For most users, selecting the right iPad case is a decision almost as important as selecting the iPad itself. Apple’s tablets are expensive and yet relatively fragile, so you’ll want to choose a case that can provide protection without being bulky or heavy enough to deter its use. There are literally thousands of options when it comes to iPad cases, but one company has chosen to cater its product catalog specifically to schools and the education market.
iPad use in both K-12 and higher education is growing every year, and many schools are now providing iPads directly to students. UZBL (pronounced “usable”) aims to help school districts and students protect their investment in digital learning via a number of rugged and convenient cases for Apple’s entire range of iPad models. We took a look at three UZBL cases for the iPad Air and iPad mini and found them overall to be well-built while offering a good balance between portability and protection. Check out our impressions on each case, below.
The UZBL Shockwave for the iPad Air and iPad Air 2 is the most protective of the three cases we tested, which also means that it is the heaviest and bulkiest. The case features a three-piece design consisting of two plastic shells that fit snug around the iPad and an outer rubberized layer that provides grip and shock protection around the sides and back.
The Shockwave is also the only case we reviewed that includes an integrated screen protector. Unlike standalone screen protectors that are applied directly to the iPad screen, the Shockwave uses a clear piece of plastic built in to the top part of the two plastic shells. This means that it doesn’t always sit perfectly flush to the iPad screen itself, and results in some reflections and swirls when viewed in direct light. Although this can sometimes be distracting, the Shockwave’s screen protector doesn’t inhibit multitouch responsiveness, and actually interacting with the iPad via touch was as smooth as using the device without a screen protector.
Another interesting feature of the UZBL Shockwave is the device’s removable kickstand. In its default configuration, the plastic stand pops out from the bottom to provide solid support for an iPad propped up in landscape orientation. There are only a few degrees of adjustment available, and it doesn’t provide support for portrait orientation, but the stand’s default configuration puts the iPad screen at a nice angle for watching videos, referencing digital textbooks, or taking notes via a Bluetooth keyboard. As mentioned, however, users can opt to remove the kickstand, which will leave the center of the back of the iPad exposed, but still recessed beneath the outer layer of the case.
The case is a bit of a pain to take on and off, but once assembled the process of using the UZBL Shockwave day-to-day was positive. You’ll notice the extra weight — the case itself is almost double the weight of a Wi-Fi iPad Air at 13.1 ounces — but you’ll also feel the extra protection. All ports and buttons on the iPad are accessible, either through small cut-outs that grant access to the physical button, or via rubber passthrough buttons. The cut-out for the headphone jack is also wide enough to accommodate most headphones without the need for a thin extension cable.
Overall, the UZBL Shockwave is a fine choice for those looking for maximum iPad protection. The built-in kickstand is very handy, the outer rubberized layer provides excellent grip, and the screen protector adds peace of mind without the need for a separate product. There’s no getting around the bulk and heft of the Shockwave, but it’s clear that the trade-off for this added weight is excellent protection.
The UZBL Rugged Folio for the iPad Air is a familiar design in the iPad case market, although it has a few unique advantages. Flipping open like a book, the Rugged Folio features a top cover that wraps completely around the right edge of the case and connects via a magnetic strip to the back. This provides complete protection for the right edge of the iPad and also helps ensure that the flap stays closed when the iPad is thrown quickly into backpacks and lockers.
The cover itself is scratch resistant and notably thicker than the cover found on many similar designs, including Apple’s own Smart Cover. The cover can also be flipped around backwards and attached to the same magnetic strip that holds it closed in order to provide a stand for landscape-oriented viewing. Again, like the Shockwave, there’s no integrated solution for propping up the iPad in portrait orientation.
The back of the case features a center gap protected by clear plastic. This allows any custom engravings, organization labels, barcodes, and the model information and serial number of the iPad within to be easily seen, a feature that will certainly be appreciated by the educational markets to which this case is targeted.
The sides of the Rugged Folio are also a bit thicker and wider than other folio-style cases thanks to UZBL’s use of air-filled thermoplastic cells, which provide extra cushioning on the areas most likely to face the brunt of the force in the event of a drop.
The end result is a case that still offers very good protection, even if it doesn’t match the “invincible” feeling of the UZBL Shockwave. At just over 10 ounces in weight, however, you’re still looking at a case that you’ll feel when carrying the iPad around, if only at first.
The simplest, smallest, and lightest case we looked at is the UZBL AirWave (f.k.a. UZBL “Ekto”). Featuring flexible silicon, the AirWave stretches around to fit the iPad inside, and provides a cushion of protection for the back and sides of the device.
The AirWave texture is grippy and allows access to all ports and buttons, but there’s a gap around the Apple logo on the back of the case. Like the Shockwave with its kickstand removed, this gap does introduce a potential point of damage to the device, but it’s recessed beneath the outer layer of the case, meaning that your iPad would need to hit a protruding object directly in this vulnerable spot to cause you trouble, and that’s a relatively unlikely scenario. The benefit, however, is that this gap allows for easy access to barcodes or other identifying marks that are used by schools and large organizations.
The AirWave is also the easiest case to put on and take off, requiring just a bit of stretching to fit each corner of the iPad into one of case’s padded grooves, and it’s relatively lightweight at just over 5 ounces.
One interesting feature of the AirWave is that it passively improves the audio quality of the iPad mini’s built-in speakers. By design, the mini’s speakers point directly out from the bottom of the device, but the AirWave case redirects the sound out of perforated holes on either side of the home button on the front of the case. With the speakers pointing directly toward the user, and aided by a little bit of reflection from the case’s silicon, we found the sound quality to be noticeably better compared to a bare, case-less iPad mini.
Overall, the UZBL AirWave is a fine case for its price. There’s no screen protection, and the case likely won’t stand up to the biggest drops or impacts, but the AirWave is a colorful way to add a decent amount of protection without significant bulk.
All of the cases we reviewed here are available in multiple color and size options. Check out the UZBL website for the company’s complete product lineup. Although UZBL iPad cases are designed with schools in mind, the company also sells directly to consumers via Amazon. There are also volume discounts for large orders, and interested schools and organizations can contact UZBL directly for more information.
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