Wooden gadget accessories appeal to a certain kind of dweebus — I am that dweebus. And Oregon's Grove has been among the best for years. Now they're making iPad cases. Are they worth it?
What Is It?
It's a "wooden" iPad mini case from Grove, the same people who have made some of my very favourite iPhone cases of the past. Wooden is in quotes, because most of Grove's products are actually made from bamboo, which I must note is technically a grass and not wood, else catch a bunch of hell from phylum nerds in the comments.
Why Does It Matter?
Why does anything matter, really? That's a question for the ages. But if you want to protect your fragile, expensive little tablet, you're probably going to want to put it in some sort of protective case. As for me and my gadgets, I prefer wood, since I'm going to be touching and handling my devices for thousands of hours over their useful life.
Grove products in general have a thoughtfulness that reveals itself pretty quickly in real use: button holes (or covers) are well-engineered, joints are sturdy and sanded down to smoothness, and you can tell they have spent a lot of time and wasted wood trying to discover the minimum amount of material necessary to provide protection for the iPad mini while not being so thin that it's fragile.
I had expected Grove's case to ruin my favourite thing about the iPad mini: its size. I switched from a full-size iPad user to a mini guy as soon as Retina displays became available on the smaller device and I haven't regretted it for an instance. (Except for the time I forgot I had slipped a case-less mini into my back pocket and sat on it. Now I'm on my second iPad mini and know what it's like to pick glass out of your jeans pocket.) The current Retina mini is wonderful to hold and use, and it's replaced my laptop as the computer I carry with me at all times. I slip the mini into my pocket before leaving the house almost every day.
The Grove case does increase the size by several millimetres in every direction, but it still will fit in most of my pockets. Outside of my pocket, any additional weight it adds is usually mitigated by the roll-up cover that serves as a handle — or hand-hold, I suppose — that makes reading in portrait orientation very comfortable.
Magnets in the flip-down cover keep it closed when you want it closed (just like most iPad mini covers).
And like most wooden cases, it feels fantastic to touch. It changes the dimensions of the device, sure, but it's still small enough to seem small.
After using it for about three months, I don't think about it anymore, or wonder if I'd be happier without it. (Or with another case.) The best mobile device is one without a case at all, but until Apple can make an iPad mini that I can't shatter by sitting on or scratch simply by throwing it in my filthy bags, I'll be using cases. And even thought I rarely prop my iPad mini up on its side to watch movies, having the option to do so is nice.
I guess what I'm saying is that I like that it's a case I like.
The thin strips of bamboo that make up the hinge of the case, glued on to a piece of felt-like material, have started chipping off after getting caught on the inside of my jacket pockets. It's a little shabby looking, but like all wooden or organic cases, you kind of have to accept getting some physical, visible damage as part of the experience. Wabi-sabi, y'all.
If it's anything like Grove's previous designs, I expect they will discover a new method of building the hinge in future versions that makes it more durable, just like they improved the top edge of their iPhone cases to prevent splintering by using a different (although still bamboo-based) material. (I've got a newer model of their iPhone case now that's over a year old and it's more or less as good as new, minus the welcome patina that's come from my hand oils.)
Should You Buy It?
Not if you're not looking for a wooden iPad mini case. Or if you want to go cheap — this sucker costs $US90. ($US110 for the iPad Air version.) But if you're a wooden gadget jerk like I am, it's a product you can buy with the knowledge that it does exactly what it claims to do. Yet if you're on the fence, wait a bit; I suspect the next iteration will be even better.