Bella Cases offers beautiful leather cases and sleeves for Apple iPhone 4, iPad, and iPad 2. Each case is handmade in Turkey using fine Turkish and Italian genuine leathers. Their cases have a polished, professional look and come in a variety of colors. When they offered their Smart Libretto case for iPad 2 to The Gadgeteer for review, I asked for the opportunity to try one. I asked for and received the red color.
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Details for the Smart Libretto don’t specify which type of leather is used in the case. When you open the package, you get a subtle whiff of that leather smell; I didn’t smell any chemicals that may have been used in curing or coloring at all. I was a bit surprised that the Smart Libretto was just sliding around in the package; there was no supporting structure inside the box to keep the product centered in the clear window or to protect it from scratches as it slid around in the box. The case didn’t seem to be scuffed up, though.
The leather is smooth to the touch, but you can see graining on the surface. The finish has a sheen, but I wouldn’t say the case was glossy. In the pictures on the website, the red appeared to be a bright, true red. The case I received is actually a darker, very bluish red color. It’s a bit more sophisticated and subdued that the lipstick-red color I was expecting. The stitching is very even and straight and done in a red thread that’s just slightly brighter than the leather. The only branding on the front is “bella” embossed into the bottom right corner. The outside of the case is hard. I don’t know what the material is, but there is something hard sandwiched between the leather and the lining material. The edges of the case extend a bit past the edges of the iPad 2. The Smart Libretto should be able to protect the iPad 2 from bumps to the screen, back, or edges.
Leather tab isn't held shut when not in use
You’ll notice a fold running down the length of the front. This fold allows the case to be converted into a stand. The back of the case has a flap of leather with a snap that’s also used to convert to a stand. The only complaint I have about this case is that this flap doesn’t snap down to the back when not in use. The flap is open on three sides and gets caught on things. It worsens a little with use, as the flap starts to curl up a bit more. You’ll notice the back has a cutout for the iPad 2’s back camera. The Smart Libretto case doesn’t interfere with the camera operation.
The case is held shut with a non-magnetic snap centered on the right edge. The case also has a magnet in the front flap that acts to sleep/wake the iPad 2. The snap holds the case securely closed, and I haven’t heard that clicking sound that lets me know the iPad is being woken up by the cover sliding.
The Smart Libretto measures about 9.5” long X 7.25” wide X 0.6” thick. It weighed 10.6 oz on my digital kitchen scale. It definitely adds some size and weight to the iPad 2. The hard edges of the case feel much different to hold than the rounded edges of the iPad 2. That said, the case is comfortable to hold and use. I personally find that the iPad is too heavy to use comfortably in a book-style case. Also, a book style case occupies both hands, and using the iPad requires at least one free hand to operate the touchscreen. The spine of the Smart Libretto is soft enough that you can fold the front completely to the back; I was able to easily support the iPad 2 with one hand this way.
Inside, the case is lined in a fabric with a suede texture. The front flap has a vertical pocket with four card slots. These slots are the right width to hold credit cards and a driver’s license and deep enough to hold them securely without being so deep that the cards disappear into the slot. I personally wouldn’t carry my ID or credit cards in these slots, but they are perfect for the small blank business cards I use as note cards. You can also slide a couple of folded sheets of paper under the cardholder pocket.
The iPad 2 is held in a leather frame. You slide it in from the spine side of the frame, and it’s held securely in place by a large flap of leather that slides under the iPad 2. The front has a cutout for the home button and a teardrop-shaped cutout for the front-facing camera and ambient light sensor. The leather frame fits over almost all of the white bezel on my iPad 2, but it doesn’t interfere with using the touchscreen. The frame has a bit of stiffening on top to keep it flat and to prevent it from stretching out. This stiffening also protects the front of the iPad 2 from being damaged by the back side of the closure snap.
The sides of the frame are folded around and sewn to the back of the case. There are cutouts for the controls and ports. The side leather is soft, but the frame is so closely fitted to the iPad 2 that reaching the controls can be difficult. I found that I could plug in my headphones and charging cable with no problems. Because the hard outer portion of the back extends past the edge of the iPad 2, it’s a bit difficult to get your fingers to the back of the iPad to use the volume rocker and power switch. It’s really hard to use the screen lock/mute switch. The speaker, situated on the back of the iPad 2 as it is, is a bit muffled. I find myself cupping my hand around the back of the case at the speaker to redirect the sound to the front so I can hear better.
The Smart Libretto isn’t just a protective case with the sleep/wake function; it’s also a great stand. Fold the front cover back and snap it to the leather tab on the back, and the Smart Libretto can be used as a vertical or horizontal stand. In the horizontal position, it’s great for watching movies or using a Bluetooth keyboard. Lay it down, and it becomes a stable typing stand when using the on-screen keyboard. If you’re very tall or using a very low table, like the seat-back trays in an airplane, the typing stand position might work well as a viewing stand, too.
When I use the iPad 2, I usually have it in the horizontal orientation, and I always have it sitting on some body part. I’ve found that using the iPad 2 this way for an hour or two results in a sore area that feels almost like a bruise. When I used the Smart Libretto, I snapped it into the horizontal stand and set the broad leather base on whatever body part was being used as the prop. The broad leather base spread out the weight of the iPad 2, and I never had a sore place, no matter how long I used the iPad 2.
I really like the Bella Smart Libretto. It provides a lot of protection to the front and back of the iPad 2. It is a worthy substitute for the Smart Cover, and it works very well as a stand. It does add some heft to the iPad 2, but you get a lot of functionality for that added heft. The case is beautiful, and it will look at home at the office or the coffee shop. If you like to take you gadgets with you when you camp or hike, you may want a different case – not that the Smart Libretto couldn’t function outdoors, but you probably wouldn’t want to risk damaging the beautiful leather.