There’s always been a market for super-protective iPhone cases — the kind that allow the device to be dropped and smacked around without sustaining any damage — but they were particularly well-suited to the heavily glass-bodied iPhone 4 and 4S. While OtterBox is now the best-known developer of heavy-duty cases, plenty of other companies have put forth their own options of similar and sometimes even better quality. Today, we’re reviewing four heavy-duty iPhone 5 cases: Ballistic’s Every1 Series Case ($50), Griffin’s Survivor ($50), OtterBox’s Commuter Series Case ($35), and OtterBox’s Defender Series Case ($50). You’ll notice a trend here: with the exception of Commuter, each case combines rubber and plastic, has integrated screen protection, comes with a belt clip, and rings in at the same $50 price point. Clearly, none of that’s coincidental.
Survivor is definitely the most protective case in this collection. It’s also the bulkiest, and the most redesigned from its predecessor. Although it may not look all that different at first glance, there are some real changes in the new design.
The unit snaps apart into three primary pieces—a plastic tray, a rubber frame, and a plastic-bordered screen protector, plus the separate detachable belt clip. That last component is a thin column of plastic that snaps onto the top and bottom of the case with a clip that rotates a quarter turn in either direction. To encase the iPhone 5, you first snap it into the plastic backing and then wrap the thick rubber around it. Ridges along the edge of the plastic grab the softer material and hold it in place. It takes about a minute to get everything in place, but once you have, the screen protector can be snapped on. We found the frame occasionally held down the Home Button on the first go, so you may have to take it off and reposition it. Notably, the screen protector isn’t prismatic, so you’ll be able to enjoy looking at your iPhone 5’s screen without distortion.
While all these heavy-duty cases promise drop and bump protection, Survivor is the only one that promises military grade protection from wind, rain, sand, dust, and vibrations on top of shocks and falls. The exterior is all rubber, except for the front bezel and two small segments on the back, and the material has a slightly gritty texture, making it easier to hold.
It’s very thick over the Sleep/Wake and volume buttons, so you have to actively try to press them. The Home Button, on the other hand, is just as tactile as if it were uncovered. We also appreciate the port cover refinements: in the past there was one long flip-open segment along the bottom edge. Now, there are individual covers for the headphone and Lightning ports, with permanent protective membranes over the speaker and microphone; the audio quality with Survivor on is nearly identical to an unprotected iPhone. The rear camera cover rotates out of the way rather than having to be held down, which is a nice upgrade. Without a doubt, this is the single most protective case we’ve yet seen for the iPhone 5. However, it’s very bulky, detracting from the new phone’s thin profile in a way that OtterBox’s Defender doesn’t.
Although none of these cases is for everyone, those prone to damaging their iPhones in daily life or extreme situations will find them to be lifesavers. Our favorite of the bunch is OtterBox’s Defender Series Case, with Griffin’s Survivor and Ballistic’s Every1 Series Case coming in right behind it.