Review: OtterBox Armor Series Case for iPhone 5
Before it became synonymous with heavy-duty iPhone protection, OtterBox was known for its hard plastic, device-agnostic, waterproof boxes. The company's subsequent iPhone cases have remained some of the most protective around for daily use, but waterproofing fell by the wayside some years ago. With Armor Series Case for iPhone 5 ($100) -- also available for iPhone 4/4S -- OtterBox has returned to its prior core competency. Pitched as "the toughest case ever built," the waterproof, drop-proof, dust-proof, and crush-proof case still allows you to enjoy full interaction with your device. But in addition to its sky-high price, it forces you to answer one big practical question up front: are you willing to turn your iPhone into a brick to keep it safe from whatever damage it could possibly be exposed to?
The first thing we noticed about Armor Series Case is its size. It makes your handset 0.64” taller, 0.66” wider, and 0.4” thicker; you definitely feel the increases in all dimensions. Compared to LifeProof’s Frē, it’s larger in every way, but it also feels much more substantial. The body splits apart into a front holder and rear shell, each made from heavily reinforced plastic. This material is augmented by silicone rubber on the inside, and a rubbery over-molded bumper around the front. Thankfully, the installation process is easier than with Frē: once you’ve set your iPhone 5 inside the front piece of the case, teeth on the right side of the rear panel easily fit into openings on the other half. Two metal latches on the left then snap closed to hold the case shut, somewhat like a briefcase. Despite what appears to be an overly large seam on the side, the latches create an airtight seal.
Inside the case, the iPhone is 100% covered, but still totally usable. Raised protectors for the Sleep/Wake, Home, and volume buttons allow for physical control without seriously diminishing their tactility. There’s a similar piece of rubber for the side switch that reverses its functionality; with Armor Series Case, you push forward to put your phone in silent mode. Audio performance is surprisingly great: on both sides of the conversation, it’s virtually impossible to tell when the iPhone 5 is in or out of the case. Similarly, music sounds just as clear as it does coming from a bare phone. Special vent covers over the earpiece, microphone, and speaker allow audio in and out, but prevent water or anything else from intruding on the iPhone.
Camera performance is similar: while both cameras and the flash are covered by plastic, they remain usable and unobscured. The headphone and Lightning ports are accessible through respective flip-open protectors. Although it takes some effort to open them, we’d prefer that limitation in a waterproof case to an alternative design that pops open too easily. A wrist strap is included, and can be strung through a hole on the rear panel.
Previous cases from OtterBox with built-in screen protectors have proved to be somewhat problematic, mainly due to their tendency to distort the high-resolution Retina display. Like so many other elements of this case, the company got that element right here, too: the plastic rests against the screen, so there are no issues with touch sensitivity, and it’s crystal clear, with no effect on visibility of the display.
As expected, Armor Series Case does keep water and other elements out, and though we didn’t take it in the desert or run it over with trucks, we’re quite confident in its abilities to live up to OtterBox’s other claims as well. It truly feels like a case that can stand up to anything—a fact that can be viewed in one of two ways. It’s reassuringly solid and heavy in a way that Lifeproof’s Frē is not. For most users, however, such an insane amount of protection likely isn’t necessary; slimmer cases can handle occasional drops and bumps, and some even offer waterproofing at lower prices, without this sort of brick-like bulk. If you’re planning to expose your iPhone not only to the elements but also to serious crush risks, and need to know it’ll be safe, Armor Series Case is a good pick. The high price and huge size are turnoffs that reduce the case’s potential appeal, but for those who really need it, it’ll be a good choice.