Back when you really only had MP3 players and dumb smartphones to worry about protecting there were basically three types of cases; silicone skins, leather cases and hard plastic cases. With the mobile electronics market being what it is today you can get a whole range of cases which use various materials and methods to keep your gadget safe. One of the new styles of case you can get today is the so-called hybrid cases that use a combination of a hard plastic case and a silicone skin to create what manufacturers claim is the best of both world. I’ve tried out one such case for my iPad, the Case-Mate Hybrid Tough case. Read on for the full review.
What you get
I recently read an interview with the people behind Switcheasy, one of my favorite case manufacturers. In the interview, they said that their policy is sort of like the Japanese bento style lunchbox, where everything is packed into small compartments to cover all food groups, plus some extras. They say that it doesn’t cost them much to include a few extra accessories with the cases, so if you buy for example the simply Switcheasy NUDE case for the iPad for $30 you also get two fold-out stands, a screen protector, a microfiber cloth, a squeegee, two headphone port dust covers and two docking port dust covers. That is a lot of accessories included with a $30 case, almost enough to buy the case just for the accessories.
The reason I’m mentioning Switcheasy in a review for a Case-Mate case is that no other manufacturer that I’m aware of include as many accessories with their cases as Switcheasy. Some might include a screen protector or something like that, but that’s about it. Case-Mate doesn’t include anything at all with the Hybrid Tough case, which is a big let down when the MSRP of this case is $50 and you’re used to opening a box containing a Switcheasy case. The box only contains the silicone skin and the hard plastic cover, nothing else. I really urge Case-Mate and other manufacturers to start throwing in a little bit extra with their cases, or Switcheasy will continue to win market share with their generosity. It won’t cost them much to add, and it makes such an incredible difference to the person buying the case.
As I said, the Hybrid Tough case is a hybrid silicone/hard plastic case, which means that you first put on a silicone skin and then snap a hard plastic cover on top of that. In this case the hard plastic cover doesn’t cover everything, but rather it covers the back, the two long sides of the iPad and the corners. This is a very common design for a hybrid case and unfortunately a rather flawed one. If the plastic shell doesn’t snap around the edge of the device (and the silicone skin) at certain intervals (or completely), the silicone that’s not directly held to the device by the plastic cover will in time stretch so that it doesn’t sit flush to the device anymore. This is of course a flaw with simple silicone skins as well, but with hybrid cases the only thing you need to do to prevent this is to make the plastic shell snap around the edge of the device on all sides. It takes a bit more engineering to make a case that can do that, but in the end it’s the only option if you don’t want to have the case be practically useless in a few months. Alternately there is the Speck Candyshell which is a single piece case but work more or less like a hybrid case but with hard sides all around. Unfortunately you have to deal with this problem on the Hybrid Tough. Even straight out of the box the silicone covering the top and bottom of the iPad is somewhat loose, simply because you have an 18cm stretch of silicone that isn’t held to the iPad by anything other than it’s own ability to maintain shape. If you’re holding the iPad in landscape mode it doesn’t take much to pull the silicone off the edge.
My favorite case for the iPhone is also a hybrid case, the Switcheasy CapsuleNeo. Unlike most hybrid cases it’s a three part design that utilizes two separate hard shells (one for the top/bottom and one for the sides) to create a completel hard case shell on top of the silicone. Mine is still going strong after about a year and I wish Switcheasy would bring that case to the iPad.
Aside from this flaw, the design of the Hybrid Tough isn’t bad at all. The silicone skin is thick and well made so that it lines up perfectly with the buttons and openings on the device. It covers the sleep/wake button and the volume buttons completely, while having openings for the (iOS 4.2->) mute switch, headphone port/microphone, speakers and dock connector. In the case of the volume buttons the silicon cover for those has to fit through an opening in the hard case as well which can be a bit tricky and cause the buttons not to work if you don’t get everything lined up perfectly.
The hard cover that goes on top of the silicone also has a sort of rubbery feel to it, as well as being textured with tiny rectangular spots. The combination of these two design choices makes it rougher to the touch than similar cases but also provides a better grip that won’t slip out of your hand if you’re holding it with one hand, like the iPad has a tendency to want to do when “naked”.
As for color choices, there are four versions of this case that all have black hard covers and various colored silicone skins. The one I have is the “Cool Gray” variant, and you can also get black, pink and green. I actually ordered the completely black version, but got the uglier Cool Gray one. Thanks a lot, MyMemory.com, maybe Case-Mate should include a color chart specifying the difference between black and light gray next time for those who can’t tell the difference.
Either way, once everything is fitted to the iPad and lined up perfectly it is a nice case that has a quality feel to it and is intelligently designed in terms of providing enough recess to access the ports and such. Many people like buying cases from OEM manufacturers in China to save some money and one of the problems you often face then is openings for ports and such that don’t line up properly on the device.
Hybrid cases generally offer some of the best protection of any case design. It combines the properties of a silicone case and a hard case and gives you a case that will both spread the impact out (like a hard case) and also reduce the force of the impact by contracting and reducing the deceleration (“softening the impact”, like a silicone case). With the thickness of the silicone in this case (especially around the edges) combined with the hard shell covering the corners, you will need a lot of force to break you iPad – as long as you don’t drop it screen first on a pointy object, of course. The fact that the silicone and the hard case wraps around the iPad and creates a raised edge around the screen does mean that it will protect the screen if it falls screen first on a flat surface, but there’s nothing to protect the screen if you hit something pointy (you would need a book style or envelope style case for that). I’m actually very impressed with how durable the iPad feels in this case and while a thick layer of silicone does add to the thickness of the device it doesn’t add all that much to the weight and it does add a lot of protection.
The single big drawback of this case is that the hard case doesn’t cover all sides, which means you have to deal with the flimsiness of the silicone on the sides it doesn’t cover. Had they designed the case more like the Switcheasy CapsuleNeo I would have really been able to recommend this case, but as is I can only say it’s a pretty good case. Considering the price it also wouldn’t kill them to give you a screen protector or two and maybe even some dust covers for the docking port and headphone jack, but I guess that’s wishful (Switcheasy) thinking. A case like this is typically best suited for situations where you use the device in one location of have a secondary case on top, as it doesn’t protect the screen while traveling but protects the iPad in general very well when you’re using it and might accidentally drop it. It is a pain to get off though so it’s definitely not the best choice if you dock your iPad regularly, but if you’re able to leave it in the case and have something like a laptop bag to put it in while traveling it does the job of ruggedizing the iPad very well. I wouldn’t recommend paying the MSRP for this case though as you can get an Incipio Silicrylic for that price, and even though I haven’t tried that case myself Incipio generally have very nice quality products and it looks to be a step or two above the Hybrid Tough when it comes to quality and design.