A few months back I reviewed the mophie juice pack plus for the iPhone 4/4S, which combines a protective case and a built-in battery that nearly doubles the battery life of the iPhone 4S. In that review, I mentioned the Otterbox Defender for iPhone 4/4S, which I had been using prior to the juice pack plus. I had opted for this heavy-duty case after losing my previous phone to a catastrophic drop-and-shatter episode. I was also familiar with Otterbox’s quality products having used a Defender case for my Motorola XOOM tablet.
After publishing the juice pack plus review, it was brought to my attention that I had never written a review of the Otterbox Defender, which had been given to me by the company. This corrects that oversight.
The Defender iPhone 4 case is a two-layer system. It has a two-piece polycarbonate inner shell with a built-in plastic screen protector and a silicon outer skin that fits over it. The inner shell snaps together with three clips and there is a piece of thin padding on the back piece to cushion the iPhone. The snaps protrude from the case and serve to hold the silicone shell in place. Catering to those who feel the need to show the world they are sporting an Apple product, there is a circular window on the back of the case around the Apple logo covered in clear plastic. There is a large opening in the inner shell for the earpiece, front camera and proximity sensor as well as for the back camera and flash.
The silicone outer skin, oddly, doesn’t cover the entire phone, meaning its overall protection isn’t as good as it could be; the speaker and mic on the bottom of the phone are fully exposed. Having experienced the impact of a fully covered speaker with the mophie juice pack pro (review coming in a few weeks), I can understand the reasoning, but having them completely uncovered is a bit extreme when you are looking for protection from the elements.
In contrast, the headphone jack, silent switch and dock connector are covered by rubber flaps, while the home button, power button and volume up/down buttons are covered by silicone buttons.
The Defender also comes with a belt clip that can rotate 360 degrees. It doubles as a stand for watching video on your iPhone. Not being a fan of belt clips, I still opted to carry the case in my pocket, despite its increased girth.
The biggest complaint I can see users having is the amount by which the Defender case adds weight and size to a “naked” iPhone 4S. Otterbox is more concerned with providing over-engineered protection than trying to protect with minimum materials.
Operating the phone while in the case was not a problem. Touchscreen navigation was smooth and didn’t require a great deal of pressure to flip through screens, tap on apps or type with the on-screen keyboard.
Most importantly, call quality did not appear to suffer, which is something I’ve experienced with other cases.
My biggest gripe with the Defender iPhone case is that the silicone skin did not “fit like a glove.” You really have to mold the skin into place and even then it bulges out in certain spots and doesn’t fit very snugly.
Having lost my last phone to an accidental drop, I know the importance of having a well-protected phone. While I didn’t do a test drop of my iPhone in the Defender, its solid inner polycarbonate shell and exterior silicone skin definitely instill a sense of confidence that my phone would survive some pretty significant shocks. I also like the fact that the Defender has an integrated plastic screen protector, something few phone cases offer.
The question when choosing a phone case comes down to the level of protection you want. Those looking for total protection and willing to sacrifice a bit of portability, should consider the Otterbox Defender iPhone 4/4S case.
$49.95 (Currently $19.40 from Amazon.com)
Wayne A. Thorp, CFA, is the author of “Gadget Corner.” All reviews are based on firsthand experience of the product or service. No third-party compensation is received for opinions on products, services, websites or topics. However, sometimes the author is not required by the manufacturer or their PR firm to return the product under review. In such instances, it is our policy to convey this within the review. The views and opinions expressed in these reviews are strictly those of the author. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider.