designed to stand upright. The cover is a single sheet of hard leather with a break near the end, so instead of folding in on itself, the Knomo has an indent on the back for the leather cover to latch onto. It does this the old fashioned way: gravity and friction. No magnets, no velcro, no nothing. Suffice it to say, there’s a reason we have technology, and the lack of it here severely limits the Knomo’s usefulness. Prop the iPad up and the damn latch slips and doesn’t stick. There’s no better way to look like an idiot than fuddling with the case to make it stay in the middle of a meeting. Standing it upright or at an angle for typing is an exercise in futility, one that’s exactly opposite to how good this case looks. So if you never stand it up, the Knomo may just be the best case there is.

Speck MagFolio Lounge

The MagFolio Lounge is the only iPad case that properly meshes the hard case style with a cloth feel by using both the hard shell and leather for the back. Using a similar shape and design as the WanderFolio, the MagFolio also has a magnetic latch, except it uses a plastic frame around the iPad for additional protection. And the folding mechanism is…well, garbage.

Instead of rolling up or folding, the Lounge has a single fold in the leather cover (which traps ugly air bubbles) that holds the iPad upright by connecting the sealing magnet to the back of the case. In theory, this kills two birds with one stone. In reality, the magnet isn’t strong enough to keep the iPad steady, and only holds the iPad upright one way instead of the standard two. Oh, and it’s unstable on top of that. At least it’s a pleasure to hold when walking around.

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Specialty Cases

Specialty cases offer something different or unique compared to the everyday stock. They limit some of the iPad’s functions to make the case better for very specific uses. They’re not for day-to-day use if you’re liberal about how you use your iPad, but if you just use it for one or two things, then these cases may be just what you’re looking for.

BooqBags Booqpad

The BooqBags Booqpad is one of two tested cases isn’t a smart case, meaning they don’t magnetically activate the iPad from standby by opening the cover. It’s also the only case with a notepad and pen holder built right in. As a very thick case, the Booqpad is designed more for students and/or notetakers who understand that the value of the iPad isn’t in typing. Because, you know, nothing competes with writing.

The hard leather covers are a bit cheap but decent enough quality, though slippery for carrying around. The clip to keep it all together is excessive, and the newer iPad doesn’t fit perfectly in the enclosure (but the iPad 2 does), which looks ugly. Overall a fair case, the Booqpad really only for people who want to write something down and have an iPad right there, presumably because laptops are too big and bulky. There’s no special pen or software, nor does the case offer anything special to the iPad like a stand. It disregards the rear camera entirely. All it offers is protection and a better way to hold the iPad.

Twelve South BookBook for iPad

Definitely the most creative of the bunch, the BookBook from Twelve South is the only case designed to fit your iPad in a bookshelf as much as in your hands. The BookBook both looks and feels like a book, from the hardcover leather-bound shell, complete with old-fashioned binding that looks worn and, well, personal. Like it’s your favorite book that you’ve read a million times over the years.

Unzip the case, however, and the inside is a grippy felt surface and a pop-out iPad holder. Snapped into place by two buttons, the iPad fits uncomfortably into the BookBook. The leather surrounding the iPad sticks out a bit and isn’t perfectly taut, and looks a little cheap. But if you’re a reader and use the iPad as your digital library, the BookBook is brilliantly comfortable in one hand or two, portrait or landscape. It’s easy to hold for hours on end. You’ll get tired from the iPad’s weight long before the BookBook.

And if you need to pop it out for a picture or anything else, no problem. Just snap off the buttons and slide the iPad out. Zipper it up when on the road and get excellent protection to boot. A definite winner, and one that picks up a lot of questions in public settings. From the back it looks like a real book, and from the front an iPad holster. Expect to share this one aplenty.

Ipevo Typi Folio Case

As the thickest case of the bunch, the Typi Folio is the only one that actually offers a physical keyboard along with a full case. This is only half of the thickness — the other half is from the thick, hard felt case, cheap leather strap and kickstand, and the fully-enclosed iPad holder. Except for the Booqpad, the Typi is the thickest case even without the keyboard.

Then again, having a keyboard built right into the case is pretty brilliant, and the keyboard itself is almost well designed. The whole thing is encased in leather and feels great, especially with the superbly thick wrist rests, and actually stays in place magnetically, so it can pop in and out with ease. The keys are a little too small, and the entire keyboard is made to work with an Apple computer as much as an iPad, but it’s death note is the awful spacebar. It’s flat, it’s mushy, and the wrist rest gets in the way of key presses. Within five minutes I gave up typing on the thing because sentences need spaces, dammit!

To add insult to injury, as a smart case the Typi will accidentally drain your iPad’s battery. The cover is too heavy and slides around easily, so walking will move the cover and constantly activate and deactivate the screen. Worse yet, you’ll be none the wiser. The iPad will go from lasting a week to lasting a day. Top it all off with being that guy, who types with a real keyboard in public on a giant iPad case and keyboard, and all you’ll need are really thick glasses and a frock sweater-vest.

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The best iPad cases

All of the iPad cases tested have something to offer users, but most fall short of perfection because of pretty serious limitations. Balance is lacking almost completely across the board, except for Apple’s own Smart Case. It fits the iPad well enough, is easy to keep clean, and offers good protection. A close second is the Seidio Expert, which has a cleaner, more professional look, but also keeps the iPad in place with a sticker. I’m personally more inclined towards the Ipevo Origami, which is superbly thin and light for a cloth case, fits the iPad better than any of the other cloth cases, and also covers up all of the bezel glass which makes the iPad much more comfortable to hold. The strange folding mechanism takes some getting used to, and it’s not particularly good looking, but you can never go wrong with black.

My personal favorite is the BookBook, which offers a unique design specifically tailored for reading. And that it is, with easy-to-hold felt insides and a wonderful hard-cover book aesthetic. It’s the sort of case that you can be equally satisfied bringing to the beach or library, but expect funny looks at board meetings.

No case can match the iPad’s beautiful design, but a protected, working tablet is the best kind. If you’re careful and don’t mind the cold, metallic feel of the iPad, perhaps you should flaunt it and skip a case altogether. The few that really strut their stuff suffer other pangs, like weak stands, covered cameras, or a cheap feel. The best offer no real balance for form and function; instead they work in certain situations excellently. The BookBook is perfect for reading, and any passersby will do a double take. The iPevo Origami forgets looks entirely for a simple aesthetic and exceptional build. Knomo’s iPad 3 Folio is the life of the party, but about as useful as one person at a see-saw. Seidio‘s Expert offers the closest thing to elegant and clever design, while Apple‘s Smart Cover is a simpler, plainer and more approachable take.

Of course, style and function are completely up to you. What sort of tablet case do you prefer, or would you skip it entirely? Let us know in the comments below.