The new OtterBox Defender case is designed to protect the iPad mini in extreme conditions. A polycarbonate interior with padding, a tough silicone back, a built-in screen protector and an outer polycarbonate shield -- which doubles as a versatile stand -- all combine to create a case for a seriously rugged environment. Plus the materials are first-rate, and it looks great.
My wife used to work for the U.S. Antarctic program. She spent many months on an icebreaker at sea and also trips to McMurdo and the Amundsen-Scott South Pole station. If she were on a trip like that again, I'd suggest using this case for her iPad mini.
One of the key design concepts here is that not only is there a tough shell around the back combined with a built-in screen protector, but a clever stand and face plate, called a shield stand, clips over the display to provide complete outer coverage for travel. After you remove that shield stand, you can deploy a clever folding mechanism inside that allows the iPad mini to be set upright in several configurations.
As a result, the shield stand that protects so well during travel does double duty when deployed. I think this is a great design and will appeal to all kinds of people who need to take an iPad into perilous environments. One could also feel good about deploying it for a youngster's iPad mini.
Mechanism inside shield stand provides multiple tilt angles and orirntations.
Let's start with the major pieces out of the box. In the diagram below, there major components: the shield stand on the left, the primary inner case and the instruction sheet. Image
L-R: Shield stand, inner case (with screen protector, padding), instructions
Looking at the center component, it, in turn separates into three more pieces. From left to right, the silicone back shell, the padded, polycarbonate inner back, and the screen protector front piece. The iPad mini is inserted between the two pieces on the right, and then the silicone outer shell wraps around the back.
Details of inner shell: L-R Silicone back, inner shell pieces.
A series of ingenious clips allows the case to snap together nicely and yet provide for fairly easy disassembly. I took the case completely apart in about 90 seconds without much trouble. Even though you need to unlatch the clips properly on removal, a small flat blade screw driver can help pry the edges apart. So long as the clips are released.
Also, note that, out of the box, the silicone shell seems strongly, hopelessly attached the inner pieces. However, that's just due to the design and how it curves around and grabs. Once you get it pried off a little in one spot, the rest comes off easily. An instruction sheet provides details.
The shield stand can clip over the back as a cradle or it can clip over the front for travel. When used as a cradle, there are five ways the iPad can be displayed: Two orientations x two tilt angles -- or flat, as a back plate with anti-slip feet.
When a case is complex, like this one, a lot depends on the materials selected: how they feel, how they function, how they work together, and how durable they are. In this case the silicone back is thick and nicely textured. It doesn't seem to pick up debris like some other silicone cases I've tested.
Home button cover: the silicone is soft but thick, firm, tough and textured.
It also wraps around the inner polycarbonate well and holds its shape. It's thick and firm.
The inner folding mechanism on the face plate, the shield stand, is sturdy and doesn't feel like it's going to break the first time used. On the opposite side, there are soft feet. This doesn't seem really necessary at first, but it does serve to keep the whole system from slipping on a slanted surface. That's because the polycarbonate is hard and smooth.
Detail inside Shield Stand: mechanism is robust
So what I'm saying here is that the design exhibits a good balance of design and materials selection, and that's something you can only come to appreciate by handling it.
This case comes in black, crevasse and blushed (the one reviewed here.) There is a one year warranty. It weighs 10.7 oz. (304 g), so it weighs almost as much as the iPad mini itself. It will not protect the iPad mini against water or immersion.
The Screen Protector
As described above, the inner polycarbonate shell has a built-in screen protector. I tested that kind of system previously with the OtterBox Defender for the iPhone 4S, and had no problem. In this test, however, I found something interesting. While there's no problem operating the iPad mini with a finger or a conventional stylus with a rubber nib, there is a problem with a microfiber tip, used in the LYNKtec products or the stainless steel tip, used in the GoSmart products. They can't seem to grab and interact with the display, most notable when trying to scroll.
I communicated with all the developers about this, and the best explanation was from Jae Son at GoSmart:
The Apple Mini uses a new touch screen technology called in-cell where the touch screen is built into the display and not a separate layer on top of the screen. There could be two reasons for the performance degradation with a protective layer which makes the capacitive "signal" smaller since it is further away. The new incell technology is not as sensitive as the traditional touch screen technology. Secondly, the resolution of the in-cell touch screen is much higher than the traditional touch screen, so the new algorithms are looking for a continuous area of strong signal."
If you are committed to using these two advanced technology styluses, you may want to consider 1) a different case, 2) prying lose and removing the screen protector from its shell. That's probably a destructive, one-time process. You'll still have the shield stand to protect the iPad mini during travel.
Resting inside the shield stand (which can also clip over the face.)
If you're looking to provide some serious protection for an iPad mini in rigorous conditions, travel, for children, or because you tend to drop things, this is a great case. It's made of first-rate materials, is designed to last, has great versatility with the shield stand, and is competitively priced.
Just be aware of the stylus issue described above. If you intend to use only your fingers, you're fine. If there is any negative, and it's really just the other side of a positive, this case requires some patience and care to carefully assemble and disassemble. That's because the coverage is so thorough.
OtterBox just keeps making great cases.