After much searching and obsessing and agonizing I finally broke down and just ordered an iPad case/cover. I found one on eBay (from seller Gadgettown) that seemed to fit all my criteria. I was looking for something leather (preferably padded) that held the iPad securely, had a closure of some sort, and would function as a stand. I paid $12 for it.
I had read several reviews of various styles and makes of these inexpensive cases and they all pretty much came up the same. Even some of the not-so-inexpensive cases garnered similar ratings. Some loved them, some hated them, some thought they would wear easily and many many reviews talked about the smell of the case.
When mine arrived today I was eager to open the package. At first blush I liked it. The case is lightly padded so as to provide a modicum of protection but not so heavily padded that it is imposing. The "leather" (I have no idea how to tell if it's real) has a nice texture and the interior is lined with a sued-like fabric. The lining isn't luxurious but it's soft enough that I wouldn't worry about scratching up the device. The construction is good enough that it should last me a while and even if it only lasts six months it's cheap enough that I'll just buy another one. As for the smell, go to your local office supply store and sniff a leather portfolio - that's what it smells like (I would advise making sure nobody's looking before smelling the merchandise).
Here's what the case looks like: (click any photo for a larger view)
The strap uses a magnetic snap closure and the back has a tab for the stand feature. The tab is also held by a magnet so it won't flap loose over time (nice touch!).
You'll notice the Apple-case-like crease on the front. This allows this heavier case to operate as a viewing or typing stand.
If you look at the way the cover folds you'll see that it would tend to lean backward when set as a viewing stand which would make it unstable. When I first tried it, the iPad would not stand up. I had to manipulate the main hinge some and place it very carefully to get it to work. My hope is that the fold-y bits will loosen up and self-correct this problem.
Unlike many cases, the iPad slides in from the top
A small strap with a regular snap closure keeps the device from sliding out. You can see it in the picture above as well as in the picture of the back of the case.
The surround allows ample room for all ports and switches
Pros: Versatile case, solid-feeling construction, good balance between ruggedness and lightness, inexpensive.
Cons: May wear quicker than more expensive cases, won't stand on its own out of the box.
The Bottom Line: This case is a good choice for those looking for a case with versatility, is constructed of leather (or close enough), and provides good balance between protection and lightness. Though the construction and materials may not be top of the line, the price makes it worth the risk it won't last.