When the clever Smart Cover debuted alongside the iPad 2, a problem emerged: as functional, easy, and downright cool as the Smart Cover is, it doesn't protect the tablet's back. Plenty of back covers with cut-outs for Smart Cover compatibility started to emerge to address the problem, but finding the right fit has always been hard...and, when you add together the cost of the Smart Cover and a back case, expensive.
Apple's newly released iPad Smart Case looks, at first, like the perfect answer. The $49 full-folio case has a Smart Cover-like front, and also has a back. Together, it's...well, it's a folio case. That's the problem: really, it's nothing new in the iPad case landscape. However, the Smart Case is Apple's own first full iPad case since the original microfiber iPad case in 2010.
In many ways, the Smart Case is really a throwback to that original case: the segmented, folding cover was an idea that started with that microfiber case, not the Smart Cover. The Smart Case is made entirely from polyurethane with suedelike microfiber on all inside surfaces, and a set of magnets on the edge of the cover flap to automatically wake the iPad 2 or third-gen iPad from sleep.
So, is this case a regression in form? It depends on your perspective. If you value good, solid protection, this is progress. The all-microfiber case feels cut from a single material, soft to the touch and yet just a little bit sturdy. All areas of the iPad are covered up, even the volume buttons, which have molded areas you can press through the case. I don't know if this case would be shockproof, but like the original iPad case, it should survive a basic light drop.
Pop your iPad into the bottom of the Smart Case, and flexible rubberized edges form a secure fit while exposing most of the iPad's front glass. The case adds extra bezel around the edges, makes the iPad seem wider and a bit larger than before. Hand-held typing in portrait mode feels a tiny bit awkward, but for reading and for viewing media, especially one-handed (I ride a subway to work), it offers a comfy grip. Maybe it's the way the case handles weight distribution, but the iPad feels lighter to hold when in the Smart Case than when using a Smart Cover and a third-party back shell. It feels comfortable with the cover folded back, too.