Apple has a reputation for not just producing high quality products, but for producing overpriced products despite their quality. While that reputation doesn’t hold true in all circumstances, the current state of pricing for Apple’s first party iPad cases is banana-pants crazy, even for Apple.
To address the pricing issue in specific terms, I picked up the new 9.7-inch iPad Pro when it launched in March but I used it without a case for the first several weeks. The reason? Forgetting the fancy keyboard cover, to simply obtain full protection of the iPad’s front and back and still stay within the Apple product family I would need to purchase both the $69 Silicon Case and the $49 Smart Cover. That’s $118 plus tax for a case design that isn’t even that great, with a 2 out of 5-star rating from customers at Apple’s website as of the date of this article. It’s also $39 more expensive than the similar $79 iPad Air 2 Smart Case, which combines front and back protection into a single piece, because, well, screw you, that’s why.
Not willing to shell out such an exorbitant price for an official Apple case, I turned to the familiar world of third party case makers. This industry can be difficult for consumers to navigate, as it is populated by a range of companies from familiar and trustworthy firms like Logitech to no-name brands sold direct from China and everything in between.
I spent some time browsing the market and picked up a few relatively cheap cases to test. As I expected, most of these cheap third party iPad cases had a design and quality that matched their bargain basement price, but I did finally stumble upon an iPad Pro case that is not only affordable, but actually quite nice: the ESR PU Leather Smart Cover Folio.
At just $16, the ESR Smart Cover Folio is definitely on the cheaper end of the price spectrum, but you get quite a nice product for that price. As the case’s official name declares, the ESR case is made from “PU leather,” also known as bicast leather, which is an artificial material with a split leather backing and polyurethane coating. The result won’t fool anyone into thinking that they’re holding a genuine leather-bound book, but you end up with a smooth, even texture that feels great to hold and has, thus far, held up quite well scuffs and scratches while in use.
The inside of the case is covered in a soft microfiber coating to protect the iPad’s screen, while a plastic compartment on the right side of the case snaps around the edges of the iPad Pro to hold it in place.
Unlike some of the cheap cases I tested, the engineering of the ESR case is right on point, and the iPad fit perfectly once inserted, with no uneven, loose, or tight edges. The case is quite sturdy for its 7.8-ounce weight, with very little flex or shifting outside of the primary hinge point.
The ESR case is designed specifically for the 9.7-inch iPad Pro, and so it features cut-outs in the appropriate locations for the device’s four speakers, Lightning port, lock button, headphone jack, camera, and microphones. The front cover also has the requisite magnets to trigger the sleep and wake functions of the iPad’s screen when closed and opened.
The only issue I found with the case’s design concerns the volume buttons. There are indeed plastic pass through buttons for the iPad’s physical buttons beneath, but the location of the buttons near the bottom edge of the case makes pressing them, with my fingers at least, difficult.
Simply resting my finger flat against the right edge of the case does not provide the correct angle to sufficiently press the buttons, as they curve inwards with the edge of the iPad and my finger naturally hits the bottom of the case before it can reach the volume buttons. I can still reach the volume buttons with some effort, but I have to reorient my finger into a position that is generally unnatural based on the way I typically hold the iPad while it is in its case and then force it into the gap between the buttons and the case. Perhaps someone with more slender fingers than I would have an easier time, but this is one rare area in which this ESR iPad Pro case does not excel.
When using the iPad Pro in the case, the front cover folds all the way back for easy reading, or to rest flat on a desk, and the front cover also features two indented lines which are meant to grip the bottom of the case when propped up in landscape mode.
These lines give you two basic angles at which to use the iPad in landscape mode, but I found that the microfiber coating on the inside of the case is grippy enough that you can adjust the iPad to almost any angle within the footprint of the front cover and it will stay put unless jostled.
The only inherent disadvantage to the ESR iPad Pro case is that it covers the iPad’s Smart Connector, so you won’t be able to use any accessories designed for this new technology unless you remove the iPad from the case first. But there aren’t very many Smart Connector accessories on the market yet that aren’t keyboard cases, so if you plan to use the iPad Pro in a “traditional” manner — reading, watching movies, and typing with a Bluetooth keyboard — you shouldn’t find the inaccessibility of the Smart Connector an issue.
The case I purchased, and the one photographed for this article, is the “Knight” design, but ESR also offers four other color options with different designs, all currently priced at the same $16 and available via Amazon.
Overall, the ESR case is an incredible value for $16, and has thus far provided all of the protection and usability of Apple’s first party cases for less than one-seventh the price. The cheap iDevice case market can certainly be a minefield to navigate but, for my needs at least, this ESR case is one safe path.
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