Review: Chil Notchbook for iPad Air

An otherwise remarkable design is held back by a single mistake. (February 21st, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Chil

Price: $39.99

The Good

  • - Protective padded leather design with suede interior
    - Signature "notch" makes iPad easier to grip
    - Visually appealing
    - Several stand modes
    - Portrait rotation

The Bad

  • - Case cannot be kept shut
    - Portrait rotation is too stiff

We've likely all had to cope with something -- a product, a person, a place -- that was almost perfect, but shot down by some critical flaw. I imagine that for many people, Chil's updated Notchbook case for the iPad Air may fit into the same category. In our review we'll see if the Notchbook might still be worth a go, since it gets so many things right, and offers a few features other cases miss.

When we first received the case, it seemed extremely promising. iPad folios are practically a dime a dozen at this point, but the Notchbook feels more substantial -- it uses a padded leather exterior, suede lining, and high-quality stitching. In fact it's extremely well-built overall, and can probably protect an iPad from most bumps and drops despite not being a "rugged" product. I would normally complain about using loops to hold an iPad in place, but even here they seem tight enough to prevent anything from shifting.

The case's party trick is a folding cutout in the lid. When the case is open, this lets you get a solid grip on an iPad with your left hand, instead of having to hold onto a bulging hinge section. It's often a subtle difference, but undeniably more comfortable. This is especially true with typing and gameplay, where not being able to use both thumbs equally is incredibly awkward.

Another highlight is the ability to rotate an iPad into portrait mode when making use of the case's stand modes. The rotating mechanism is too stiff, but that's certainly preferable to the alternative. There are four available stand angles, incidentally, all of which function reasonably well for typing or viewing.

Aesthetically the Notchbook is also rather nice. It's not stunning in the same sense a DODOcase might be, but the combination of leather and unusual lines and curves makes it a distinctive yet professional-looking product.

So where does the case falter? To put it simply: there's no way of keeping it shut. That's right -- there aren't any clasps or elastics, and while there are magnets, all they do is trigger an iPad's sleep/wake functions.

That's almost intolerable, frankly. What point is there to a case that doesn't fully protect the most vulnerable part of an iPad -- the screen? Consider that when Apple launched its first official case, it came out with the Smart Cover, which only protected the screen -- and included locking magnets, I might add.

The only reason this omission isn't an automatic disqualifier is that in some rare circumstances, I can imagine people being alright with it. If you only use an iPad around soft surfaces, and only carry it in bags with no threat of the lid being pulled open, then you might be alright. But at that point there are probably better case choices, if you need a case at all.

Because of the lid issue, I can't really recommend the Notchbook as-is. An iPad case must above all be practical, and there's not much useful about a case that discourages you from carrying a mobile device outside. If Chil can eventually fix this problem, the Notchbook could become a 4- or 5-star product.

by Roger Fingas


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