Review: OtterBox Impact Series for iPhone 3G
Silicone rubber cases were all but commoditized years ago, and it has become harder for new versions to stand out from the pack. Today, we're reviewing nine different rubber cases for three different Apple devices: the fourth-generation iPod nano, second-generation iPod touch, and iPhone 3G. This comparative review looks at OtterBox's Impact Series Case ($20) and Sumajin's Ink Case ($18) for iPhone 3G.
Designing a superb iPhone 3G rubber case isn’t difficult, but there are a few challenges that developers have had to confront head-on: how much of the device should be covered up, given that its speakers and microphone are so critical to its performance as a phone? And what about the rest of its scratchable plastic body?
With Impact Series and Ink, OtterBox and Sumajin have come up with substantially different answers to these questions, neither as impressive as the best iPhone 3G cases we’ve seen, nor as terrible as the worst ones out there. Ink is the more conventional of the designs, opting to protect the iPhone 3G’s entire back save for its camera, top save for the headphone port, and sides save for the ringer switch. The bottom is closed except for small holes for the speaker and microphone, and the face is open for the entirety of the screen, and a large pill-shaped opening around the ear speaker and nearby sensors. Rather than using a full-face screen protector, Sumajin fills the screen hole with a rectangular piece of protective film, which we aren’t hugely fond of, but does more than not covering the screen at all.
The only distinctive touches here are found on the back of the case, which features tattoo-like art that’s been inked on in a contrasting color, and ribbed sides that make the iPhone 3G more grippy. While the inked artwork isn’t spectacular, some users may like it anyway, due to the themes of Sumajin’s chosen tattoos. Additionally, like a number of other cases we’ve tested, Ink has a built-in Dock Connector cover that flips open when you need to access the port, easily working with Universal Docks and common accessories. It’s a nice design, and contributes to the case’s generally strong level of protection.
By comparison, OtterBox’s Impact Series case represents a large deviation from that company’s roots—historically, Otter has produced cases that make amazing efforts to protect as much of your device as they can. Unfortunately, Impact goes in the opposite direction. It offers no coverage for the iPhone 3G’s screen, top or bottom ports, speakers, microphone, or camera, and even goes so far as to expose a circle of the device’s back around the Apple logo. As we’ve mentioned in prior reviews, we seriously hate cases that do this, as it neither looks classy nor affords the sort of protection that the logo deserves, given how easy it is to scratch. The lack of screen protection is also troubling, given that most rubber cases at or below this price level include film of some sort.
If you can get beyond these issues, which we really can’t, there are a few things to like about Impact. The case is one of the most interestingly shaped rubber designs out there, with an elevated, X-shaped rear molding and grippy sides. The front succeeds at covering the Home button and more of the area around the iPhone 3G’s sensor and ear speaker array than many cases. And OtterBox has protected the top and side buttons, even if it has left nearby holes—and ones that aren’t quite as well-aligned as we might have hoped. The bottom and top ports are also highly accessory compatible, including Universal Docks and oversized headphone plugs. For a first-time complete departure from its prior hard shells, Impact isn’t a bad start.
Overall, even in $20 cases, we value protection and frills—companies such as SwitchEasy have demonstrated that it’s possible to protect virtually all of the iPhone 3G in a rubber case for even less, such as the award-winning Colors design—and though Ink comes close, it’s not as clean-looking or as good of a value; Impact is a couple of steps below due to its lack of screen and full back protection. We’re confident that both of these cases will be improved in future versions.