Protecting a new MacBook

Staying home in voluntary isolation, I’m spending more time than ever with my 13-inch MacBook Pro, purchased earlier this year shortly after it was announced. This is the first MacBook Pro in five years without the unreliable butterfly keyboard design that caused no end of grief for many, including myself. With that change, it’s been a fine machine and has been my window to the world since March. It’s how I read the news, communicate with friends over email and messaging, how I hold zoom meetings, and how I shop. It’s been my lifeline during the pandemic. That and school learning from home has caused notebook sales to skyrocket this year.

(As an aside, if you’re considering purchasing a new MacBook, you now have an even better option. It’s an identical looking model using Apple’s own M1 microprocessor chip, replacing the Intel chip used on my model. It uses much less power, resulting in twice lthe battery life between charges, yet simultaneously operates at a much higher speed. It’s a big deal that some compare to being as significant a development for Apple as the iPhone itself.)

When I replaced my previous MacBook for the one I’m now using, the aluminum enclosure was dinged and nicked. It hadn’t been abused, but occasionally fell off a chair, slipped off a table, hit a door frame, or bumped up against something else. While aluminum is a hard material compared to plastic, it’s soft compared to steel and shows wear. So, having come to depend so much on my MacBook, and having a lot of extra time on my hands, I started searching for the ideal solution to keep my notebook safe.

Over the past few months I’ve been searching and trying several different products designed to protect a 13-inch MacBook Pro.  While there are hundreds of innovative case designs for protecting tablets and phones, I discovered there are surprisingly few equally well-designed options for notebooks.

Ideally you want a cover or case that can protect the notebook from dings and blemishe and from a drop or sudden impact.  You’d like a case that’s either a part of the notebook that doesn’t require constant removal and replacement, or if it does, it should be nearly instantaneous. And you’d like protection when the notebook is closed as well as while it’s open and in use.

So here’s what I found.

Plastic hardshell skins – Available from numerous sellers on Amazon, Incase and Apple, this solution consists of two thin clear plastic moldings that snap onto the lid and base of the computer, wrapping around the edges to protect the computer from surface defects. The case doesn’t absorb much impact, but at the same time doesn’t detract from the slimness and appearance of the notebook itself. It’s adequate for preventing daily wear and accumulated dirt, but offers little protection in the case of a drop.  These cases range in price from about $15 to $50 and come in different tinted colors in addition to clear.

Slip Cases – These are fabric sleeves for protecting notebooks during transit. One of the most innovative designs is the ICON Sleeve from InCase. It’s a cloth sleeve with a built in frame to protect the notebook from drops. The notebook slides in from one end and then drops into the soft internal elastomer frame. While minimal in size, especially compared to other zippered sleeves, it offers no protection when the computer is being used, and it’s quite expensive for a cloth sleeve at $70.

Portfolio cases – These are hinged portfolios into which the computer is held in place by a pocket or thins strips of fabric at the corners. They are designed to allow the computer to be used with the case permanently attached. One of the most unusual is the BookBook case from Twelve South, a company that makes a range of interesting accessories for Apple products. The BookBook, one of their iconic products, is a zippered leather portfolio that can be used as a case or a sleeve. When closed it looks just like a weathered, antique book, complete with gilded trim and an aged leather finish. It’s a good solution for protecting the notebook, both while being used or closed. However, the notebook easily comes pops out of the case during use, because the screen is held in place with tiny straps. It costs $80. The company makes similar BookBook case for iPads, eBook readers, and phones.

After trying all of these solutions nothing seemed to be ideal. There were drawbacks to all of them.

Urban Armor Gear Plyo – But, then this week I received a newly released product to try. It’s the Plyo Series Macbook Pro 13″ (2020) Case from Urban Armor Gear (UAG). It offers the benefits of a plastic shell – minimalist in size and weight -with the protection of the Icon and portfolio cases. It’s a smokey transparent two-piece plastic enclosure strengthened around its perimeter and corners with softer co-molded shock absorbing plastic. It’s designed to offer drop protection that meets military drop-test standard MIL STD 810G 516.6, requiring that no damage occurs when the laptop is dropped 26 times on all edges, sides, faces and corners from four feet above the floor. The case has shock absorbing corners that surround the screen when the computer is open that offer drop protection should the screen hit the floor first.

In spite of its ruggedness, the Plyo adds little weight and only a slight amount of bulk. The case is extremely well made and precisely finished, and it appears that quite a bit of engineering went into its design. It strikes the perfect balance between protection, appearance and weight. There’s a lot of attention to detail, including a combination rubber hand grip/hinge and durable rubber feet. It costs $80 and is far superior to any of the other solutions. In fact it may just be the perfect case that now lets me move onto another obsession!



by Phil Baker