How much is a piece of molded plastic worth?

cheap ipad mini case - for some reason we don't have an alt tag here

Yesterday, I came home to a near-full mailbox. The package that took up almost the entire thing was from an eBay seller, and contained no less than 6 back cases for the iPad mini. Together with the identical (but modded) case I have on my iPad mini, that leaves me with 7 cases of the same type, just with different colors. No, I haven’t gone nuts (yet); at $1.99 each, buying 7 of them still means I paid less than $15 total. I sent one off to my brother, and I’m keeping the rest around as spares, for DIY projects, and to give away.

The case is great. It has a rubberized back, fits perfectly, has perfect cutouts, is easy to take off (but sits on securely), fits with the Smart Cover, and comes in a range of colors. It’s everything the SwitchEasy CoverBuddy- possibly the worst case I’ve ever reviewed– is not, and at less than 1/10th the price.

Today, I also discovered that Incipio finally woke up from its three month long nap and have released the Smart Feather for the iPad mini. I had that case for my iPad 2, and liked it, so I probably would have had one of those now if Incipio had managed to release it in a timely manner. It looks more or less identical to the $1.99 case I do have, though with an ugly Incipio logo on the back, and a price tag of a whopping $35. As I sit here with a $2 case on my iPad mini and a $1.30 case on my Galaxy S II, both of which I’m happier with than brand name cases I’ve tired, I have to ask myself how much a piece of molded plastic is really worth.

These cheap cases come out of some OEM manufacturer in China, and with such products it’s a hit or a miss whether the quality is any good. The price can to a large extent by attributed to the working conditions in the country, as well as cutting out most of the intermediaries. These cases don’t have Incipio logos, they don’t come in Incipio-branded packages, they’re not being sold over the counter in various countries. Apparently, when you combine all of those factors, you end up with a case that costs roughly 1/18th as much as a brand name case.

A lot can be said for supporting local businesses, saving jobs, and not supporting businesses that underpay their workers- although that last one is likely not any different from the $1.99 case to the Incipio case. But 18 times the price for the brand name case, even before shipping is taken into consideration? That to me is just too hard to swallow. I can buy one case in each color for myself, and enough cases to just give away to anyone I know with an iPad mini, and I’d still spend less money than I would for a case that to top it all off has what’s essentially an ad on the back- the manufacturer’s logo.

The case seems to be selling well, with some of the colors now being sold out. I’m glad I bought a small stock for myself before that happened, and I’m also glad that Incipio was so slow with releasing its Smart Feather. This is the second device where I’ve put away more expensive brand name cases because something that costs less than a can of Coke is better, and next time, I won’t even bother checking the offerings of case companies I once loved.

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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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7 thoughts on “How much is a piece of molded plastic worth?

  • Avatar of JRDemaskus

    I don’t usually look at those $1.99 cases.
    But I will next time.
    Sadly, the same cannot be said for the leather cases I usually pick. The cheaper they are, the less quality you get.
    The PD-Air leather flip on my Dell Streak is just starting to show wear on the edges at 29 months old.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      Yeah for anything like that it’s better to pay more. It involves specific (expensive) materials, cutting, sowing. A bit more complicated than stamping out a plastic shell

  • Avatar of Michael Perry

    I agree with you completely regarding the leather cases. I have a Moko leather smartcase on my Nexus 7, always thinking to replace it with something hip, but relenting every time.

    I’m writing because I’m curious if you could link that for us, I’m buying a mini when the specs are more on par with the price (probably the next Gen), and would like to save the seller, thanks.

  • Cases are something I typically don’t spend a lot on, and I agree with your comparison of value between bigger brands and the eBay cheap models.

    Of course, there’s always the risk that you’ll get a miscut item on eBay, and unless I saw a review such as yours stating that all of the ones you ordered were cut correctly, I wouldn’t buy one for an everyday device. Yes, the worst that happens is you lose $2-$5, but often they’re shipped from Hong Kong, and by the time that arrives and you notice that the headphone jack is blocked by the case you might be a bit disappointed – and forget any returns considering the price of international shipping.

    I have cheap eBay cases on our two Kindles, but invested in the ~$15 Blurex case for my Nexus 7 and actually paid the full $30 for the Seidio Evo 3D case w/kickstand – expensive, but I carry this with me, and I feel it’s worth the investment for something you carry with you all day. Much better than paying a monthly fee for insurance, it’s survived some pretty rough drops with the case on and no issues whatsoever.

    In the end, sometimes you get more than what you pay for, especially if you’re willing to take the risk getting a product from overseas. I’d say it’s 50/50 on whether or not you’ll get a product you’re happy with or something that wasn’t quite as described, but if you’re not in a hurry, it’s a great place to start.

    One question I have – How long does it take to have an item shipped to you from China with ‘economy’ shipping? Typically it gets to my home in Colorado (dead center of the US) in 2-3 weeks.

    • Avatar of Andreas Ødegård

      I see anything from a week to over a month to get stuff here to Norway, but 2-3 weeks is most common. Shitty selections of cases in stores in this country helps make it easier to live with the wait


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