Review: STM Folio for iPad Air

STM gives us a case aimed at the constant traveler. (April 3rd, 2014)

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Product Manufacturer: STM

Price: $119.99

The Good

  • - Holds a number of cards, cables, other gear
    - Durable leather exterior
    - Internal lid protects screen, doubles as typing stand

The Bad

  • - Viewing mode too clumsy to set up
    - Typing mode forces users to rest wrists on zipper
    - Case's size may make it cumbersome on trains, aircraft
    - Main pocket is too tight - Attached stylii tend to hit iPad

For professional use, the iPad is something of a strange beast. It's more work-friendly than a smartphone obviously, but still not as powerful as a laptop. The main advantage over a computer is portability -- it's thin and lightweight, and many airport checkpoints won't even make you take it out of your carry-on when you fly. STM's new Folio case for the iPad Air is intended to make things even more travel-friendly, thanks to loops and pockets for your essential gear. Does that actually make it a practical case, though?

Perhaps the first thing you'll notice about the Folio is that it's big, proportionately speaking. I've seen larger cases, but only ones that include built-in batteries or are marketed as all-in-one workstations. Unzipping it, you can see why: on just one side it has a complete rear shell for your iPad to snap into, and a Smart Cover-style lid with cable loops. The other half has a pocket for objects like passports and small gadgets, six smaller slots for cards and tickets, and finally a pen/stylus loop.

As travel-oriented cases go the Folio has more space than most, as you'd expect. The primary pocket is too tight to accommodate much more than a passport and a phone -- so don't expect to jam unfolded 8x11 documents in there -- but this is probably enough, and made up for somewhat by the lid's cable loops, which give you a place to stash earbuds and USB cables. The stylus loop is also a nice touch, though it has a downside, as we'll see later.

Another factor making the case suitable for jetsetting is its overall construction. It's tough, no doubt about it. While it's not milspec, it's certainly thick, and covered in leather that should resist wear and tear. The use of a zipper enclosure means that you'll never have to worry about your iPad slipping out, and it deters dust and liquids. The internal lid guards an iPad's display against the rest of the Folio's contents. Like the Smart Cover it also doubles as a stand for typing, and works pretty well in that respect, though typing for extended periods is probably a no-go since your wrists have to rest on the zipper.

The Folio's biggest drawback is actually its viewing mode. That internal lid becomes useless, and instead STM asks you to prop up the top length of your iPad against the outside edge of the case, while keeping the bottom on the inside. Making this happen is incredibly awkward, since there's little give on the "hinge" that keeps the rear shell attached.

If you can make it happen the viewing mode is pretty stable, but even then there's another flaw, and that's the case's size. It's no problem if you're sitting at a desk, but the Folio's footprint -- vertical and horizontal -- may make it unwieldy if you're sitting in a train or an aircraft. That's more than a little ironic for a travel accessory.

And that stylus loop? If you use it, be prepared for your stylus to slap the edge of your iPad occasionally, particularly when you switch the case to its viewing angle. There has to have been a better position for it.

All told though, the Folio is an acceptable travel case if you absolutely have to have a bunch of accessories or documents with you, and you're not concerned about using your iPad handheld, or spending time writing with it for more than a couple of hours. There aren't many comparable alternatives out there. But frankly, you should probably consider scaling back your demands in order to find a case that's more ergonomic.

by Roger Fingas


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