Review: STM Studio for iPad Air

STM tries a different approach to iPad folios. (December 4th, 2013)

MacNN Rating:


Product Manufacturer: STM

Price: $45

The Good

  • - Rubberized plastic back with well-machined cutouts
    - Extremely stable typing mode
    - Wraparound lid prevents case from flipping open accidentally

The Bad

  • - Magnets too weak to support case in viewing mode
    - Lid has to be "clawed" open
    - Often confusing as to which side needs to be opened
    - Rear shell uses single wide cutout for Lightning, speaker ports
    - Rim doesn't rise high enough to protect iPad screen

STM is one of those companies that seems to fly under the radar when it comes to iPad accessories. They're better known for their general-purpose tablet and laptop bags; they are making inroads, though, having caught some attention with their Skinny and Grip cases. The Studio is a new design built exclusively for the Air and Mini, and in our review, we'll see if STM can make good on earlier progress.

The Studio follows a folio design, but a rather unique one. The rear half is mostly conventional: it's a plastic shell with a rubberized surface for better grip. It snaps neatly around the edges of an Air, using well-machined cutouts for access to ports and controls. STM did a good job here overall -- the only things that bother me are the use of a single wide cutout for both the speakers and the Lightning dock, and the fact that the rim of the case just barely rises over the surface of an iPad's screen. If you drop the Studio while it's open, don't assume your iPad's display will survive unscathed.

The real selling point of the case is its lid. Materially it's similar to the Apple Smart Cover, with a polyurethane exterior, a felt interior, and auto-sleep/wake magnets. One of the key differences though is that it actually wraps around the edge of an iPad when it's closed, in theory making it more secure for traveling. Indeed, if you have a problem with other cases flying open in your bag or suitcase, the Studio may be what you're searching for.

There is a potentially critical flaw in the case though, and that's its stand functions. A second set of magnets holds the lid in place after folding it back, giving you options for typing or viewing. The problem is that in viewing mode, those magnets simply aren't strong enough. The case is sturdy during light tapping, but any real pressure near the top of the screen is going to dislodge the lid and cause an iPad to tumble backwards. That's fine if you're only watching video or flipping through a slideshow, but a serious issue with games and productivity apps.

Ironically, the Studio's typing mode is one of the best I've encountered. It props an iPad up at a higher angle than most cases, creating a natural typing position. The magnets are limited to preventing horizontal slippage, and since there's virtually no bounce in the lid's hinge, typing is extremely stable. I can imagine this case being very popular with people wanting to jam out emails while sitting on a couch or a train.

Even if you don't care about the viewing mode problems though, the lid still takes some getting used to. With most folios, flipping them open is as simple as lining your thumb along the edge and lifting. The Studio, by contrast, forces users to reach around back and "claw" it open. It can be hard moreover to tell which side is which. On many occasions, I've found myself clawing at the wrong end of the lid and having to flip the case around. It's a design flaw that could've easily been avoided with better markings -- or following basic conventions.

Where does that leave us, then? For most people I'd recommend giving the Studio a pass, since there are plenty of cases out there which avoid its mistakes. On the other hand, I'd hate to dismiss the case entirely. There's the germ of a good idea, and some people will find that it fulfills specific needs. Here's hoping STM evolves its ideas in the next iteration.

by Roger Fingas


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