The Smart Cover is one of my favorite accessories of all time. I might not agree with the price of it, and Microsoft’s keyboard-equipped evolved copy is a step up from the original Smart Cover, but it’s still a heck of a good idea. It protects your screen, works as a stand, and holds your stylus. Suffice it to say, it wasn’t a hard choice to get one for my iPad mini, even if the mini version of the Smart Cover costs as much as the full sized version.

Packaging

The iPad mini Smart Cover comes in the same type of packaging the larger version does, meaning a thick cardboard “tray”-like box with a plastic lid on it. It’s minimalistic, effective, and makes it easy to see the color of the cover you’re getting.

Design

While the full size Smart Cover consist of four foldable parts, the iPad mini Smart Cover consists of only three. This means that where the original folded in on itself and had the first and final fold attach to each other’s flat side, the mini Smart Cover has magnets at the very edge of the cover, which attach to the rest of the cover almost at a 90 degree angle. It’s not as secure a connection as the original, but it also needs to hold less weight. It also breaks compatibility with the Maglus stylus I linked to above, since the magnets have now moved.

Another major difference between the full size and the mini Smart Covers is the hinge. On the former, the hinge is made of metal, clearly separate from the cover. On the mini, the hinge bit is clad in microfiber/polyurethane as well, and the actual hinge mechanism is just polyurethane. It softens the connection between the iPad and the Smart Cover, making sure not to scratch the now-colored aluminum, while still providing a secure connection. A problem with the large Smart Cover is that the metal rod in the hinge starts digging into the polyurethane after a while, and while you won’t get that particular issue with the mini Smart Cover, I don’t think it’s more durable in any case.

It’s also worth noting that there’s no leather version of the Smart Cover this time. Frankly, the polyurethane cover should have been much cheaper, and the leather cover should have come in at the $39 price of the polyurethane cover, but this is Apple – expect everything to be overpriced. The lack of leather covers does however mean fewer color choices as well, as the leather-only colors of the full size Smart Cover are now not available at all. The closest you get to a black cover is the dark gray cover, which is frankly just a stupid thing to do since the black iPad mini is now all black. The color discrepancy that the mini inherently fixes over the normal iPad is ruined by the lack of a black Smart Cover. Awesome, Apple!

Anyway, this means that your cover will be made of polyurethane no matter which one you get. That’s for the front, though, while the inside is covered with microfiber. It’s naturally a good fit to the device, protects your screen, and generally looks very good. It adds minimal bulk to the device, which is critical for a device that needs to be as lightweight as possible.

Functionality

The mini Smart Cover works more or less the same way the full size version does. Magnetical alignment, automatic screen on/off when opened or closed, and a secondary use as a stand. I never trusted the upright stand feature of the full size Smart Cover, as the magnets have a tendency to detach – since the iPad falling backwards pulls the magnets apart. The solution to that is to fold it the other way – the wrong way, really – with the microfiber being exposed. Apple has done nothing to fix this, and while the magnets work differently this time, they’re still as unstable as ever when the cover is folded the way it’s designed. Fold it the wrong way, and surprise, it works better.

The horizontal stand mode is pretty useless as far as typing goes. The mini isn’t really a device you type on in landscape mode, unlike the bigger iPads. It still has some uses though, both for other apps, hand written notes, and so on, but it’s definitely not as front and center as the similar stand mode is on the full size Smart Cover.

The mode I use the most though is one that’s not officially there, on any of the Smart Covers, but is still the feature I find most useful on both Smart Covers: Working as a handle. By folding the mini Smart Cover the wrong way and folding it around the back, you essentially get a triangle shaped handle for the mini. It makes it easier to use one handed, and I do the exact same thing on the iPad 2.

Protection

The Smart Cover has always been a front-only protective solution, which not everyone likes. I’m frankly only concerned about the front, though it is very hard to scratch the clean aluminum finish of the larger iPads. That’s not the case with the iPad mini, which has a anodized black back, so time will tell if I’m shooting myself in the foot here. Either way, I prefer to keep the iPad mini as lightweight as possible, which means that both the front-only protection of the Smart Cover and the ease of detaching it is key. I missed such a cover so many times on my Galaxy Tab 7.0 Plus that I would happily paid the ridiculous price Apple asks for one to get one for it, meaning I naturally did do exactly that when I got the iPad mini.

Conclusion

I love the Smart Cover concept, so this was a natural accessory for me to get with the iPad mini. At $39, or 329 NOK here in Norway, it’s definitely not cheap – but it’s a price I’m willing to pay to get it. I tried a bunch of different cases for my iPad 2, and always came back to the Smart Cover, so this time around I know what to go for from the beginning. It should be cheaper, I wish there was a Touch Cover clone available, and I fully expect it to degrade the way my full size Smart Cover has – but I would still get one any day of the week. Still, I’m taking away an entire star from its rating just because of the price.

The iPad mini Smart Cover can be bought from pretty much anywhere that sells the iPad mini itself, including directly from Apple. The US price is $39, and prices around the world should be identical to the price of the full size cover. It’s available in light gray, dark gray, red, pink, blue, and green. Note that the red version, which is part of Apple’s PRODUCT RED series, is now available in stores as well – not just online which has been the tradition.