December 8, 2007

Otterbox Defender Review

Earlier this week, I received the Otterbox Defender iPhone case, a water resistant hard shell case with an outer silicone skin. I've taken my time checking this one out, read on for the pros and cons.

The polycarbonate shell has three catches that can be released with a small screwdriver, the iPhone pops in, then the case snaps shut around it. This shell (available in either a stylish yellow, or basic black) gets wrapped in a silicone skin, which then slides into the included holster.

I've not really been a fan of hard cases in the past, but having the flexible outer skin on this one gives it a great feeling, solid, yet slightly giving to the touch. My phone felt better in my hand than if I were holding it without any case at all.

The hard shell protects the phone very well, and the silicone skin has snap openings for the headphone and dock connections, keeping dust and moisture out of those sensitive areas. The volume buttons, power button, and home button are also skinned over, providing barriers for these openings as well. The camera lens is not covered, nor is the Apple logo on the back, nicely sized circular openings in the case allow these to show through.

For those of you paying attention, note that I made no mention of the side switch to enable vibrate mode, turning off the internal speaker. This switch is unfortunately completely covered by the hard shell case. Word from the manufacturer is that because of the size of that switch (and it is a small one!), even had there been an opening for it, it would have been impossible to activate by hand. The workaround for this is simply to use the volume controls to lower the volume to its lowest level. Note that this will not completely silence the phone, but even in a quiet room, the minimum volume can barely be heard.

The holster is likewise a very nice piece, the phone slides in easily, and can be removed very quickly as well. That is, as long as you slide the phone in with the screen facing inwards. I'm used to having my screen face outward, and didn't realize that it wasn't supposed to work that way.

If you insist on having the screen face outward, here's what you will face. If you slide the phone in bottom first, the home button may trigger as it slides into the case. Minor annoyance, the phone will go back to standby in a few moments. Sliding the phone in top first, through, is a different story.

The hard shell has a notch on either side, that will mate with ridges inside the holster, giving a very solid fit. If the case goes in top first, these parts don't line up, and the phone tends to stick in the holster. This makes it slightly difficult to remove, but not terribly bad. The more annoying thing is that the volume up/down buttons will be triggered as the phone slides into the case. If the phone is in standby, this isn't an issue, but if the phone is still active, you will note the volume level will jitter, as the up/down buttons fight for control. You may also note that the screen may blank, which the phone will do if both buttons are held down long enough (no idea why).

As much as I had been used to having my phone facing outwards so that I could simply glance at the display to see if I needed to take the call, having it facing inwards hasn't been that bad, and since it slides out so easily, I've adapted rather well to this way of doing things.

Those of you with a Dremel that really want your phone to go in facing out can probably grind down the case just slightly to avoid the issues mentioned above. I do have a Dremel, and I love hacking things (regular readers will know this), but at this point I'm not going to mess with a good thing.

The hard shell of the case includes a built in screen protector, a nice feature. The protector doesn't interfere with normal operations of the phone, finger taps and slides work just fine. But since the protector is part of the shell and not actually affixed to the display, there is a very tiny gap, and this does slow the response slightly. I have a tetris-type game installed, and have found that I can't tap quite as quickly through the screen protector. But for normal use, as I said, this isn't an issue.

The Speck iPhone case I reviewed recently had a rather disappointing clip on its holster, very loose. The clip on the Otterbox case is very solid, and not prone to opening up when it isn't supposed to, it has a very tight spring and holds where it is supposed to. My only comment on the design is that the clip's hinge is too close to the edge, making it slightly difficult to release, having a bit more room to press down on the hinge would have been nice, but it still isn't that bad.

I will say this, in the week I've been using this case, I have not once had the phone slip out of the holster. This combination is very good at what it is designed for, it will protect your phone and keep it secure. It feels great, and it looks sharp too.

If you need a case with a holster, then this is a fantastic one to try out. If you're just looking for a nice hard shell case without a holster, then this is still a fantastic one to try out. The case works great without the holster, slip it into a pocket, pouch, or purse, whatever you've got. Use it with the holster and clip it to your pocket, belt, etc. Either way, this unit works great.


Update: 6/30/08

This case still continues to be my favorite, over the months since this review I've talked with a number of other vendors and inspected their wares, and most weren't even worth picking up off the tables.

This case, despite the use it has seen (throwing into the passenger seat, drops, moisture (including a visit to Niagara Falls!), loose change, keys, etc), there are no marks or scratches at all, it looks as good now as the day I pulled it from the box. There has been no distortion of the material, the shape has held, no gaps, etc.


Posted by Jim at December 8, 2007 6:03 PM | TrackBack