Accessories don’t have to be expensive. eBay is full of cheap, generic accessories, and some of them are actually extremely good. I needed a hard case for my new iPad mini for a DIY project, and before I tear into it for that, I thought I’d do a quick review of the $6 hard case I ended up getting. 

Design

This case is your standard hard shell. It’s designed to fit around the back of the iPad mini, snapping into place, with cutouts for everything. It’s designed to work with the Smart Cover, meaning there’s both a large cutout on the side, and it’s designed to be flush with the top, letting the Smart Cover close properly.

The flush design means that there’s very little material that grips around the iPad, just tiny lips in the four corners. Still, it attaches very securely, and doesn’t feel like it’s ever going to fall off. This design adds less to the overall thickness than one with a noticeable lip, but it means that the screen isn’t protected if you put it screen down. That’s not really a problem with a tablet, and is more popular with phone cases.

The cutouts are mostly correct. Mostly. The headphone jack cutout is the exception, being noticeably off-center. It’s odd that everything else is so spot on and that specific cutout is such a miss, but unfortunately that’s often what happens with these cheap cases. Heck, two cases bought from the same seller might have different cutouts, as quality control isn’t all there at this price level.

This is a transparent case, and that’s perhaps not the best choice for the new black iPad mini. Every single speck of dust that gets trapped between the case and the device is trapped and essentially put on display, and the result isn’t pretty. Hard cases like this are normally transparent, but if I bought this to use as a case, I would have looked very hard for a black one. That tend to mean different materials though, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Still, having a transparent case means that you could put your own graphics in there, like photos or clip-art.

Aside from that headphone cutout issue and the (lack of) color, I don’t have any complaints regarding the design. The Smart Cover cutout is a nice touch, and makes the case a companion to the Smart Cover. Then again, it’s less ideal for those that don’t use the Smart Cover, though I wouldn’t imagine anyone wanting to protect the back, but not the front.

Protection

Hard cases are slightly silly. They absorb very little shock, so they don’t protect as well as a softer case. Still, they do offer some impact protection, and with the new back coloring of the iPad mini, it’s more prone to visible scratching than usual. That’s the kind of thing a hard case protects against very well, and you do add less bulk while doing so than you do with a leather case, and even some rubber cases.

Using a case like this also changes the texture of the iPad, as you go from grabbing a piece of aluminum to grabbing a piece of plastic. As much as I like the thickness and feel of the iPad mini, it’s actually cold to the touch with the temperature here in Norway this time of year. When I tried holding the mini with the case on, I was tempted for a second to keep it on, as it was more comfortable. In the end though, the mini is a device I really like for its size and weight, so I’m determined to go case-less.

Conclusion

I bought this case on eBay for $6 shipped. It’s very, very hard to beat that price. If it hadn’t been for the misaligned headphone cut-out, this would have been a great case. That issue is not a deal breaker, as you can fix it, but it does make you more aware of how cheap the case was. In the end though, if you need a hard case and don’t mind the color, this is an option you should be aware of before you shell out $20-30 to the brand names.