Review: Grove Bamboo Case for iPad Air

Grove takes a chance that you'll want to pay extra for the look of bamboo. (March 19th, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: Grove

Price: $109

The Good

  • - Attractive, well-crafted wood design
    - Very lightweight
    - Stand modes are sturdy

The Bad

  • - Sleep/wake magnets don't work consistently
    - Expensive
    - Lid may not provide much impact protection
    - Lid rolls lining-side out, also exposing whole edge of iPad

It's hard to say where it comes from exactly, except perhaps the speaker industry, but there seems to be a strange fetish for wood in modern electronics. If you're buying a Moto X, you can even pay a $25 upfront premium to add a wood back. Few companies though have gone to the same extremes as Grove, which -- apart from a few leather notebooks -- only produces wooden iOS and Mac accessories. We were recently given a sample of their Bamboo case for the iPad Air, which we put through the wringer.

The Bamboo is of course made of its namesake material (along with some maple and felt), but specifically uses a folio-style design with a flexible lid. Well-crafted buttons and cutouts are present for all controls and ports; I particularly like the treatment of the Lightning port and speaker grills, which instead of being exposed as a single entity include just a small cutout for the Lightning dock and perforations for the speakers. That's how every iPad case should do it.

It's an attractive case too, at least if you like bamboo as a material. It's obvious that Grove paid a lot of attention to rounding edges, and making sure elements like buttons and corner joints look just so. The fact that the case is all-wood (aside from the inner lining) does indeed make it striking; I get the sense that Grove is marketing the case to wealthy businessmen and tech types who want peers to do a double-take.

There is a practical benefit to using bamboo though, and that's weight. The case is exceedingly light, which makes it a good complement to an iPad Air. It also affords a decent amount of protection for travel or casual use.

Decent, though, may be the operative word for many aspects of the Bamboo. Returning to protection, I'm not so sure the lid could survive a sharp impact. By necessity it's less sturdy than the rear shell; it should be fine under most circumstances, but I could see it splintering if something pointed or bludgeon-like hit it hard.

The lid is a weak spot in more ways than one. You can roll it back to enable a couple of stand modes -- one for typing, another for viewing -- and it is extremely stable in those positions. You have no choice but to roll the lid lining-side out however, which can expose it to grit that might end up on your iPad's screen. It also leaves an entire edge of the iPad vulnerable, though to be fair it's unlikely you'll smash the tablet into something when using stand functions.

My biggest problem with the Bamboo involves the lid's sleep/wake magnets. Simply enough, in the sample case we received, they didn't work consistently. Because I couldn't count on them, I found myself having to put my iPad to sleep manually to avoid running down the battery. It's not the end of the world, but neither is it excusable, considering that the case costs $109. That's more than twice what the average folio case costs, and many of the cheaper ones do have consistent magnets.

If it were my own money, I would probably pass on the Bamboo. For pragmatists there are just too many functionally superior and less expensive options. It's not a horrible case though, so if wood is your thing and money is no object, the inconveniences won't be enough to justify turning the case into kindling.

by Roger Fingas


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