Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 5 Review

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Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 5 Review Listen to this article

Gear Diary Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 015

I’m a huge fan of Twelve South’s products and have said as much numerous times. That is why I am always excited to see this small, Mac/iOS-only company release a new product. Their offerings are limited, but they are always interesting. Just the other day they announced their latest creation, the Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 5. The question is this: is their latest product also their greatest?

As you can see from the video, there is a lot to like about the Twelve South SurfacePad. This is especially so if you tend to gravitate toward minimalist cases or to carrying your iPhone without any case at all. And let me be clear, the SurfacePad is just about as minimal a case as you will find.

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The fact that Twelve South found a way to go minimal while also designing a case that can double as a desk stand is pretty impressive ; it is not, however, surprising, since they always seem to think a bit outside the box when coming up with something news.

Gear Diary Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 006

It took me a few tries to get the phone and case lined up properly. Doing so is important with this case, since the back plate is cut to fit the size and shape of the iPhone 5 precisely. There is little to no room for error, unless you want to phone hanging outside the case itself. And this is not only about aesthetics — any bit of the phone that hangs over is doing to be doubly exposed. Why “doubly”? We’re getting to that.

Gear Diary Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 007

I do like the fact that the cutout for the camera, flash and microphone guarantee no loss in functionality when using the Twelve South SurfacePad. On the downside, this also means that upper corner is left entirely exposed. That’s a problem if you want to keep your iPhone protected. (And if you don’t want to keep it protected, one might wonder why you would use a case in the first place?!?!)

Gear Diary Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 012

The fact that the SurfacePad is also a stand really wowed me. Unfortunately, as much as I like the idea and as much as I like the stand, and as much as I like the materials from which it is made, I won’t be using it. Here’s why.

ThermoWorks Thermapen Mk4

We KNOW the edges of the iPhone 5 get scratched up like there is no tomorrow. As I note in the video, I am careful with my iPhone and always keep it in a case — yet there are still spots where the black coating has flaked away and the silver metal beneath is shining through. It looks lousy, and it is only going to get worse with time. It is a BAD design by Apple, and one that is going to result in iPhone 5s look far more worn over time than most of its predecessors. Obviously this is only a problem with the black iPhone, since the white iPhone has a satin finish metal with no colored coating on it.

I am increasingly convinced that Apple screwed up here. That’s not Twelve South’s fault, but it needs to be taken into account ; the SurfacePad doesn’t take it into account, and that is a problem. The precise tolerances of the case leave the top, bottom and side of the iPhone completely exposed. Put the phone in a pocket with anything mildly rough, and the SurfacePad will keep the back and screen protected, but the exposed sides are going to get beat up — I guarantee it. So here is a conundrum: Is a minimalist case that doesn’t actually protect the device really a case?

Let me be clear  — I believe this is a design flaw and that Apple is to blame. But if a company, in this example Apple, does something poorly, accessory makers that are designing for that product need to take the first company’s decision into account when designing their products. That’s not what happened here and, as a result, I believe it causes an otherwise cool case to fall short. And believe me, it pains me to write that. I like TwelveSouth, I like minimal cases, and I LOVE this idea. It just doesn’t play out in a manner that I can recommend, at least as the owner of a black iPhone. If you have a white iPhone, then perhaps this won’t be a concern.

You can learn more about the Twelve South SurfacePad by clicking here.

MSRP: $34.99

What I Like: Thin and light; Cool design; Leather; Has a built-in stand

What Needs Improvement: Takes a few tries to get the phone perfectly aligned with the case; The case leaves the vulnerable sides of the black iPhone completely exposed to scratches

Source: Manufacturer supplied review sample

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About the Author

Dan Cohen
Having a father who was heavily involved in early laser and fiber-optical research, Dan grew up surrounded by technology and gadgets. Dan’s father brought home one of the very first video games when he was young and Dan remembers seeing a “pre-release” touchtone phone. (When he asked his father what the “#” and “*” buttons were his dad said, “Some day, far in the future, we’ll have some use for them.”) Technology seemed to be in Dan’s blood but at some point he took a different path and ended up in the clergy. His passion for technology and gadgets never left him. Dan is married to Raina Goldberg who is also an avid user of Apple products. They live in New Jersey with their golden doodle Nava.