Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 5 Review

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.

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.

5 Comments on "Twelve South SurfacePad for iPhone 5 Review"

  1. I guess you’d have to flip open the cover to get to the silence toggle, but how hard is it to press the volume buttons with the cover closed?

  2. I was a loyal TwelveSouth customer (3 Bookbook Volume 2 for the iPad, 2 MacBook Surfacepad, 2 Bookbook for the iPhone 4S, 2 Plugbugs and most recently the SurfacePad for the iPhone 5). Unfortunately, this has changed with my experience with TwelveSouth’s newest iPhone product the SurfacePad.

    After 3 weeks of regular business use the item began to split between the seams. I have come to expect better quality fromTwelveSouth, especially for three weeks of use. I contacted Bridget at TwelveSouth customer service and I was instructed to send the item back to them and once recieved, they will send me a replacement.

    I am very disappointed to have to leave my new iPhone 5 unprotected because of TwelveSouth’s quality control issues. I use my phone regularly for business and find it very unacceptable to have to purchase another TEMPORARY case because of TwelveSouth’s lack if quality control.

    This will be the last TwelveSouth product I purchase.

    After 4 weeks of use all four corners have separated at the seams, revealing the yellow(ish) rigid skeleton. Quite disappointed with TwelveSouth’s customer service. No sense or urgency. I really expected to be treated as a valued loyal customer. The quality issues were admittedly known by TwelveSouth, but have not been removed or recalled. Shame, shame, shame TwelveSouth.

    • I’m really sorry and disappointed to hear this and hope the company resolves this. I’ll also be forwarding your comment directly to out contact. Obviously this should never happy but this is the first issue with one of their products that I can recall reading about.

  3. Sad to say Twelvesouth has let me down yet again. Firstly my new bookbook (iphone 5 version) wore incredibly fast on the outside edges of the phone holder itself inside the bookbook. I replaced the bookbook with a surface and also purchased one for my partners phone. Both surfaces have come completely apart from very careful use at the edges exposes the skeleton inside. I am reluctant to even bother emailing Twlevesouth, a replacement pair of surfaces won’t fix the problem if the design issues are still the same.

    • Matt- wow. So sorry to hear this. I’ve not run into issues with any TwelveSouth products but to be fair I switch cases so often for review purposes that the wear you have seen is not something I have or would encounter. That said, please do contact the company. If there is an issue they should know about it and have the chance to make good on it. And please keep us posted.

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