Over the years, Twelve South's ingenious Apple-oriented accessories have received numerous Editors' Choice awards from us. And thanks to yet another exceptional product made for the iPhone, we finally have a great reason to deviate from the norm of having to use a standardized case. But don't call it a case, Twelve South's new SurfacePad is anything but. The SurfacePad is a $35 luxurious and minimalist leather cover for the iPhone 5, and the iPhone 4/S. If you're someone who prefers using the iPhone in the nude - not literally but in its bare nakedness form as Jobs intended, yet still feel the need to get some form of protection that isn't going to drastically change the extraordinary design characteristic of the iPhone, then boy are you in for a sweet treat. Our full detailed review awaits down below!
The SurfacePad is Minimalism at its finest
Having reviewed bucketloads of drop protective cases, some of them being everything-proof, it feels rather nice and refreshing to come across a "new" style of protection. And for once in a while I like being able to actually see and even get to feel the device for which I paid for an enormous amount of green paper for. Now Twelve South's BookBook is one of our favorite leather undercover book-style wallet case, but it's a giant piece of awkward to hold and talk on the phone bulk of a case compared to the company's second iPhone not-a-case offering; which is to say vastly more basic and minimal. Design wise, the SurfacePad is more of a sophisticated type of an accessory that looks clean and unobtrusive when flipped open.
So what exactly is it? The SurfacePad is not a case as you may have heard, but more along the lines of a protective cover in the form of a folio-style case which in no secrete was inspired by Apple's Smart Cover - that's made from an ultra-thin (credit card thickness sort of thin) genuine Napa leather. It's comprised out of a front cover that's as rigid as a Smart Cover, with a less rigid and more flexible back cover portion joined together with a seamless one-piece design and soft microfiber lining.
I want to touch on the quality of the leather and the overall construction before we move onto the technical side of things. The quality of this Napa leather, while better than most accessories in this price range, isn't as good as what Vaja or CalypsoCrystal use, respectively. And in terms of that leather smell, sadly you won't be very satisfied if your addicted to that potent smell of leather goodness. Napa leather aside, the overall quality of the cover is quite difficult to fault as it's only a one-piece leather flap that essentially wraps around your iPhone like an ice cream sandwich. You have a choice of black, white and red leather colored SurfacePads to choose from, whether it be for the iPhone 5 or the iPhone 4/S.
You're probably wondering what's so different or special about the SurfacePad. Nothing is special about it to be honest, but what's interesting is that it uses an adhesive backing that you literally stick to the back of your iPhone, and there it'll remain adhered until you decide enough is enough. It can be easily removed and re-applied numerous times so be sure to keep the adhesive sticker once removed.
This type of adhesive is probably the most sophisticated sticky-pad ever made. We've seen it used on countless accessories over the years, and Twelve South's idea of the SurfacePad isn't really the first. Many third party brands have made similar covers for the iPad, and even the iPhone 4. Trunket is a notable brand that utilizes the same type of clear adhesive on its wood skins, so we can safely say its a tried and true feature that greatly reduces the cost of manufacturing and more importantly, the bulk. But like all good things, Twelve South has that bit of Apple-magic on their side. And although the SurfacePad isn't anything to run home about, it's well presented, designs and definitely very well made.
Let's get one thing straight, the SurfacePad offers the bare minimal of protection. Being a cover, it keeps the iPhone's back fully protected against scratches while the front cover should keep the screen scratch-free as well, but obviously only when the flap is shut. What's more is that the SurfacePad leaves the side, top and bottom areas of the iPhone's aluminum fully exposed and potentially prone to cosmetic damage if you're not too careful. And this brings me to another point.
Unlike a Smart Cover, the SurfacePad has no way of securing its front cover meaning it'll remain free to open much like the Samsung Flip Cover for the Galaxy smartphones, the cases like Spigen's Ultra Flip. So as far as protection is concerned, the SurfacePad covers up little so you can enjoy your iPhone to the fullest while gaining a few perks along the way. Twelve South markets it as a luxurious leather cover that can shield your iPhone from things like keys in your pocket. It's crazy slim which is undoubtedly the selling point, and I love the ultra-thin profile of the SurfacePad.
Using the SurfacePad in everyday situations can be frustrating at first. Like all folio style accessories, the SurfacePad flips open and the best way to use it is with the front cover flipped around the back as you hold your iPhone one-handed. You can definitely flip the cover open and around the back with just one hand. If anything, it's a lot more comfortable to use compared to Twelve South's BookBook case because it's that much thinner which makes holding the iPhone and using it a pleasurable experience. Talking on the phone is also quite comfortable and not at all awkward.
The front flap can lay completely flat against the back, providing you with extra grip thanks to the microfiber lining on the cover.
A small little detail like the embossed volume buttons on the leather is a nice touch, but not one you'll find yourself taking advantage of.
When you first start using the SurfacePad, the leather it's made out of will be stiff and require a few days of good usage until it breaks in. Otherwise, the front flap will tend to flip open on its own and will not want to remain flush with the iPhone's screen. It's also worth mentioning that because the low-profile design of the SurfacePad, any 0.4mm thick glass screen protector will cause the front flap to recede just slightly. If you've got one on, it's not a deal breaker that should keep you from using it.
The only drawbacks I've found with the SurfacePad lie within its flap feature. It cannot be held down on its own, and there isn't an earpiece cutout so that you would be able to talk on the phone with the front cover shut. You must break in the leather to its malleable point in order for the front cover to remain completely flat atop of the screen. I found that setting the iPhone on its front side will help the SurfacePad stay shut quicker. It has taken my SurfacePad a full week before it finally settled in and was able to rest flush against the screen.
While the SurfacePad is meant to look as minimal as possible, and that it is, don't let its simplistic features fool you because it's more useful than it looks. Hidden inside, the SurfacePad is home to an integrated stand that easily flips open and allows you to put your iPhone into a comfortable viewing angle that's perfect for using with turn-by-turn GPS, and of course less extreme situations like watching videos or displaying the time. It works brilliantly well I should say too.
I decided the best way to put the SurfacePad's integrated stand feature to the test was to use my iPhone 5 as a dedicated nav system for a one hour-long drive on the freeway. Suffice to say that it held its place with utmost sturdiness and stability. Surprisingly, I was able to simply set the SurfacePad on a flat dashboard surface where it helped the iPhone display Apple's useful Maps app all while the leather flap retained solid traction which helped it avoid slipping.
There's stitching on the back, and other than giving the SurfacePad an aesthetic element, it's there to support the integrated stand feature. You'll also notice there's a nice wide cutout for the camera and LED flash. Actually using the iPhone's camera will require you to hold it with the front flap open as you would with the BookBook case and any other folio-style case or cover. Whether that's uncomfortable is more of a personal preference, and I don't think it's really an issue.
At the end of the day, Twelve South's SurfacePad is a love it or hate it type of an accessory. It's not going to appeal to everyone like an ordinary case would, but if you're into the whole minimalist scene and are looking for just the thing - than having a cover such as this one is without a doubt a great addition in keeping your iPhone 5 or iPhone 4/S partially protected from scratches without covering up the amazing industrial design. It looks good, feels great to hold, and it's even highly practical thanks to the awesome built-in stand feature. With that being said however, the SurfacePad isn't as perfect as it could have been. The leather does take time to soften up and the omission of an earpiece cutout is a miss. We can recommend it as a niche accessory that does what it should, and does it well. It's only a matter of time before Twelve South release a SurfacePad for the iPad and iPad mini.