Review

Twelve South SurfacePad review: MagSafe support helps this incredible iPhone cover

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Twelve South has updated its popular SurfacePad cover for the iPhone 12 line — complete with MagSafe support. It is an amazing accessory overall, but small frustrations still give us a bit of hesitation.

The idea behind SurfacePad is that it provides minimal bulk while protecting your iPhone from everyday dangers. With SurfacePad, you don't have to worry about any glare on your screen.

You can avoid your keys in your pocket scratching your display, and your phone won't be dipped into the water ring you didn't see on the table. Minimalist protection, minimal bulk.

Design, quality, and protection

Volume buttons on SurfacePad
Volume buttons on SurfacePad

SurfacePad is crafted from a single piece of Napa leather, which is exceptionally soft and is available in three colors. There is black — fairly standard, as well as cognac-brown and plum. All of the colors look amazing and will hopefully appeal to most users.

In our case, we chose the Cognac brown for a midnight blue iPhone 12 Pro Max.

SurfacePad interior logo
SurfacePad interior logo

Inside the leather is a soft microfiber lining that nuzzles against your phone. Regardless of the exterior color you choose, the inside will always be a neutral grey.

Our luxe SurfacePad cover
Our luxe SurfacePad cover

On the front is a subtle Twelve South logo stamped towards the base, but otherwise the exterior is unmarred. There is a color-matched stitched edge, just as you would see on a classic leather wallet.

Some functionality has been altered compared to the previous generation, including the removal of the hands-free stand and the ability to sleep/wake your iPhone when the cover is lifted. The latter isn't Twelve South's fault, as Apple removed the functionality for the iPhone 12 range.

As the cover is designed to be removed and re-applied repeatedly, you can always swap it with a more rugged case when the time calls for it.

Installation and removal

Installation of SurfacePad was always easy, but it is even easier thanks to MagSafe. The internal magnetic ring in the cover quickly helps you align everything properly before pressing it into place.

SurfacePad camera module cutout
SurfacePad camera module cutout

Twelve South is using its new SurfaceGrip 2.0 material as the adhesive that secures the cover to your phone. We aren't sure what makes SurfaceGrip special or how it differs from "SurfaceGrip 1.0" but it is effectively a layer of microsuction foam.

This foam is slightly rubbery and dotted with little air holes that, when pressed up against the side of your phone, create small bits of suction. It holds the cover in place, but is still easy to peel free.

Since it isn't an actual sticker with adhesive, it can be removed and re-applied time and time again. If it gets dirty with dust or dirt, it can be wiped down to help regain the suction or adhesive properties.

Our test iPhone was wrapped up with the SurfacePad for the past couple of weeks, and we've removed it several times thus far without issue. That said, when we take it off, there's the worry the SurfaceGrip is getting too dirty with use.

Twelve South says you can retain the original cover it shipped with but we aren't going to be carrying that around with us.

Another minor concern is that while the adhesive itself may be fine with going on and off repeatedly, it seems to be a little rough on the back of the cover. You have to pry it up and bend it as you remove it, and the long-term potential for damage sits in the back of our minds.

MagSafe support

One of the flagship features of the new SurfacePad is baked-in support for MagSafe, which opens up many new options for iPhone 12 users.

Many cases have yet to be updated with support for MagSafe, meaning you can't use MagSafe chargers, can't connect MagSafe wallets or batteries, or rely on MagSafe mounts. Fortunately, Twelve South integrated that necessary ring of magnets into the back panel of SurfacePad.

Using MagSafe Battery Pack on SurfacePad
Using MagSafe Battery Pack on SurfacePad

We tested everything MagSafe in the past couple of weeks, and found many to be perfect SurfacePad companions.

Take Apple's MagSafe Battery Pack. When we use the battery with SurfacePad, we can't use Apple's MagSafe wallet at the same time. As SurfacePad has a pair of card slots itself, we could still head out on the town with a battery, ID, and a credit card in one package.

Our black MagSafe wallet on SurfacePad
Our black MagSafe wallet on SurfacePad

Looking at Apple's MagSafe wallet, SurfacePad still proved useful, as card slots sometimes just aren't enough. We usually carry three things — our ID, our debit card, and our Apple Card.

Apple's wallet can only house two of those. With SurfacePad, we have all three and spare room for business cards, receipts, or just some emergency cash. Easily a win-win situation.

SurfacePad won't close all the way
SurfacePad won't close all the way

We did have a little less success with mounts. Some worked great, while others were at too sharp of an angle. As some certain mounts were a bit too vertical, the cover couldn't decide if it wanted to be open or closed, so just hovered in between.

SurfacePad open on mount hits the desk
SurfacePad open on mount hits the desk

If we did try to open it all the way, another issue we ran into was when the cover would hit the table, as it would sometimes tilt the iPhone a little to the side.

That said, the cover itself didn't compromise charging at all and had no issues staying mounted.

Should you buy the Twelve South SurfacePad?

For us, SurfacePad is a cool, sleek, well-designed cover for iPhone that falls just short of what we're looking for. The crux of the issue comes down to how easy it is to remove the cover from our device.

It requires a decent amount of force to remove the SurfacePad, so after using it for a few weeks we found ourselves rarely bothering to take it off. Since the entire inside of the back panel is covered in the microsuction adhesive (which needs protection from getting covered in dust and debris while not in use), it can be a hassle to remove and protect.

SurfacePad on desk
SurfacePad on our desk

We whole-heartedly understand that MagSafe alone isn't enough to hold the folio onto the phone by itself, but covering the whole back in the suction is too far. There exists a middle ground where just a few small microsuction patches could be placed that keeps the folio secure, but still allows it to come off with ease when needed.

If you plan on putting the SurfacePad on your iPhone and leaving it, then the product is fantastic. After copious use though, there were certainly times where it would have been easier to shed the cover.

Mounts and stands are the primary reason we needed to remove the folio, common tools of an iPhone owner. For example, in the car, if we left the cover open, it takes a ton of space.

Setting the folio open on a vent mount is also a no-go, as it just blocks the airflow. It also doesn't fit in a vent mount on the left side of the wheel, and on the right, it physically blocked our hands a few times while trying to turn.

Peaking at our iPhone screen
Peeking at our iPhone's screen

If we used it closed, we couldn't see our navigation instructions or be able to answer the phone. Let alone the fact the cover kept flipping open while we drove.

When using SurfacePad, we'd have to use a clip-mount where we could fold the folio behind or just give up and put it in the cupholder.

It's a little frustrating because we love SurfacePad so much. It looks fantastic with great-quality leather, offers the protection we need while also opening up two additional card slots, and includes full MagSafe support. It pairs well with almost any MagSafe accessory.

SurfacePad Pro on iPhone 12 bedside

If this was just a bit easier to remove and re-attach, it would be a slam-dunk. Still, the SurfacePad has been around for years, and this is by far its best implementation yet.

Pros

    • Sleek, clean, minimalist design
  • Everyday protection without the bulk
  • Two slots for cards or cash
  • Fully MagSafe compatible including mounts, charging, and accessories
  • Can be removed and re-applied multiple times

Cons

  • No sleep/wake functionality on iPhone 12
  • No hands-free mode because of MagSafe
  • No ear speaker cutout to use with cover closed
  • Awkward with MagSafe mounts
  • Too much adhesive on back

Rating: 3.5 out of 5

Pick one up for yourself from Twelve South for $49.99