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Holiday Gift Guide: Choosing an iPad stand

My friend Maya wrote to ask: "Which iPad stand should I buy? I can't seem to find any really positive reviews. I want it mostly for cooking, but it would also be nice to have something to stick my iPad on while it's charging so it's not just laying there for the cat to knock it off the counter."

As we approach the gift-giving season, iPad accessories are probably on many people's wish list, so how do you know what's good and what's bad? As Maya mentioned, it can be difficult to tell from reviews, especially random reviews left on websites.

Although Maya specifically asked about stands I will also mention cases because many of them also serve as stands too.

Options

Let's look at your general options. (Note: prices listed are all in US dollars, and have been rounded off to the nearest dollar because we all know that $X.99 is a marketing trick, right?)

1) Apple's iPad Dock [$30] is a weighed base with a dock connector on the back so you can easily charge your iPad, and then pick it up. I bought one of these for my iPad 1 and almost never used it. The dock is a great idea for iPhones and iPods, but the iPad is just too big for it. If you tap on the screen, it is very easy to feel like you're going to knock it over. Plus (and this will be a recurring theme as we look at iPad stands/cases), the iPad dock only holds the iPad in one orientation. Not to mention that it seems drastically overpriced to me. TJ's Recommendation: Strong Avoid.

2) Apple's iPad case [$40] is only compatible with the original iPad. That's not a bad thing, because Apple's iPad case was pretty much a complete dud. Despite being innovative for the ability to set the iPad up so that you could easily watch video on it or type at a slight incline (two designs that countless other cases would copy), it was expensive, not particularly well made, and extremely prone to collecting dust and other miscellaneous crud. TJ's Recommendation: Strong Avoid.

3) Apple's iPad 2 Smart Cover are likewise ridiculously overpriced at $70 for the "leather" versions and $40 for the "Polyurethane" (read: plastic) versions. And yes, I bought one. If you decide that you want one of these, at least check Amazon for less-awful prices. The Smart Cover is an extremely clever bit of engineering, and I'm always impressed by it, as long as I don't have to think about the cost. It will work as a stand ("landscape" mode only), and quite well, but I simply can't recommend it due to the price. TJ's Recommendation: Avoid, unless someone else is paying.

4) I reviewed the Griffin Loop last year and talked about how much I liked it. It's a (relatively) heavy, weighted base with a notch to hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape mode, and even had room for it to be plugged in if it was in portrait mode. The notch was big enough so that it would even work with some iPad cases without having to be removed.

Its main drawback was that it was bulky and not really designed for travel, but if you just wanted to leave it somewhere like on a desk, it was great. Unfortunately, it was designed for the iPad 1, and when the iPad 2 came out with its thinner, more curved body, the "notch" designed for the more "square" edges of the iPad 1 now feels a little too big for the iPad 2. It just doesn't hold the iPad 2 as securely as I'd like. I still use it, but I'm a little more worried about it getting bumped. TJ's Recommendation: Avoid for iPad 2

Aside: Griffin does not appear to have updated the loop for the iPad, but they now make something called the Griffin A-Frame. I have not used one so I might be wrong, but it certainly doesn't look great. The iPad appears to rest on top of it, which looks precarious. That said, it has excellent reviews on Amazon.com where you can also find it for about $30 instead of the $50 list price. I can't make a specific recommendation for or against it, but it's another option.

5) I finally found a stand that I liked in the elago P2 Stand for iPad (pictured above). It is a piece of metal cut specifically to hold the iPad. It has a small "footprint" so it doesn't take up a lot of space when not in use. It seems stable without being too heavy (although with a cat around, you'd always have to be careful!).

The metal color is almost exactly the same as what Apple uses for its computers (if such a thing matters to you, I only noticed it after I bought it). The other nice thing about this stand is that it can hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape. There is a hole in the back of the stand for a charging cable to fit through. It is solid enough that I can tap on the iPad screen without feeling like it is going to tip over. It holds the iPad at a good angle for reading or watching a video/movie.

The only drawback is the price ($30 at Amazon) which is definitely enough to elicit a "But it's just a piece of cut metal!" response from Normal People such as your humble writer's wife. Still, this receives the only TJ's Recommendation: Strong Buy on the list.

Here's another thought...

All of the cases/stands I mentioned above are $30-$70, which is a bit absurd.

But there's another option too, one that I "discovered" by accident one day in my office, which has several distinct benefits:

  • It is compatible with the iPad 1 or 2 (and almost certainly with the iPad 3, whenever that comes out)
  • it will hold the iPad in either portrait or landscape
  • it will allow for a dock connector to be attached in either orientation.
  • Perhaps best of all, when not in use, it can fold flat for storage or put it in your laptop bag to bring with you.

Oh, and did I mention that it costs around $5?

What is this magical device? It's not an iPad holder at all, it's a wire-frame book holder.

Wire Frame Book Holder You can find one on Amazon.com for $5.12. Or you might find one in the supply closet at work that no one has used in ages. When folded, it's smaller than the iPad, so you can probably slip it into your bag next to the iPad (obviously you'll want to make sure that the metal doesn't scratch up the iPad glass). There isn't much weight to it, so you probably won't even notice it. And if you do find yourself with a recipe that's in a dead-tree cookbook instead of your iPad, you even use it to hold that cookbook open for you.

Did you say "cooking"?

Whichever stand you decide to use when using your iPad while cooking, remember that your iPad will fit inside a gallon-size Ziplock bag (or similar) which will not prevent you from using the touchscreen, but will protect it from spills, etc.

Splatter happens.

What to look for, and what to look out for

Now you have several options for stands/cases, as well as some things to think about when evaluating them: Can it hold the iPad in either orientation? Can you plug it in while in the stand/case? Can you tap on the iPad without feeling like it is going to fall over?

Be careful about when looking for iPad stands/cases as there are some which will only fit the iPad 1, and not all sellers are very forthcoming about that detail. Take a close look at the pictures they show (if any) and if you aren't sure that it works with the iPad 2, be sure to ask before you buy, especially if the price seems really low. They might just be trying to clear out old stock by calling it an "iPad Case" instead of an "iPad 1 case"!

Oh, and always shop around for prices. The best price is almost never to be found on the official website. Amazon and Monoprice are your friend.

Want more ?

TUAW has reviewed a lot of iPad stands and iPad cases, so if you want a second opinion or more options than I covered here, feel free to take a look at those. Also check out our Holiday Gift Guide page for more seasonal suggestions.

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