Otterbox Defender Series: A Working Man’s iPhone Case

Are you prone to swing a hammer, climb a mountain or get covered in motor oil? Have you been in the market for an iPhone case that can withstand your active lifestyle?

The Otterbox iPhone 4 Defender Series Case could be just what you’re looking for. Read on to see what we think of it and whether or not you should pick one up.

The iPhone 4: Too Expensive to Break

Before purchasing an iPhone, I usually just went with whatever free phone my carrier happened to offering. As a result, I didn’t feel bad at all about abusing it. My Motorola Razr had a battery door that was secured via duct tape due to the frequency at which it would slip from my grip and hit the pavement.

A 32GB iPhone 4 cost $300. To make the situation even more precarious, 95% of the outer surface area of the phone is glass! This is a whole new ball game. Suddenly, I treat my phone like gold. I’m not sure what Apple’s coverage plan is for dropping your phone on concrete and trying to fix it with duct tape, but I’ll bet it’s not great.

I have it easy though, I’m not exactly riding on bulldozers or crawling under houses all day, I have a desk job. What about construction foreman, plumbers, rock climbers, mountain bikers, and anyone else who has a job or hobby that can be fairly physical? Is the iPhone simply too much of a liability for these people to carry around? Is it even possible to build a case that is strong enough to withstand daily beatings from these types of activities without completely ruining the smooth as butter iPhone experience? The folks at Otterbox think so.

The Defender Series iPhone Case

The Otterbox brand needs no introduction. These guys make some of the most tough and rugged cases around for all types of handsets. At $49.95, the Defender Series sits at the top of their line of iPhone cases.

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The Defender Series iPhone Case

So what makes this thing so special? Is it really that tough? How easy is it to operate the iPhone once the case is on? We’ll tackle these questions below.

Construction

When I pulled the Defender case out of its box I was quite surprised to see how elaborate the thing is. Most cases have only one or two separate pieces, this has four! True to the Otterbox name, the Defender Case really does feel like more of a protective box that you place your phone into than a simple sleeve.

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The Defender Series Case comes in four pieces

In the shot above, the two pieces at the bottom comprise the “box”, which is then surrounded by the silicone sleeve and optionally placed into the super thick clip-on holder. The basic box has all of the appropriate holes for the buttons, cameras, etc., the silicone sleeve covers the buttons completely but contains flaps for the ports and the the holder’s clip clicks from spot to spot with a 360 degree spin range.

Thoughts on Construction

There are pros and cons to the elaborate box setup. First and most important is the fact that this is one solid case. In fact, all put together it’s easily the most sturdy case I’ve ever held. It’s like wrapping your phone in kevlar, you start to feel confident that it could take a bullet (hyperbole, don’t shoot your phone).

The downside is that if you’re the kind of person who wants to be able to get the phone in and out of the case quickly, you’re out of luck here. It’s not exactly rocket science, but it could easily take a full minute to get your phone in and out until you get used to how the case works. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, just keep in mind that you might not be thrilled with this case if you think you’ll want to remove it more than once or twice per day.

Another thing to keep in mind is that the silicone sleeve is a serious attractor of dust, lint, etc. I have the black version so it really shows. If you’re concerned about this you may want to grab one of the lighter colors (there are several options available).

Durability

Once you get everything put together and pick up the completed product for the first time, it’s obvious that this case was meticulously designed for shock absorbency. The box completely surrounds your phone and covers every inch, including the screen, with thick, durable materials. Then, to top it off, it’s all wrapped in the rubber ring we mentioned above.

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The case all put together

Thoughts on Durability

Without hesitation I would say that it’s hard to imagine a tougher case than this one. If you’re going into a situation where you are genuinely concerned about dropping your phone or having it constantly hit up against something, you’ll be able to put your concern to rest as soon as you place your phone inside of this case for the first time. You can immediately tell that it’s going to be well protected.

So how tough is it? On YouTube you can find reviewers tossing it off of twenty-three story buildings and undergoing all other sorts of crazy tests. For me, the every day, realistic situation is more important. Will your phone come out unscathed if you drop it on concrete? Absolutely, even if you happen to be a roofer and drop it from a story up it should survive largely undamaged. Twenty-three stories? I make no promises, but you’ll definitely fare better than you would with most other cases.

Phone Use

This was one of the most important areas for me. I generally hate cases and let my phone go naked most of the time. I don’t like adding bulk and I especially don’t like screen protectors, which reduce visibility, add annoying friction and reduce the sensitivity of the touchscreen.

The Defender Series was a real test because it does have a screen cover and it adds a good bit of bulk. I knew if it could win me over in this area I would recommend it to anyone.

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The Defender Series Case comes in four pieces

Thoughts on Phone Use

One thing that continues to amaze me every time I pick up my phone in this case is how perfectly they nailed the screen cover. Though it adds a tiny bit of extra glare, there’s almost no extra friction and the touchscreen seems as sensitive as ever. After a few hours with the case on, I forget the screen cover is even there.

The rest of the operability performs fairly high as well. The volume and home buttons are completely uninhibited by the case, though the sleep button takes a good bit more effort to press than normal. The ports are covered by flaps, these tend to pop out on a particularly hard impact and can be a little bit fussy to get back in, especially the one on the bottom. However, it’s a small price to pay for the extra protection that the rubber sleeve offers.

As for bulk, this case definitely adds some, but in this particular case it’s comforting because you know that bulk is protecting your phone from extreme situations. Surprisingly enough, even with the case on (sans the clip plate), the phone still slides in and out of my front pocket fairly well. The pocket bulk is unsightly but if you’re the kind of person who needs a case this tough, I daresay you wouldn’t care. Further, there’s always the belt clip option, which seems to be quite popular among manual labor workers anyway.

Conclusion

To sum up, there are very few negative things that I can think of to say about the Otterbox Defender Series case. It takes a minute to put on, attracts dust and will make your pocket bulge. But honestly, in light of the fact that you’re making your phone so much more durable than it would be with just about any other case, these are non-issues.

At just under fifty bucks, the Defender Series isn’t cheap, but neither is that iPhone 4 you’re carrying around and if you want to protect it, you’ll have to swallow the cost. Further, when you consider that Apple charges thirty dollars for one silly little outer-edge bumper, paying fifty for this seriously heavy duty case seems like a steal.

Before using this case I hadn’t had much experience with Otterbox products, but I’m officially convinced. I wouldn’t recommend anything else to someone who is prone to drop or otherwise abuse their iPhone.


Summary

A seriously tough case for seriously tough iPhone users. If you're looking for a highly durable, tough as nails case that doesn't make your phone unusable, this is it.

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  • Al

    If you’re buying this for the belt clip… Don’t. It’s comically large and you have to drill a hole in it if you want to use the phone’s camera. Mine also broke last week after about four month’s use.

    The rest of the case is fine, but belt clip? Nope.

  • Terence

    I been using OtterBox since I bought my Iphone 2.5 years ago, and find it to be absolutely great. I have dropped the phone a few times, and no issues whatsoever. I do agree that the belt clip is worthless, which is too bad since all the bulk makes it hard to put the phone in a pocket. Would I get another Otterbox? You bet.

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