From the DIY drawer: $1.99 iPad mini back case mini review and magnet mod

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After I got the utter disappointed that is the SwitchEasy CoverBuddy for the iPad mini and gave it a whopping 0.5 star review, I was a bit at a loss as to what case I would try next to try to find the perfect iPad back case. I wanted a solid black Smart Cover compatible case that was as thin as possible, and had a nice, rubbery texture for better grip. Then, suddenly, exactly such a case dropped into my mailbox. No, it wasn’t SwitchEasy trying to save its name- those geniuses are still listing their translucent gray iPad mini case as a “UltraBlack” PC case- it was instead one of the cases I ordered off eBay to see how it was. This particular case was $1.99, so I wasn’t expecting much, but I should have known better: The thing is freaking awesome!

The irony of cheap eBay cases never stops. I’ve been using a $1.30 case on my Galaxy S II for 10 months now, and the thing is still the best case I’ve had on a phone. The moment I opened the package with the $1.99 iPad case, I knew it was going to be another such situation. This case is exactly what I wanted in a back protective case, down to the smallest detail.

The cutouts are very precise, much better than on the SwitchEasy case (this is where your mileage might vary). It has the matter black rubberized finish I was looking for, and provides an awesome grip. It does attract fingerprints, but it’s well worth it. It doesn’t over-complicate the buttons like the stupid SwitchEasy case does, it just provides cutouts instead of flimsy plastic buttons on top of the iPad buttons. I’m not a bit fan of there being individual holes for the speaker holes instead of one large cutout, but I can live with it. Finally, it has a very clever feature where the cutout for the Smart Cover attachment strip is formed in such a way that it “locks” the Smart Cover onto the iPad mini when the back case is on. This- and the entire case- is similar to the Smart Feather case that Incipio has for other iPads, but not the mini. This locking mechanism is something you might very well hate, but I like it. I have however ordered more such cases and will modify one to remove the lock mechanism, just to see how that feels.

As for the quality of the case, it’s great. It came a bit bent, since it was just shipped in an envelope without an inner box, and this had bent the plastic at the weakest point- the microphone cutout. Fixing this was literally a matter of bending it back. It took two seconds and is now undetectable. The case snaps onto the iPad mini perfectly, and sits there perfectly, with none of the looseness of the 15 times more expensive SwitchEasy case.

Because of the locking mechanism, you’re essentially forced to fold the Smart Cover around the back when you use the iPad. All the time I had the iPad 2, which I didn’t use a back case for, I thought that it would be nice if the iPad had magnets on the back that would grab the Smart Cover when folded back there. I decided to try to incorporate that into this new back case, by embedding magnets in it. I had magnets that some suitable magnets around, so I started by laying them out on the cover to see where they would grip on.

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I then dropped a few drops of super glue on the top, swung the cover around, and that way transferred the magnets to the back case. I ripped off the magnets, leaving a mark from where they had been glued. Using this as a reference, I cut out holes in the case big enough for the magnets.

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I used a Dremel with a router but to cut the hole, and then used a scalpel (something that’s very useful to have in your DIY toolbox) to smoothen the edges. Then I put two pieces of tape to cover the holes from below.

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Next up it was time for my new iPad mini dummy! I attached the case combo onto it, switched it around, and dropped the magnets into the hole. I made sure they were properly aligned to grip the cover in a straight manner, then dragged the cover off down the case to leave the magnets in the hole.

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Next up it was Sugru time! Sugru is a model clay-like material that hardens into hard rubber after a day of air drying. I used my fingers to get as thing a layer or Sugru around the magnets as possible, making sure to get a full coverage of the magnets while using as little material as possible.

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The image above is taken with flash, to show how the finished mod “works.” Since both the case and Sugru are rubberized matte black though, the two pieces of Sugru are hardly noticeable under normal lighting, as the image at the very top of this page shows. Once the Sugru was dry, I slung the Smart Cover around the back, and got this:

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I’ve been using this case in practice for a couple of days now, and I love it. I was very skeptical to throwing a case on my mini, and still am, but the extra weight and bulk is worth it for now. This gives me a rubberized back when the case is closed, and the Smart Cover’s velour material when in use. Both are more comfortable to hold than the iPad mini is naked. I’ve also started adapting some accessories to hold the iPad mini + case combination, so I don’t have to take it off.

Overall I’m very happy with the result. The magnets are strong enough to really grip that Smart Cover and keep it secured to the back, which fixes an annoyance I lived with on the iPad 2 for over a year. The $1.99 case is just the kind of case I was after, and I think that the Smart Cover + back case combination gives a more modular and flexible solution than a full front and back case, and allows me to just take off the back piece if I want.

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Andreas Ødegård

Andreas Ødegård is more interested in aftermarket (and user created) software and hardware than chasing the latest gadgets. His day job as a teacher keeps him interested in education tech and takes up most of his time.

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