Like the original version, the iPad mini Smart Cover relies on magnets built into the iPad itself. Magnets in the hinge of the cover cling to the left edge of the iPad (as you face it in portrait mode); magnets on the right edge lock the cover to the iPad, and cause it to wake up automatically when you open the cover.
The iPad mini Smart Cover is available in pink, light gray, dark gray, green, blue, and (Product) red. It’s available only in polyurethane; there are no leather options. As with the current slate of iPad Smart Covers unveiled with the iPad 2, the iPad mini Smart Covers bear the same color on both sides—the interiors are dyed, screen-cleaning and protecting microfiber cloth.
The original Smart Cover sports three creases at which it can fold. The smaller iPad mini Smart Cover instead employs just two. You can still fold the smaller cover into a triangle shape similar to the one used by the original, which in turn allows you to prop the iPad in one of two positions: at a low incline for typing, and at a steep one for watching video. Because it has one fewer fold, the iPad mini Smart Cover’s triangle has no overlapping sides the way the original cover does, but in my testing that didn’t make the smaller cover any less sturdy when folded up.
The hinge on the iPad mini Smart Cover is different from the hinge on its predecessor. The original cover used a thin bit of cloth wrapped around an exposed metal hinge, and that metal hinge could occasionally scuff up the metal edge of the iPad itself. The iPad mini Smart Cover instead reveals no exposed metal on the hinge; though there’s clearly a magnet in there to make it stick to the iPad mini, it’s fully ensconced by fabric.
One side effect of this change is that the iPad mini Smart Cover doesn’t cling to the tablet with the satisfying click the original cover made. A more significant side effect is that a Smart Cover-clad iPad mini is more comfortable to hold than a Smart Cover-clad full-sized iPad, with no metal edges to dig into your skin.
As I alluded to at the outset, though, in several key ways, the iPad mini Smart Cover is worse than its forerunner. My biggest objection is that there’s no ideal way to fold the cover behind the iPad mini when you actually want to use the tablet. With the original, four-panel Smart Cover, you could fold the cover across itself—almost exactly down the middle—and the two halves would magnetically adhere to each other. That fold would offer a slim and grippy surface on the rear of the left side of the iPad, adding negligible thickness to the device.
The three-panel iPad mini Smart Cover doesn’t offer as elegant a behind-the-back solution. Since the cover has just the two creases, you can’t fold it in half; you get about a third of the cover poking out on the left side if you try the fold-it-over-itself approach. You can instead swing the cover completely around the iPad mini, 180 degrees, but since it can’t cling magnetically to the rear right edge of the iPad, the side of the cover droops down lazily. And there’s also an option to fold the cover up accordion-style, leaving a narrow strip to grab—though it’s one that more than doubles the iPad mini’s thickness.
I don’t like any of those options, so I’m often removing the Smart Cover entirely when I want to use the iPad mini. That’s not a tremendous hardship, but it’s an annoyance and a disappointment.
Also disappointing is the fact that the iPad mini Smart Cover just feels floppier and flimsier than its big brother. I don’t know if the cloth-covered hinge is to blame, or simply the smaller sizes involved, or what, but the Smart Cover just doesn’t stay on my iPad mini and in the proper position nearly as reliably as its predecessor. It shifts out of alignment with the screen, and it seems prone to detaching completely from the iPad mini unexpectedly. When I slide an iPad 3 with Smart Cover into my backpack, I have no issues. Roughly half the time when I slide the iPad mini with Smart Cover into my backpack, the Smart Cover pops off. If you’ve ever been frustrated by a finicky MagSafe plug overeager to pop right off your MacBook, you know the experience of the iPad mini Smart Cover.
The iPad mini is a smaller iPad. The iPad mini Smart Cover, however, isn’t simply a smaller Smart Cover. In forfeiting the extra fold, Apple made the Smart Cover more frustrating to use in practice. And between the smaller size and the fabric-wrapped hinge, something makes the smaller Smart Cover fit less snugly and securely than the full-sized version.
That said, the iPad mini Smart Cover does adequately protect the iPad mini’s screen when it’s on—though obviously, it leaves the sides and back completely exposed. On the plus side, it folds more effortlessly than its predecessor, propping the tablet up comfortably for reading, watching, and typing. If Apple could fit a fourth panel without sacrificing stability, that would significantly improve the cover.