Review: OtterBox iPhone 4 Defender Series Case

This 3 part case provides solid protection for your iPhone. (March 28th, 2011)

The OtterBox iPhone 4 Defender Series Case turned out to be the perfect case for my recent ski trip. It protects the phone from drops, splashes of water or snow, and other acts of nature.

Electronista Rating:

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Product Manufacturer: OtterBox

Price: $49.95 US

The Good

  • Rugged case.
  • Multiple layers help seal all but speakers and microphones from moisture and dirt.
  • Protects your iPhone.

The Bad

  • Silicone outer case can be cumbersome when resealing.
  • Screen protector not as responsive or oil-resistant as iPhone screen.
  • Bottom of case requires constant unsealing and resealing, leading to loose fit.
  • Slim phone becomes bulky.

Fort Collins, CO based OtterBox makes iPhone, iPod, smart phone, and waterproof cases that are high impact and ultra-protective. Their iPhone 4 Defender Series Case seemed perfect for my recent ski trip. My concerns included dropping my iPhone in wet snow, wet air, or falling on ice with the phone between myself and the ground. This good-looking case promises to battle all the elements.

The dual layer case includes a three-part system: A front and back hard case, a soft felt interior that protects the iPhone from case scratches, and a silicone skin.

Otterbox Defender

Red Otterbox Defender Series


The front of the interior case includes a built-in screen protector that initially I liked least about the case. I think screen protectors are a hindrance to the experience of the iPhone's excellent, touch-sensitive, oleophobic screen. I was pleasantly surprised to find it worked better than I imagined, though there is a performance hit. The iPhone is a bit less sensitive to touch and gestures, and much less sensitive to the screen edges when moving an app from one screen to another. It works okay overall and doesn't create bubbles like some protective screens. The surface has a bit more drag than the iPhone screen and collects smudges. What you have to consider is whether the protection is worth the slight aggravations.

Otterbox Defender Pieces

Defender Series Pieces with iPhone


After you have the two-piece inner case clicked and snapped together, you wrap the silicone outer case around the phone, squeezing it into slots built into the hard case. Once it is all put together it is nicely sealed, with the iPhone protected by both hard plastics and soft silicone layers.

Otterbox Defender Front

Front View


It is water resistant, with a couple of small exceptions. The case leaves the bottom speaker, microphone, and the top noise-cancelling microphone open to the elements. The speakerphone/earphone and the front-facing camera, the rear camera, and flash are also unprotected, likely due to the problems of adding plastics on top of optics and LEDs - both would almost certainly degrade the camera's performance, so it is a wise decision in my view. The unprotected elements have tiny openings, with just enough space for the phone to perform properly.

Otterbox Defender Pieces

Unprotected Speakers


Coverings protect the volume, mute, and power switches and a resealable tab covers the 30-pin port on the bottom of the phone. The silicone covering the switches and the home button give them a rubbery, dampened feel that is not as nice as the iPhone's precision when uncovered, but it is protective.

Otterbox Defender Pieces

Protected Ports


The case seems built like a tank, which may be a problem for some buyers, because it is thick and bulky. This case is not a fashion statement, but is built to protect the phone. To OtterBox's credit, they make protective design decisions that result in rugged cases.

The Defender Series Case has protected my phone from a number of drops and water splashes. The sealed surfaces and multiple layers of the case do a great job of keeping water out, unless it suffers a direct hit to the small, unprotected areas. I feel confident about the case's ability to absorb shocks and spills. It is simply superb for high intensity sports or activities, like skiing, snowboarding, hiking or rock climbing. If you want to take your iPhone into rugged terrain, then this is a terrific case for keeping the fragile phone protected. I'll note here that OtterBox wisely posts in noticeable spots on its website that the case is not waterproof. This case it isn't going to save you from dunking the phone in a pool or lake, but it likely will protect your phone from the random splash or fall in snow.

The case does have some foibles. The silicone has enough grab to keep it stationary on many surfaces, including slight inclines. That grab, and the case bulk make it a bit aggravating to put in a shirt or a snug pants pocket, however, loose pockets work fine. The small openings to the front and rear cameras do pose a problem when it comes to dust. They are recessed and narrow enough that you can't easily reach the surfaces for cleaning, and dust on a camera lens is a bad thing, causing reduced contrast and light diffraction. It affects the FaceTime camera more, which I don't often use, so it is not a tremendous aggravation. With an occasional Q-tip cleaning it stays reasonably clean. If you expose it to dust regularly, it could become problematic.

Otterbox Defender Pieces

Dust in Small Openings


The case requires that you unseal the 30-pin connector flap each time you charge the phone. After lots of use the edges near the rear cutout area become loose and don't seat properly, because they have so little space to anchor themselves. It is a small quibble, but it is noticeable, in a slightly raggedy way. It is the only spot where the silicone outer layer doesn't seat well.

The silicone self-seals all around the case using guides in the interior hard case. Silicone being soft, it will sometimes pull loose in use, which is a bit of a distraction, but a minor one. A slightly stiffer silicone might give better performance.

While the case does have faults in convenience and isn't fully water sealed due to microphone and camera openings, it gives the best protection for your iPhone in rugged or dangerous terrain. If you are going somewhere that causes you concern for your phone, but you want or need it with you, this is an excellent case to use. The bulk and protective screen take a little getting used to, but I think it gives you the great chance of surviving a bad fall or exposure to damaging elements. I recommend the iPhone 4 Defender Series Case, which comes in blue, black, or two-toned colors with pink, purple and red. Usually companies send us products to evaluate, but I bought this product from an online retailer and paid half the price from the suggest manufacturer's price.

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by EV Hunt


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