OtterBox Defender, OtterBox Commuter Smartphone & Tablet Cases Review
by: Howard Carson, October 2012
Requires: Any smartphone for which Otter Box makes a custom fitted case
MSRP: US$34.95-$59.95 (available worldwide, usually sold for less than MSRP)
The OtterBox Defender and OtterBox Commuter cases are designed to envelope a smartphone or tablet in a custom fit, inner silicone padded, screen protected, outer polycarbonate bump/drop/abrasion resistant shell, while providing precise actuation of all external controls, an unimpeded and optically clear screen view, and accurate touchscreen response. By definition, the inner and outer layers of protection tend to bulk up the outer dimensions of the case, but that's part of the deal too. True protection can't be provided by a smartphone or tablet case which carefully follows the astonishingly thin profiles of the latest Blackberry, iPhone, Kindle, Motorola, Nokia, Samsung and Sony smartphones and tablets (among others). The point of the OtterBox designs seem to be genuine protection against all the dumb things we do to our expensive smartphones and tablets - drops, knocks, sitting on the things, spatters, heavy impacts, abrasive impacts and so on.
It's just a smartphone or tablet case, but as usual the best of anything has features of real benefit, which in the case of the OtterBox Defender and Commuter lines means your smartphone or tablet will actually be properly protected. Just as important, the quality of materials is one of the things that help to make a great product and Otterbox doesn't seem to be scrimping on quality at all. Good new so far.
- Control Access - OtterBox cases are sized to very close tolerances, which means that once your device has been properly installed in the case all of the external buttons, ports, on/off switches and dock connectors on your device can be used very precisely
- Screen Access - The clear screen protector built into the OtterBox is optically very good, and we found no change in required finger pressure or touch response (and it's worth noting here as well that if you're currently not using a screen protector of some kind then why the heck did you spend all that money on such an expensive smartphone or tablet in the first place)
- Impact Protection - You can wrap or insert your smartphone or tablet in any one of thirty different brands (at last count) of thin plastic or decorative silicone skin-type cases, but then accidentally drop the device or bang it against a table or something and watch the worst happen; not with an OtterBox-protected device though
- Holster - I tried the holster supplied with the OtterBox Defender for my iPhone 5 and Blackberry 9900, and found it tough, secure, easy to draw or holster either device, and really, really big because it has to accommodate the bulk of the OtterBox itself; but it's a very good holster nonetheless
- Double Protection - The OtterBox Defender and Commuter models have an inner silicone cushion/wrap and a hard shell outer case, the point being to protect your device in the exact same way a bicycle or motorcycle helmet & visor protects your head and eyes; it works
- Camera Use - Because OtterBox cases are very precisely made, you won't find a case with more accurate openings for both front and rear cameras, so no more stretching, pulling and twisting to get some part of a case away from the edge of the lens or flash
- Easy to Install - No pushing, over-stretching, fingernail breaking, yanking, twisting or cursing, because the three OtterBox case components (silicone inner pad, clear screen protector, hard outer shell) are precisely made
In case you were wondering, OtterBox also makes cases for Amazon Kindle, iPhone, iPad, iPod Touch, Barnes & Noble Nook, BlackBerry, Boost Mobile, Dell, Tablets from most major makers, Google, HTC, LG, Motorola, Nokia, Palm (yes - Palm - still), Pantech, Samsung, Sony, Trimble, and also makes Dry Boxes (dustproof and waterproof storage and device boxes for use by canoeists, kayakers, hikers, climbers, landscape & wildlife photographers, emergency personnel, military personnel, firefighters and so on).
The iPhone 4/4s models are great looking devices, and the same it true for the Samsung Galaxy S and Note. The iPhone 5 is a very slick, elegant and cleanly professional design. Same is true for the BlackBerry 9900, Apple iPad or Samsung Galaxy Tab. Surround any of those devices with an OtterBox Defender or OtterBox Commuter case though, and it all changes because you can no longer see the lovely, uber-thin lines of the smartphone or tablet on which you spent the better part of a thousand dollars. The point is that if you use an OtterBox of some sort to help protect your expensive device, odds are that is exactly what will happen. An expensive iPhone 4/4s or 5 or a Samsung Galaxy Tab with a shattered screen because the device slipped out of your hands and hit the concrete sidewalk (or the corner of a desk or whatever), doesn't look pretty or slick or cool or elegant or cleanly professional any more. It just looks like what it is: broken, messed up and unrepairable.
The bottom rubber snap-in flap on the OtterBox opens and closes easily to expose the docking/charging/lightning port (depending on your device). I asked my neighbor's ten year old kid to sit around in the backyard for an hour, opening and closing the snap-in covers, and flexing them back and forth for about two hours. After thousands of actions, no damage and everything still fits into place properly - several years of use packed into a couple of hours just for fun, with no damage. Basically, you'll wear out or replace the smartphone or tablet, or the electronic device will simply die long before you wear out its OtterBox. Because the OtterBox has a stiff exterior shell, its precisely designed openings don't interfere with anything, and that includes the camera. Basically, you'll never again have to use one finger to stretch the leather, cloth, silicone or plastic of a cheap case away from the edge of the camera lens or the flash.
Once I got used to the physical size of the OtterBox Defender and the OtterBox Commuter (the Commuter is notably less bulky, so go for it if the uber-protection of the Defender is simply not necessary for your type of use), it just became part of the smartphone and tablet. OtterBoxes are tough but relatively lightweight, and they handle well because the outer shells have plenty of grippy surfaces. It's important to note as well that because of how accurately and precisely an OtterBox fits your smartphone or tablet, you won't be fiddling or struggling to use the camera or work external controls or access any accessory, charging or earphone ports.
The OtterBox Defender and Commuter models are made from polycarbonate, silicone and synthetic rubber, and manufactured in sizes customized for a variety of popular devices. The cases are made in the hundreds of thousands for each batch, shipped around the world to tens of thousands of retailers, and sold by online warehouse retailers. From that perspective, they're too expensive. But OtterBox (and plenty of other case makers too) markets products to help protect even more expensive smartphones and tablets. So from the latter perspective, call the OtterBox Defender and OtterBox Commuter fair values.
Cons: Someone I regularly see thought that the OtterBox Defender I've been using for the past several weeks was actually waterproof, because the case does have a passing resemblance to the waterproof housings you periodically see being sold for compact cameras. Be advised - the OtterBox Defender and Commuter cases are not waterproof (but also note that OtterBox makes a separate line of dry cases for use in difficult conditions). Real protection, by definition, is big and bulky which I'm not sure is a true Con but is nonetheless an important consideration to make before you purchase the case. We'd love to see an OtterBox with a removable or fold-able front cover which would give the screen just as much serious protection (while your smartphone or tablet is pocketed or stowed) as the edges, sides and back. Forget about using a docking station - the OtterBox Defender and Commuter are just too bulky, and despite the fact that devices are easy to initially install in an OtterBox they're not meant to be taken out and put back in on a daily basis. You'll have to use a charging/sync cable.
Pros: The OtterBox Defender cases work exactly as advertised. Full side, back and edge protection from impacts, abrasions, drops, knocks, bumps and bangs. The case materials are very strong, light, scratch & abrasion resistant, and the case designs offer a techno-industrial look that is kind of appealing and certainly has presence. The OtterBox Commuter cases also work exactly as advertised, but have a somewhat slimmer profile and somewhat less overall bulk compared to the Defender. Protection using the Commuter case is still excellent, just not the uber-level offered by the Defender. No matter what we're doing, sooner or later a smartphone or tablet takes a tumble, sooner or later we accidentally sit on the thing, and sooner or later it gets bumped, banged or scraped. You should be ready. OtterBox makes terrific products. Highly recommended.