Tablet Accessories Tech Treasures [2011 Cool Yule Tools]

While last year may have been the year of the tablet (with the introduction/invasion of the iPad), this year certainly qualifies as the year of the tablet accessory. Whether it’s a case, a pillow, stand or speaker system, we’ve compiled a list of our favorite devices to go along with our favorite tablets:

Watch a slideshow version of some of these products.

Products reviewed in this categoryKraken II series iPad 2 case, by Trident CaseHammerhead iPad 2 hard shell caseSpiderpodium tablet, by BreffoiGuy, by Speck ProductsTargus Lap Lounge for iPad 2, by TargusVersavu Keyboard and Case for iPad 2, by TargusJoystick-IT tablet arcade stick, by ThinkGeekSlateShield All-in-1 for iPad, by Addo AccessoriesMagnetic Cabinet Mount and Viewing Stand, by MacallyToddy iPad cleaner cloth, by Toddy GearCrayola ColorStudio HD and iMarker stylus, by Griffin Technology

The reviews

Kraken II series iPad 2 case, by Trident Case If you are concerned about protecting your iPad 2 more than a generic case, the Kraken II series offers two levels of protection. First, there’s a silicone layer that hugs the iPad tightly, offering protection from drops and covering up vital ports with dust and debris protection (unfortunately, it’s not waterproofed). The second layer consists of two different polycarbonate hard shells (front and back) that snap over the first layer and iPad to provide more protection. The front part of the hard shell offers a screen protector as well, allowing users to still use the touchscreen on the iPad but keeping smudges and scratches away from the glass. Two clamps on the top also snap the pieces into place, and the silicone layer fits nicely with the polycarbonate hard shell. Taking everything apart is a bit difficult, but that also means it’s not flimsy.

All of this does add some bulk to the device, so I’d only recommend using this if you absolutely need the drop, dust and debris protection offered by the Kraken II. The series also comes in a range of colors to choose from as well, giving you some style to the iPad 2.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $49.95Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Hammerhead iPad 2 hard shell case If you get a new iPad 2, you can separately purchase one of Apple’s new Smart Covers, which let you turn on and off the iPad when you open the case. The problem with those, however, is that the case only protects the front and side of the iPad 2, the back is still exposed.

The Hammerhead case adds a back shell to the case as well, protecting it from impacts and scratches. The lightweight polymer shell doesn’t add too much bulk to the iPad, and offers the same automatic wake/sleep for the device when opened and closed.

The lid also can fold to provide different angles for the iPad, including typing and viewing in portrait or landscape modes. At $40 it’s a bit pricey, but Hammerhead also makes other less expensive cases or sleeves. Like many iPad cases these days, you have a choice of several colors.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $39.99Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Spiderpodium tablet, by Breffo This flexible tablet stand is designed to fit tablets like the iPad or Android tablets – it has eight flexible legs that can be bent into numerous positions to create the position or angle you desire. The “toes” of the device wrap around tightly to the edges of the tablet, and the legs are strong enough to support the weight of the device. Don’t throw out the back of the box, because it shows you a number of different options on ways to bend the spiderpodium in order to get the desired angle/position. It also showed how you can use this to mount an iPad on the back of a car seat, making it a handy frame for letting the kids watch stuff on your tablet during long car trips. It can also be used at the front of the device, if you want to use your iPad for GPS functionality, just mount it to the dashboard. Figuring out which legs to use can take a bit of practice, but after you get used to it you’ll be amazed at how many different uses you can get out of it.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $35Reviewed by Keith Shaw

iGuy, by Speck Products If your children get as much entertainment (or more) from your iPad or iPad 2 as you do, why not dress it up with a fun and colorful case like the iGuy from Speck Products? This foam case can stand on its own two legs, and has two “arms” as well that kids can hold onto for extra support when they’re using the iPad or iPad 2. The foam provides a layer of protection in case the kids drop the tablet on the ground, and it comes in three color options – green (makes it look like Gumby), blue or orange. A couple of concerns – first, for apps that require a vertical orientation, the iGuy doesn’t stand up on his own, it becomes a bit awkward compared to horizontal apps. Second, connecting a charging cable while the iPad is in the iGuy can be a bit tricky, might take some jiggling/jostling of the cable.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $39.95Reviewed by Keith Shaw

%20Targus%20USA&productCategoryId=5&bucketTypeId=0&searchedTerms=Lounge&navlevel1=&cp=&bannertxt=Search%20Results%20Lounge If you find yourself doing a lot of things with your iPad, including reading books, watching movies (either purchased or via Netflix / Hulu Plus), after a while you’ll start to get tired of holding the device. A device like the iPad (and iPad 2) is meant to be enjoyed on your lap, but sometimes your lap isn’t the right angle for doing such things. That’s where the Targus Lap Lounge comes in handy – it provides a sturdy case to hold the iPad 2 in place (we tested the iPad 2 version, Targus also makes a Lap Lounge for Tablets to cover the iPad and Galaxy Tab, etc.), and then a soft bean bag-filled cushion for resting on your lap. The stand can be set in multiple viewing angles, and a zippered pocket can be used to store accessories. The design of the stand also provides some sound amplification for the iPad, by redirecting sound towards the user, but in practice we didn’t really notice much of a difference, and in reality I preferred using my headphones anyway.

I wouldn’t travel with this accessory, but would use it when I was sitting on my couch or in bed either reading or watching movies. If there’s a power iPad user on your holiday list, free up their hands or lap by giving them a comfortable place to rest their device.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $49.99Reviewed by Keith Shaw

%20Targus%20USA&productCategoryId=5&bucketTypeId=0&searchedTerms=versavu&navlevel1=&cp=&bannertxt=Search%20Results%20versavu This is a combination protective case plus Bluetooth keyboard, designed to fit the iPad 2 (other models may fit the older iPad). The unique feature with the Versavu is the case’s ability to rotate the iPad when attached to the keyboard, which lets a user rotate into portrait mode if they want when typing up their emails, notes or other projects that require a keyboard. Most of the other iPad keyboards I’ve seen only allow for landscape orientation with their keyboards. The keyboard had a nice response to my typing, and I only made a few mistakes when touch-typing (for example, the apostrophe key was too close to the return/enter key).

The system comes with a USB charging cable for the battery on the keyboard, since power is required for the Bluetooth connection. There’s an on/off switch that can save battery life as well. Overall, if you’re looking for a nice combination of a protective carrying case that also includes a nice Bluetooth keyboard, this is a good option.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $100Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Joystick-IT tablet arcade stick, by ThinkGeekThis add-on attachment includes a small suction cup that you attach to the screen of any touch-sensitive tablet or smartphone (such as an iPad, iPhone or other such device). It creates a physical joystick that you can use with games or apps that include an on-screen joystick, allowing for easier gameplay, especially for action-oriented games.

Many of the games I’ve played on a tablet fall a bit short with the on-screen joystick, because your finger or thumb tend to move around on the display, and it’s hard to keep your attention focused on the on-screen joystick rather than the action on the screen. On a game like Madden football, for example, this can mean the difference between dodging a tackler and running it in for the big touchdown. So, in theory, having a physical joystick means you don’t have to worry so much – if your thumb is going to the right, the player on screen should be doing pretty much the same thing.

In using this device, however, it wasn’t as effective as I’d hope. The device attaches via the small suction cup on top of the on-screen joystick area, but it’s still pretty wobbly, and the joystick moved around more than I wanted. I used this on a Mortal Kombat game and a Spider-man game, and had mixed results. On Mortal Kombat, which uses a pretty large virtual joystick, the arcade stick worked fine, other than the occasional movement of the suction cup. On the Spider-man game, the smaller virtual joystick made it not work – I couldn’t move the character around in the correct direction. Even licking the bottom of the suction cup to make it stick better didn’t work, the stick actually slid around more when I did that.

For less-intensive games that might not require much joystick movement (such as classic arcade games like Galaga or Pac-man), this might be a nice stocking stuffer – but for action games, it’s a tough sell.

Cool Yule rating: 2 starsPrice: $18Reviewed by Keith Shaw

SlateShield All-in-1 for iPad, by Addo Accessories The SlateShield is an iPad case (we got the iPad 2 version) that includes an integrated stand as well as a 360-degree rotating “comfort handle”. The integrated stand pops out from behind the unit and lets you stand up your iPad in either portrait or landscape mode, great for viewing movies or using for FaceTime video chats. You can also flip the stand over (rotate the entire stand plus iPad 180 degrees) to create a typing mode orientation if you want to do some on-screen typing (if you really want to type on an iPad, I’d suggest an attachable keyboard).

The comfort handle is useful for users who need to walk around the office or workplace (or home) while holding the iPad with one hand. The handle includes an adjustable Velcro strap to tighten the fit, and the rotating part of the handle lets you adjust for vertical or horizontal mode as well.

The SlateShield adds some additional weight to the iPad overall, but this also provides some protection against drops, as long as you don’t drop it display-side-down. There’s nothing here that’s extremely out-of-the-ordinary compared with other handheld units and stands, but the variety of different orientations and the comfort handle make it just as good as other units out there.

Cool Yule rating: 3 starsPrice: $54.95Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Magnetic Cabinet Mount and Viewing Stand, by MacallyIf you've ever thought to yourself, "Hey, I really would like to mount my iPad under a kitchen cabinet", then this is the product for you. Perhaps you use your iPad for recipe apps, or you like watching streaming videos or listening to music while making dinner - this mount gives you the opportunity to place your iPad underneath the cabinet to get it out of the way of the flying flour or onions (or messy kids) that may happen if you leave the iPad on a kitchen counter, for example.

The mount comes with a plastic mounting bracket and four screws, and the bracket locks into place onto the magnetic base. When you attach the iPad correctly (the side that doesn't include the volume controls), the magnetic link is pretty strong, which you'd expect since the iPad will be hanging upside down from the bottom of the cabinet. The cool part about the magnetic base is that you're not permanently attaching the iPad to the cabinet, you can detach it when you're done and the only thing that's screwed in is the bracket and base.

If you don't want to mess with the cabinet mount, the base makes a good viewing stand - the swivel part of the base swings out to create the third and fourth "leg" of a stand. You can then place the iPad into that and have a small viewing stand for watching movies or reading books, etc.

If you're just looking for a viewing stand for your iPad there are probably better options available - but as far as I know this is the only unit that can also be mounted under a cabinet - if that's your main goal, then this is a good gift idea.

Cool Yule Rating: 4 starsPrice: $39.99Reviewed by Keith Shaw

NuGuard GripBase and GripStand 2 (iPad 2 version tested), by Newer TechnologyThese are two devices for your iPad or iPad 2 that give you a protective case as well as a viewing stand for placement on a desktop. The first device you'll need is the GripStand, either for the iPad or iPad 2. The GripStand provides a hard plastic shell for the outside of the iPad tablet, securing in place with rubber corner areas. The GripStand also includes a hand strap for users that want to walk around with their tablet, and a small base also is included that can adjust to be a viewing stand for the tablet.

If you want the tablet to be even more stable, you can add the GripBase, which provides a more solid base than the back of the GripStand. The GripBase still allows for 360-degree rotation for landscape/portrait mode, and the angle also adjusts low enough for you to use the iPad for typing. It also can spin around if you want. The design of the GripBase and GripStand includes release levers that detach the shell from the base station, letting users bring their tablet with them if they want.

The combination of the GripStand and GripBase seems designed for companies within the healthcare industry, in which multiple users need to use the same device, perhaps in a high-traffic area (although there doesn't seem to be a way to lock/secure the base or the tablet). The GripBase is definitely more solid than the GripStand2, which seems geared more for portability (holding it on your hand) than on a desktop.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $39.99 (for the bundle)Reviewed by Keith Shaw

Toddy iPad Cleaner, by Toddy GearThe Toddy iPad Cleaner works on all devices!  Which is fortunate, because I don’t own an iPad.  I was excited to try it on a friend’s TV we had recently moved, which had fingerprints all over it.  I’m happy to report the Toddy did a great job cleaning that LED screen.  It works equally well on LCD screens, and the various phone screens I tried it on (Super AMOLED, Blackberry, etc.).

It’s a small cloth that comes in a folder type package. It's very easy to transport – just be sure you don’t get dirt/debris in it, or you’ll wind up rubbing that into the screens you want to clean.  But if you do soil the cloth, you can wash it.

Toddy advertises the following on its website (which is actually a fun website):

•             Dual-sided cleaning: you can use both sides of the cloth; one for cleaning, one for polishing (it’s obvious which is for which, without an instruction manual).•             Antimicrobial coating: the coating on the Toddy helps kill germs and bacteria.•             Naturally hydrophilic: the opposite of hydrophobic, the Toddy will easily absorb oil, dust, etc., without needing any sprays.•             Machine washable – you can wash your Toddy when it gets dirty!

Also worth nothing, you can now customize a Toddy with your own brand logos and such – which is a great way to differentiate yourself from the standard thumb drives always being handed out at events.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $10Reviewed by Dan Hunt

Crayola ColorStudio HD and iMarker stylus, by Griffin TechnologyThere's a bunch of great coloring book type apps for the iPad (I know, my kids have tried most of them), but this one is fully sanctioned by Crayola, and works with Griffin's iMarker stylus. The stylus acts like a giant crayon, offering kids the chance to color and "paint" on the iPad app without using their fingers all the time. The iMarker can act as a crayon, colored pencil, marker or even a paintbrush on the app.

The app is pretty good, although the addition of animation makes it kind of annoying sometimes when you just want to color. Younger children also seemed to have a problem with the stylus - you still need to press down pretty hard for the color to register from the stylus, and for them, their fingers are easier and preferred. But older kids (say, 7 to 10) will likely do just fine with the iMarker.

Cool Yule rating: 4 starsPrice: $29.99 (app is free, and works without the stylus)Reviewed by Keith Shaw

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