Otterbox's Defender offers impressive iPhone protection, ease of use
At a Glance
When Otterbox's $50 Defender Series for iPhone 4S arrived for review, I couldn’t figure out how to get it open to put my iPhone inside. Even after I watched the company’s YouTube video, I thought I must have picked the wrong one. The video says you should remove the case's silicon layer to start, and my case didn't seem to have a silicon layer—it felt rigid all the way around. So I called Otterbox's technical-support line, where the representative managed to avoid laughing at me, as apparently others have been similarly befuddled by the Otterbox’s very solid construction. It really does have a (tough, taut) silicon layer, and peeling it off is possible.
But let’s back up. The Otterbox Defender Series for iPhone 4S consists of several parts. Two separate plastic pieces snap onto either end of your phone. The piece that includes the front of the case includes a plastic, use-through screen cover. The piece that includes the rear of the case sports a felt liner to protect your phone's backside from case-induced scratches.
Snap those pieces together around your iPhone, squeeze it tight to lock several tabs together, and you’re ready to put the silicon layer on. The silicon indeed feels soft and rubbery when it’s off your phone, but once you stretch it over the case's plastic skeleton, the silicone feels surprisingly stiff. That’s neither complaint nor praise—the silicone simply feels like a smart way to protect the iPhone from impact.
I’ve tested many rugged iPhone cases, and too often they're very difficult to get on or take off the phone. The Defender offers a welcome respite from that common frustration. Once you know how, there’s nothing difficult or time-consuming about either process, and you don’t feel like your fingertips are about to snap off during removal.
The Defender covers the iPhone's Home, volume, and Sleep/Wake buttons with overlays of its own; each offers a satisfying use-through click. The case provides rubbery flaps to protect the phone's headphone jack, Ring/Silent switch, and dock-connector port. I found the dock-connector port’s cover a bit fussy to lock into place when closing it, and it was annoying when it hung loose, though I got better at fastening it consistently over time. The other flaps worked acceptably
The Defender ships with a belt holster that can double as an iPhone stand for video watching. For protection, Otterbox recommends that you store your iPhone in the holster with the screen facing in—unless of course, you're using it in stand mode, in which case you flip the phone around and allow the screen to face outward.
The rear of the case sports a circular cutout that reveals the Apple logo. I’m not a fan of this design choice, which is fairly common in iPhone cases these days, but your preference may vary.
I didn’t fear for my iPhone in the slightest when it was in the Defender. The case is strong, snug, and secure, and as an added bonus, it’s not a nightmare to put on and take off. It’s a fine choice for iPhone owners who fear dropping and damaging their phone.