Review: Otter Products OtterBox for iPhone Defender Series
Materials aside, hard cases for the iPhone fall into three broad categories: ill-conceived, well-intentioned and nice but not great, and thoroughly impressive. Over the next day, we're going to briefly review eight recent iPod cases that range in price from $20 to $50, and in design from one end of that spectrum to the other: four are made mostly from metal, the other four mostly from plastic. At first, we're focusing on the plastic cases: JAVOedge's JavoClearCase ($22) for the iPhone, Speck's SeeThru for iPhone ($30), JAVOedge's AlloyVision Crystal Metal Case for Apple iPhone ($36), and Otter Products' OtterBox for iPhone Defender Series ($50).
Of all of the cases we tested, Otter Products’ OtterBox for iPhone Defender Series is unquestionably the most impressive, but it’s also the most expensive. Unlike a number of the iPod accessory industry’s case vendors, who resell generically designed shells from overseas factories, each of Otter’s cases takes original design very seriously: they’re generally designed to protect the iPhone from drops, water, dust, and other damage, and do a very good job.
The Defender Series of OtterBox cases takes a step back from the company’s past iPod cases, offering a bump, scratch, and drop-protective case option rather than a truly waterproof one. It’s actually a little more complex than that: the new case uses three layers of protection to offer dust and light rain or splash water resistance—not full submersible protection—to most of the iPhone’s surfaces. Otter’s result is a case that feels rubbery, packs the internal reinforcement of a hard shell, and resists moisture at all points, but doesn’t entirely preclude it from coming into the iPhone’s speakers or microphone. It comes in all-black or yellow/black versions, and actually provides coverage for every bit of the iPhone’s body, though the coverage varies from component to component.
Defender covers iPhone’s screen, rear Apple logo, camera, and proximity sensor with clear integrated plastic that provides see-through protection; this plastic renders the camera blurry, but lets you fully see all four components, and fully use iPhone’s touch-sensitive display and controls. The case covers iPhone’s speakers and microphone with a thin layer of mesh that’s protective but not watertight, hiding each under a ridge to make water intrusion less likely. Since Defender is designed to be used in rugged outdoor conditions, it does compromise a little on iPhone bottom speaker and microphone access, but not enough to bother most users.
The rest of iPhone—all of its other controls, body, and ports—is covered with rubber, hard plastic, or a combination thereof. You can pop off the rubber headphone and Dock Connector covers if you need them; otherwise they remain sealed. Defender’s Dock Connector access is limited to Apple USB cable-sized accessories, but this is a first for the company, as its past cases provided no Dock Connector access whatsoever. The only part of iPhone you can’t use at all is the ringer/silent switch, which is covered by hard plastic and inaccessible. Frankly, we don’t mind this at all.
Like Speck, Otter includes a holster-style swiveling belt clip that can be attached to provide impact protection for the iPhone’s screen; the clip ratchets through 360 degrees of freedom in small increments, but isn’t useful as a video stand, and doesn’t provide complete access to the phone’s bottom. It’s more of a utilitarian belt mount than anything, and made for outdoor headphone port access, little more. We’d have preferred to see an armband in the package, but the belt clip will be fine for many users.
Though it adds quite a bit of thickness to the iPhone, we’re otherwise very impressed by what Otter has accomplished with the Defender case: the design achieves a very smart compromise between protection and access, failing only in its approach to iPhone camera coverage. To the extent that it permits everything short of iPhone submersibility while still offering complete screen, wireless, and other functionality, it’s a breakthrough case with very few shortcomings, and its $50 asking price is reasonable given how much it accomplishes. We look forward to seeing what Otter can do with future Defender cases, and future iterations of the iPhone.