Review: OtterBox Defender Series Case for iPad 2/iPad (3rd-Gen)
Some users are content with minimal levels of protection for their iPads; other users fall in the middle, content with moderate coverage and a slim design, while still others want to protect their delicate investments as much as possible. Two recent cases seek to address the latter segment of the iPad 2 and the iPad (3rd-Gen) market: Ballistic's Tough Jacket Series Case ($70) and OtterBox's new Defender Series Case ($90).
If you’ve already read our review of the Defender Series Case for iPad 2, you’ll find this updated model very familiar, but it has been improved. There are still four pieces—a two-piece plastic frame, a rubber cover, and a plastic shield—however, the company has made quite a few changes to the overall design. It feels like a mostly refined take on the original, save for one key element.
The heart of the case is still the two-piece hard plastic snap-together frame, but putting the pieces together is now a bit easier than before. It also covers more of each iPad’s body including the area around the Dock Connector port and almost all of the bezel, while managing to look and feel a little slimmer. OtterBox has a thing for leaving the Apple logo exposed whenever it can, and continues the tradition with Defender by leaving a clear plastic-covered circular opening that we still dislike. The biggest change here is the addition of a built-in screen protector, something we hoped for when reviewing the original version. It lays totally flat and is completely smooth, but it’s unfortunately highly prismatic, dispersing pixels into tinier bits of rainbow-like colors. This problem is especially pronounced against the new iPad’s Retina display.
OtterBox’s hard plastic case isn’t mean to be used on its own: the rubber cover easily slips over it and is held in place by a ridge running along the perimeter, as well as the plastic clips that keep the halves together. Together, they form one nice looking, cohesive unit. As with the previous iteration, there’s full port and button coverage, though the case isn’t touted as being waterproof. OtterBox improved the flip-open port covers by making them more appropriately-sized, especially the one over the Dock Connector port, which was previously huge. The detachable plastic lid, Defender’s final layer, is almost identical to the original. With the ability to attach to the front or back, it can also form a stand for landscape viewing or typing. This time, magnets have been included to automatically lock and unlock the iPad when the shield is removed from the front of the case, and thankfully they work properly with both the iPad 2 and new iPad.
Ballistic’s less expensive Tough Jacket Series Case is a step down from Defender in terms of protection, but has a similar concept. This one flips the basic concept, such that the soft rubber is on the inside with hard plastic surrounding it. The first layer to cover your iPad is shock-absorbent silicone that wraps around the body of the tablet, bulging pretty significantly at the corners in a shape that reminds us of Incipio’s Hive Gaming Case. It covers both the Sleep/Wake button and volume rocker, but leaves all the ports open.
A hard plastic plate with an integrated piece of shock-absorbent polymer fits over that, fitting into place with a little bit of pushing around the edges. It doesn’t cover any bare parts of the device, but does reinforce the protection. Finally, there’s a plastic shield that can snap onto either the front or back, complete with a foldout stand. That stand can support both viewing and typing angles, although you can’t be too forceful with the latter or it will collapse.
Without question, Defender offers much more protection than Tough Jacket, but at a cost. It feels better thought out than Ballistic’s case, and shows many clear improvements over the original. It’s obvious that OtterBox put some real thought into bettering this real model, and it’s appreciated. For new iPad users, however, the integrated screen protector’s prismatic distortion will be a deal-breaker. The rainbow glare is simply distracting against the otherwise beautiful Retina display. Although it would have otherwise have been bumped up to a higher rating, Defender winds up earning the same limited recommendation as its predecessor; we’d only call it a good choice if you’re willing to deal with what happens to the screen. By comparison, Tough Jacket isn’t quite as impressive; even though it costs less, it’s still quite expensive given that it doesn’t provide complete protection and doesn’t look as nice as many iPad cases we’ve reviewed in the $50 range. For the $70 asking price, we would expect to see more thorough coverage and generally better design. Hopefully, Ballistic will follow OtterBox’s lead and improve the case with a second-generation model. Until then, it’s worthy of a C+ rating.