There are occasions when you must have an iPhone with you, readily available, but the environment is rugged. Examples are construction, airline and military operations. In those cases, one may prefer to have the ultimate in iPhone protection: ports covered, display protected, and a multi-layer, cushioned shells. This case fills the bill
The OtterBox Defender has a good reputation as the ultimate in iPhone protection. The multi-layer protection consists of two pieces of polycarbonate that clip together. One piece has a piece of clear plastic that protects the display. Then a soft outer layer of memory foam (silicone) further assists with drop protection. This arrangement also ensures that dirt and sand cannot ever get to the iPhone.
That assembly then fits into a hard plastic holster that has a rugged belt clip. Once upon a time, I dropped an entire assembly like this onto asphalt with an iPhone 4s, and not only was the case unscathed, but the iPhone was never close to being in danger.
This is the kind of case you use when protection is paramount, and all other considerations—even inconveniences—are set aside.
This is a very good-looking case. (Black and teal.)
With a case like this, there are compromises made for the sake of protection. I mentioned significant benefits above, but there are some practical details to be aware of.
- The plastic that protects the iPhone display doesn't have that cool, glassy feel that the iPhone's oleophobic display does. It feels like the plastic that it is, designed to protect, and so it doesn't have that great sensation on your fingers.
- Along with that, if you make a lot of calls, skin oil will smear the plastic, and, if you're fussy, you'll be cleaning it a lot.
- The combination of the flap that covers the Lightning port and the recess thanks to the inner shell makes it hard to grab the Lightning port by the plug. One is tempted to just yank it out by the cord.
- The included, small pamphlet that shows installation suggests that you can initially peel the memory foam away from the polycarbonate, but because there's a recessed gutter, I found that I had to pry part of it away first with a flat-blade jeweler's screwdriver.
- As with many case like this, it takes a healthy push to press the Sleep and volume buttons.
- For the sake of moisture and dirt protection, there is a clear plastic membrane that covers the Touch ID/Home button. It works fine with Touch ID, but doesn't have great aesthetics because it is so thin and filmy looking.
There's a lot of plastic here.
The cons exist only because of the protection afforded. However, there are many pros.
- In addition to the outer foam, there is an inner thin layer of foam that further cushions the back of the iPhone.
- There is a good looking circular aperture that showcases the Apple logo. Some users don't care about that, but for others, showing off a healthy pride in the iPhone is desirable.
- There are many different color combinations for the slipcover and the inner shell and the holster. So you can design your own case.
- The belt-clip holster can be used as a mini-stand for, say, hands free video watching. It's not clear at first how to do that. The trick involves pushing top of the belt clip as far as it will go; it snaps into a piece of plastic that holds it in place. Press the tab on top to release.
- Speaking of the belt holster, it's very well designed and includes substantial supports on each end. The iPhone in the Defender case snaps into the holster with an authoritative click, yet the iPhone is easy to release for a fast response to a phone call.
- Even more critical is the "U" shaped design on the end of the clip that ensures the iPhone cannot slide off your belt when sitting down. Plus, the belt clip rotates on the holster and has robust detents every 30 degrees.
- The mute, microphone and Lightning ports have flaps to keep out moisture and dirt. The speaker port and earpiece ports are not covered. No affirmations are made about dropping into water, and the open speaker port is certainly something to be concerned about in water immersion. But if one were using this case in a light to medium rain, I think all would be good.
- Every case, no matter what color, has a blacked anti-glare section around the camera lens.
That "U" hook on the end keeps it from sliding off your belt.
Using the Case
Back when the iPhone 4s with its 3.5-inch display was in its prime, the OtterBox Defender case was a modest affair. For reference, I wrote a review in 2011 with similar observations. However, nowadays, with the iPhone 6's 4.7-inch display, the whole assembly is rather large. The three-part case weighs 70 grams (2.47 oz.) and the holster another 58 grams (2.06 oz.) for a total of 128 grams (4.53 oz.). That's just about the same weight as the iPhone 6 itself.
So while protection is still the key, those who may think that perhaps this case is good for everyday use, might want to think twice. Personally, I didn't have any problem wearing the Defender and holster with a 4s, but this modern system doesn't pass the "wife test." I showed it to her, and the response was: "Wow. Super nerdy." Accordingly, I recommend this case for the kinds of operations mentioned at the top of the review, environments so severe that no one is going to care about the looks of the massive gear on your belt.
Below is a shot of an iPhone 5 in a clear plastic, minimal case compared to the iPhone 6 in the Defender case to illustrate the point. Don't get me wrong; I love my iPhone 6. But its size does dictate the size and mass of the new Defender, and that must be taken into account.
L: iPhone 5 in minimalist clear case. R: iPhone 6 in Defender.
Packaging and Docs
The standard OtterBox plastic case is used. All that's included is a small pamphlet that suggests how to take it appart pictorially. The packaging is easy to take apart non-destructively.
Minimal included docs, but videos are online.
OtterBox maintains a page of video docs for all its products, but it hasn't been updated yet for the iPhone 6 series. That's not a big deal—not much has changed since the previous generations. Those videos do, however, require Flash, and I'd rather see them in HTML 5.
There is a one year warranty.
If you are looking for the ultimate in protection for your iPhone in rugged environments, the Defender has all the virtues that you need. Any negatives associated with it are the byproduct of its focus on protection. But unlike times past when one might consider using a Defender for great protection in everyday use, the size of the modern iPhone 6 almost rules that out unless one is a very large person or borders on being a super-nerd.
And that effect will be amplified even more with the Defender for the iPhone 6 Plus.
Altogether, 255 grams (9 oz.) of major gear. Stem to stern: 6 inches.
The bottom line is that this case is superbly designed and built. It's only a little more expensive than some cases which offer much less protection. The two-tone colors are tasteful. There is attention to detail. The level of protection is very high. Users in hostile environments will swear by it. Accordingly, it's a great case. But because of the resulting size and bulk, casual iPhone 6 owners (who are less nerdy) may want to look at other kinds of cases.