Mar 192011

With my new iPad2, I decided to go all in and get the Apple Smart Cover with it — along with the HDMI adapter covered here. Is it worth the extra $39 or $69 if you go for the leather option? Let’s take a look.

Apple has a nifty video ad for the Smart Cover that makes it almost look fun. The video does show how it works and stays true to my experience with it, save one minor “action” they use when moving the iPad from the typing position to the upright position with one finger. See my video demonstrating that below.

It definitely is one of the more unique cover/case type products I’ve seen for consumer electronics, so I decided to add one to my iPad2 order. I went with the $39 polyurethane cover in gray. For the most part it works as advertised. It covers the iPad2 screen, and provides auto locking and unlocking when opening and closing the cover. It’s worth noting that the auto unlock feature with the Smart Cover does not override any security settings on your iPad, so if you force it to prompt for a passcode on each unlock (or after a specified interval) the Smart Cover does not override that. The magnets keep it in the exact place it needs to be, and it only goes on one way, so no need to worry if you put it on right or not.

The protection it offers the iPad2 is mostly minimal. I’d say the main feature of the cover is actually more of a stand than a cover or case. It’s about as close as you’d come to a built in stand for the iPad2, and feels almost like an extension of the iPad itself. It provides two standing positions, one in a table top, typing position, and the second in an upright, near 90° angle great for viewing and interacting with content where you’d do minimal typing. However, don’t expect this to be a sole form of protection for your iPad if you are notoriously rough with your devices. There is zero protection for the back, which the aluminum surface is much more scratch prone than the glass screen. Also, I’d expect drop protection to be near zero too, although I don’t want to test that first hand. When not in use, I stick my iPad2, with smart cover on, in a generic, padded, neoprene 10″ netbook sleeve, for added scratch and drop protection. The best thing about the smart cover is that it adds minimal weight and bulk to the sleek iPad2 design so  you almost forget it’s there and never gets in the way.

So is it worth $39? For the most part I’d say yes, although if you’re the paranoid type with your devices, you’ll probably be better off going with a third party solution with more complete coverage, which are already taking advantage of the iPad2’s built-in magnetic sensor for automatic locking and unlocking. That feature is not unique to the Smart Cover, and you can even test the iPad’s lock/unlock sensor with any common refrigerator magnet by placing it on the lower-right side of the iPad2. It would be hard to recommend the leather one at $69, unless you really want a more “sophisticated” leather look and are not concerned about additional protection. Early reports on the leather models state that they are showing signs of wear only after a weeks worth of use.

Here’s a quick video I put together demonstrating the Smart Cover:

Mar 172011

I haven’t seen too much coverage on what you can do when outputting the iPad2 to a TV or monitor, so I decided to see how it all works. Using the “Digital AV Adapter”, it’s pretty simple to output the iPad to a HDTV. It mirrors the iPad screen as advertised, even the home screen. Rotating the iPad also is mirrored on the external screen, so it’s always replicating what you’re seeing on the actual iPad screen. It doesn’t up-scale the resolution, (unless your TV is set to do that, of course) so you’re basically seeing a 1:1 ratio (1024×786) on the external screen. Apps are all also mirrored completely on the external display. Additionally, with the HDMI adapter, it will send the sound output over HDMI as well, which is great.

Some apps are “external display aware”, so you may get different results, depending on the app. Netflix is one of these apps, and how it works is you can browse the library of titles on the iPad while the external display just shows a red Netflix screen. Once you start playing a video, it goes full screen on the external display at 720p, and the iPad just shows controls for pausing, fast forwarding, etc. Same is true of another favorite app of mine, the MLB app. Other apps that have embedded video like news apps or even Safari work fine, and when you tap the full screen icon, it will show in full screen on the TV as well with no letterboxing. No trickery needed…it just works. I even gave the Hulu Plus app a shot. I don’t have a Hulu Plus subscription, but the app is free and it will let you watch a few select things for free to “tour” the application. I was half expecting Hulu to have some clever block in their app preventing output, but that’s not the case (yet?) While the Hulu video didn’t go completely full screen on the external display, it was still completely mirrored on the TV.

Taking a look at the Keynote app, which is another “external display aware” app, it lets you output your slides to the TV, and gives you options of showing just the slides or slides with your own notes on the iPad screen only. Great for giving presentations so your not broadcasting your personal slide notes to everyone in the room.

Of course, being a gamer, I was thinking it’d be pretty neat to play some games on the big screen. It’s probably not the most ideal from a comfort standpoint, but I just wanted to see how it’d work. I’ve hoarded a few higher end games through various sales, so I had a few I wanted to test out.

First up, I gave Rage HD a test. The intro movie played only on the TV, while the iPad was blank. Then the game’s main menu showed only on the iPad. Once the game started, the TV remained blank, and all that I could see on the iPad was the HUD and no other graphics. Definitely weird. After playing around with it, I found if I pause the game, disconnected, then reconnected the connector, the full game showed on both the TV and iPad, and I could play the game. It’s probably not the most optimal way to play the game because I kept looking down to tap the controls, but it works.

Next I gave Infinity Blade a shot. It had no problem mirroring the full game on both displays. Graphics were crisp on both. Same goes for Dead Space and Madden, no issues with either. While I don’t see the iPad replacing the Xbox or PS3 in your entertainment center anytime soon, it’s not as far away as you’d think. Graphically, the iPad2 can rival and even beat those consoles, although touch controls will always be more limited than analog controls.

One thing I did find, that’s not widely reported, is that the original iPad/iPhone VGA adapter will also mirror the iPad2’s display to a VGA connection. It’s $10 cheaper than the HDMI one, and will work great in more business settings where low cost VGA projectors are everywhere. Chances are most small/medium business won’t have a high-def projector or display in their conference rooms yet, so the VGA adapter is a safe bet if you’re planning on doing presentations. The down side is that you’ll lose the sound output, so you’d have to use a stereo cable off of the headphone jack if you needed to output the sound elsewhere.

So overall, I’m impressed with the output functionality of the iPad2. It really makes it take a big step closer to replacing a computer with this functionality, and it can be useful in a lot of different scenarios. I don’t see it being a permanent item in an entertainment system, but it’s not really meant for that. More of a temporary hook up for presentations or other demos of a “hey let me show you this” type situation. I’ll have a video demonstrating all this in the near future, time permitting.