Does Samsung's Book Case beat the iPad's Smart Cover?

The new Galaxy Note 10.1's optional case looks suspiciously like Apple's Smart Cover. Here's how they compare

The Samsung Galaxy Note 10.1 released today is a slick tablet, one that competes strongly with Apple's iPad. When I tested the loaner Samsung provided, I couldn't help but notice the striking similarity between the $50 Book Case cover for the Note 10.1 and the $40 Smart Cover for the iPad that two years ago wowed us with its elegance and simplicity.

Samsung is no stranger to, um, borrowing ideas from Apple. So is its Book Case as good as a Smart Cover? And is a Smart Cover all that great in the first place?

[ Read InfoWorld's reviews of Samsung's Galaxy Note 10.1 and iPad 3. | Keep up on key mobile developments and insights via Twitter and with the Mobilize newsletter. ]

The Samsung Book Case is, as its name suggests, a case rather than a cover. That means you insert the Note 10.1 in it and fold the cover over. Apple's Smart Cover attaches magnetically to the side of the iPad and covers only the screen; you need a separate skin to protect the back. Alternatively, you could go for Apple's $60 Smart Case, introduced this year; like the Samsung Book Cover, it provides a one-piece container for the iPad with a cover that folds. The fact that the Smart Cover is detachable is why I prefer it over case-style protectors; at times, the case and its folded cover get in the way, and when they're one piece, you're stuck with that annoyance. (By the way, the Note 10.1's Book Cover won't ship for several weeks.)

The way the Book Case folds back and its lip magnetically attaches to the rear of the Galaxy Note 10.1 is a smart approach to creating a holder that positions the Note 10.1 at a comfortable typing angle. By contrast, the Apple Smart Cover (and Smart Case) folds into itself; the edge of the iPad rests against that triangular support to form a workable slant for typing. It was innovative two years ago, but in practice, the iPad slips a bit as there's no grip for its body.

I've also found that after about a year's use, the magnet in the Smart Cover loses its strength, and the folded-in cover often releases mid-keystroke. At $40, replacing it every year or so is not a welcome reality. The edges of the polyurethane Smart Cover also begin to peel from daily transport, and my 15-month-old model is beginning to look ragged. (Unfortunately, I dislike the new colors offered by Apple, and no one else has an alternative magnetic cover-only product, other than gray-market sellers on Amazon.com and eBay with low-quality knockoffs. As for the Samsung Book Cover, the only color choices are those that match your Note 10.1's color: white and dark gray.) At this early date, I have no idea if the Samsung Book Case is more durable.

Whereas the Samsung Book Cover seems like it provides better support for typing, it does a poor job as a cover. There's no magnetic latching when the cover is closed, so it swings as you carry it. The seam holding the cover to the case is not very strong, so the cover slips side to side as you hold or pick up the Note 10.1 -- it could easily slide from your grip as a result. And Galaxy Note doesn't detect when the Book Cover is closed, so it doesn't turn off or lock the screen as the iPad does when the Smart Cover is closed.

At the end of the day, the Apple Smart Cover is a better design as a cover but not as a stand, whereas the Samsung Book Cover is a better design as a stand but not as a cover. Maybe someone will figure out how to get the best of both worlds!

This article, "Does Samsung's Book Case beat the iPad's Smart Cover?," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in mobile computing, read Galen Gruman's Mobile Edge blog at InfoWorld.com, follow Galen's mobile musings on Twitter, and follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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