Otterbox Defender Case for iPhone 5 in Review – Heavy weight champ?

When it comes to iPhone cases that offer the most protection, Otterbox’s Defender series cases are among some of most popular. From the iPhone 3G to the iPhone 5, the Defender has no doubt saved countless devices from accidental falls and drops. Slim and elegant it is not, but it’s added bulk and built-in screen protector will give users even more peace of mind – especially when it comes to the iPhone 5, a beautifully crafted phone whose sides are highly prone to scuffs and scratches.

Design and Installation

If your everyday iPhone case aims to look sexy while providing some level of protection, the Defender’s motto is to serve and protect. But that’s not to say that it looks ugly – far from it actually.

Essentially comprised of two main components, an inner shell made of tough polycarbonate snaps onto the iPhone 5 front and back, and an outer silicone sleeve that fits around it like a glove. As you’d expect, the area above the volume and sleep buttons are moulded precisely and pressing down on them requires just a wee bit more force. Meanwhile, the silent toggle, earphone jack and lightening port are all covered up securely with flaps that can be peeled back. They’re easy to pull back and are well integrated into the case. And the home button is covered by the same rubbery material as the outer jacket, giving it a soft cushiony feel whenever it’s used.

Around the back, a circular hole is cut out to expose the phone’s Apple logo, and a large enough area is left uncovered for the camera and flash. A near triangular cutout can also be found in the front, where the ear speaker and light sensor are located. As mentioned, the Defender has a built in screen protector, which is attached to the inner shell and sits directly above the iPhone 5’s own display.

The tricky part about installing the case is opening the inner shell to fit the iPhone 5. In total, there are a total of 7 snap-on points that have to be undone, which can be rather difficult at first. But with a bit of practice and over time, it does get easier. Other than that, slipping the silicone jacket over it is a breeze.

Using the Defender case

The most obvious thing when first picking up the Defender Case is how much thicker it’ll make the iPhone 5. In fact, it doubles the thickness (16.8mm vs 7.6mm), and as such, going from bare naked without a case to packing the Defender will take some getting used to. Once you do though (which for me wasn’t more than a day or so), it feels nice in the hand and knowing that there’s that extra layer of protection certainly feels comforting. Good thing too because I’ve dropped my share of gadgets over the years. In fact, just over a week ago, I accidentally dropped my iPhone from about 4 feet off the ground and the Defender took the blow like a champ. To my surprise, it just bounced off the concrete as the silicon exterior absorbed most of the shock. If I hadn’t used a case (or even just a flimsy one), I likely would have been looking at some nasty scratches along its easy-to-scuff sides – or worse, a cracked screen.

As for the built-in screen protector, the clarity is good and touch responsiveness is on par with the ZAGG invisibleSHIELD – which is to say very good. After typing on it for a short while, I barely noticed that it’s even there. It is quite a magnet for fingerprints though, so be prepared to wipe it down several times a day if smudges here and there bother you.

Also, because of the thickness of the case and the slightly raised sides around the screen, using the iPhone with just one hand is more difficult. Specifically, I find that my thumb isn’t quite able to reach all the way across the screen like I could without a case. I’d therefore need to stretch out my palm and extend the thumb a bit to reach the other end of the display. Not a deal breaker by any means, but it’s downer nonetheless.

The Holster

Included in the package is a holster, which is solidly made and can be clipped onto a belt, pocket or bag. The case snaps on/off with ease and the fit is perfect. The clip can be rotated 360 degrees, so you can choose to have the iPhone holstered vertically or horizontally. And to make things easier, it can be inserted either way as the groove for the locking mechanism is located on both sides of the case. Personally I’m not much of a holster guy, but if I were, I can definitely see myself using it while travelling for work.

A Quick note on the Commuter case

If the Otterbox Defender is somewhat too bulky for your tastes, the Commuter Series Case is a nice alternative. Despite the lack of the inner hardshell casing, the Commuter still offers plenty of protection, with flaps to cover the earphone jack and lightning port and an adhesive screen protector (dry install) to apply yourself.

Installation involves slipping the iPhone into the inner rubber layer, and then snapping on the exterior shell from the back. This design is what gives it its two-toned look, should you go with a color other than all black (there are 8 color choices in all). While this is lighter and more compact than the Defender, I still prefer the bigger sibling due to the double layer of protection, and I just like its feel more in my hand.

Final thoughts

When it comes to providing the iPhone 5 with ample protection, the Otterbox Defender case gets the job done. I’ve tried and owned my share of iPhone cases over the years and none have given me the peace of mind that the Defender has. Knowing that I can drop my sleek iPhone 5 and not worry about dings and dents is a great feeling. It does have it’s drawbacks (harder to stretch thumb across screen for the average hand and screen protector seemingly attracts more fingerprints), but if you’re in the market for a serious case that can take a beating and don’t mind the added bulk, this right here is worth the investment.

Note: As of writing, Amazon is currently selling the OtterBox Defender Series Case for just $21.25, down from the MSRP of $49.95.

Grab It Rating - 4/5

What’s to like:

  • Bulked up protection for iPhone 5
  • Screen protector works well
  • Port covers keep help keep dust out
  • Still a relatively light case
  • Comes with solidly made Holster
  • Inner shell has layer of foam to cushion iPhone

What’s not to like:

  • Harder for thumb to reach across the screen
  • Fingerprints on screen protector
  • iPhone 5 no longer looks sexy
  • Retail price of $49.95 higher than most cases

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