gadg-et-oid [gaj-it-oid]


1. having the characteristics or form of a gadget;
resembling a mechanical contrivance or device.

Oberon Design leather artisan iPad case review

In my continuing mission to find the greatest iPad case in all creation I have happened upon another likely candidate. Oberon Design have produced a range of absolutely stunning cases fashioned from leather and pewter, and sporting a vintage look that will literally stun anyone who looks upon it. Oberon take their cases beyond “designer” and “premium” to pure artistry, and really do make something special.

Oberon were kind enough to send me a red case sporting a dragon motif that must surely score several megafonzies on the coolness scale. It’s, quite simply, glorious, and easily topples the Vaja iVolution SP from my number one favourite spot. Fortunately for Vaja these cases are in entirely different ballparks and crossover neither aesthetically or functionally. I do, however have a very, very broad range of tastes into which almost Oberon’s entire product range fits comfortably.

If medieval styled leather and pewter tickles your fancy as it does mine then read on, for these cases really will add an individual flair to your iPad that will be more a conversation topic than the coveted apple tablet itself.

All great designers will agree that form follows function. If a product doesn’t do its job then it doesn’t matter how pretty it might be. It’s clear that the main selling point of these cases is form, but I was pleasantly surprised to find some unexpected functionality. Looks can often be deceptive, and the unmarred exterior of this particular iPad case conceals an ingeniously simple stand mechanism that consists of nothing more than a cord loop that draws out from behind the iPad and slips over a small leather flap just inside the cover. Bending the flap over behind the iPad and slipping this loop into place results in a very stable stand, the workings of which are invisible when it’s not in use. The ingenuity of this stand lies not only in it’s simplicity, and invisibility but in its stability. Its one of the most stable stands that I have tested and it sits securely even on uneven surfaces… most importantly; my stomach. It didn’t take me long to figure out that looping the cord over the leather flap a few times would make the iPad stand more upright too, which is handy when lying down and using it to stream videos.

Not only is there an upright stand, but out of the box the leather is stiff enough to allow a doubled over flap to give the iPad a comfortable typing tilt. This, however, is not adjustable, but is comfortable enough. Also the leather will may wear in over time, and eventually it may not work so well in this fashion. Two different stands in a case that outwardly appears to have none is, none the less, quite an accomplishment and Oberon have done well to produce such a functional product with their seemingly limited experience producing gadget cases. With only the kindle and iPad under their belt thus far, this is quite an achievement. And to get an iPad case so right with their first attempt is a clear sign of a well thought out design process.

Inside the top flap are a couple of shallow pockets which would comfortably stored business cards, credit cards or memory cards (if the iPad could actually make use of them) but isn’t a lot of use for anything else, due to its proximity to the iPads screen. Both the front and back flaps have open pockets in which the plastic reinforcement inserts dwell. It would be easy to shove a thicker plastic or metal reinforcement into these pockets if you were so inclined, and wanted hardcore screen protection, and it would be similarly easy to re-purpose the whole case as a book cover with very little effort and a hardcover book that closely approximates the size of an iPad.

It’ll probably now come as no surprise that the Oberon iPad case is well manufactured and robust on top of its other merits. The case is 5mm thick of stitched and bonded leather, affording both ample front and back protection in addition to the rigidity required for corner and edge protection. This also allows for a deep, clear emboss on the front cover which is, of course, the focal point of the case.

The method of securing an iPad into the case will, at first, seem slightly lacking and takes the form of 3 leather loops for the bottom and top left corners, and an elasticated loop to secure the iPad in from the top right corner. The leather loops don’t look much, but they’re literally riveted into place on one end and firmly stitched on the other. Oberon have conducted rigorous shake tests, and no way in which I could hold the case revealed any chance of the iPad falling out. I didn’t want to repeat those shake tests myself, however, just in case!

The Oberon iPad case is very clearly hand cut and stitched. The stitching has a lot more “character” than most other premium leather cases I’ve tried, and it is very obviously hand stitched. This is a good thing, because these cases are all about character and adding some semblance of uniqueness to your increasingly more common Apple tablet.

The Pewter clasp is fairly crudely cast, but anything with more fine detail would risk looking artificial and ruin the character of the case. It’s weathered, bringing out what detail there is very clearly, and it really adds something special to the front of the case… as if the jaw dropping, embossed designs weren’t enough. An elastic loop wraps around the pewter clasp to keep the top flap secured. No nasty Velcro and no magnets in this case! Most people I have shown the case to have had a little trouble opening it- the elastic loop is tricky to see and, until you’ve developed the right technique, a little tricky to unhook. But I find myself preferring it to both Velcro and magnets. This same elastic loop can be used to hold the case open when it’s folded back on itself.

The embossed dragon itself, for that’s the pattern upon this particular case (if you hadn’t noticed or are incapable of noticing), is very deeply embossed and includes an amazing amount of detail. The dark/light red colouring helps bring the emboss into clear view and makes for the single most striking iPad case cover that I have ever or, I imagine, will ever clap my eyes upon.

Overall, Oberon have achieved something truly magnificent here. From a background in device case manufacture that doesn’t seem to extend past the Amazon Kindle, they have birthed an iPad case that’s better designed, more protective, more robust and more functional than those churned out by veterans of the gadget case making business. Oberon’s iPad cases are available for a not-entirely-unreasonable $130 a pop, which is a steal for what I believe to be the nicest looking case I’ve tested yet. Most of the other designs are as stunningly detailed as the dragon motif, save the butterfly which is refreshingly simple. Yes, it’s above average price, but that’s expected from a product of above average quality.

The only downside to Oberon’s iPad covering wonder is the rigidity of the thick leather. It doesn’t fold fully back on itself and thus may prove a nuisance to hold for some until the leather has worn in. I find this more of a help than a hindrance, however, as the aforementioned typing angle achieved by the folded back cover is very comfortable. Not everyone shares my sentiment, however.

Tuesday, July 20th, 2010, iPad.