Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Comparison Review: Otter Box Defender and Otter Box Commuter

Originally, I was planning on writing a car review for this posting because everyone seems to like the car reviews, and I just so happened to be going on a business trip last week involving the rental of a car for a dizzying day of driving in Houston traffic. So, me and my business associate landed at Hobby Airport on Friday morning after both surviving 4:30 AM alarms to catch Southwest Airlines flight 1 from Love Field in Dallas. Awaiting me in my email inbox upon landing was a nifty email from Avis telling me that my Mazda 5 Sport VAN was waiting for me at space A25. 

I had no idea there was such a thing as a Mazda 5 Sport Van. I mean, seriously? A COMPACT minivan based on arguably a midsize sedan chassis? Who knew?

So, before moving on with the review that I am actually going to give you today, I will sum up my feelings on the Mazda 5 Sport Van as succinctly as possible since there is no way I am going to spend an entire post waxing poetic about this vehicle for bad or worse. 

In short, Mazda must be playing an epic prank on the car buying public. First, there is nothing remotely sporty about the Sport Van. I've seen turtles that looked sportier, and they were faster to boot. The only van in history that can remotely be considered sporty is B.A. Baracas' van from The A-Team. Maybe the Mystery Machine from Scooby Doo. Maybe. Second, I know plastic is cheap, but do you have to remind us by making it LOOK cheap? Third, I was so underwhelmed by the level of strange involved in a SPORT COMPACT MINIVAN, that I didn't even bother taking photos for posterity. Unless you are a soccer mom who can't afford a decent used Windstar or Town & Country and just have to get a cheap minivan, I'm thinking you have better things to do with your money. 

Thus endeth the rant about the Mazda 5 Sport Van. 

Just so you know, that was a total non-sequitur to today's actual review which is, as mentioned in the title of the post, a quick and dirty comparison of the Otter Box Defender and Otter Box Commuter cell phone cases for the iPhone 4S (since I am not yet due for an upgrade to the iPhone 5 at work yet). 

First a brief history, I drank the iPhone Kool-Aid many moons ago (in tech years that is) with the iPhone 3G. I never much bothered with a case for my prior cell phones, and I didn't see much need to start with the iPhone. A co-worker had a snazzy looking, leather, belt clip holster for his iPhone. Being somewhat conscious of the amount of money I spent to enslave myself to the iLeash, I thought I'd give the case a whirl. 

In short, that holster has been collecting dust for far longer that it ever saw use. I'm just not partial to having things on my hip that don't go bang. My solution: slide the iCrackPipe into a pocket and go about my business. That solution stood me in good stead for the most part. Yes, I did drop the phone from time to time. Yes, the phone picked up a few dings and scratches as a result. No, it didn't break. 

Fast forward a few years. The new job hands me a new iHeroin 4S with an iPad speedball chaser, and I merrily go about my business employing the usual habits that have worked so well for me. Barely a month into the new job, I go to put my iOverLord in my pocket before heading into the gym for volleyball when the phone catches on a wayward string securely fastened at both ends of the pocket. Now, the new iPhones are slick. The forward momentum of my hands was apparently too much and overcame the pathetic traction my fingers had on the phone pushing it out of my grasp right onto solid concrete. 

One iBong screen shattered.

Oh NO!!!!

The IT guy was cool about it though. He had me a replacement by mid afternoon the next day. There was some strong hinting that a case might be in order. A lot of the folks in the office used the Otter Box Defenders while one used the Otter Box Commuter. After a brief interlude with another brand of case, I finally broke down and ordered Defenders for both The Queen and I (as The Queen made a royal decree that her Royal Highness must not be deprived of iFruit a moment longer). 

A few quick clicks at Amazon, and two Defenders were on their way here. 

A quick side note here about Amazon. It pays to be observant of the seller. The Defender I bought for me came from one seller while the one purchased for The Queen came from a different Hong Kong. I mention this as the quality of the two Defenders is dramatically different, and I suspect that The Queen's Defender is a Chinese made knock off. 

The Defender can best be described as "robust". It utilizes a hard plastic shell around which a rubber case is stretched for grip and some shock absorption. Some people I have talked with expressed complaints about the difficulty they had getting their cases apart and put back together. I didn't have that problem, but I can see how some people might not "get it" at first glance. The Defender is also delivered with a hard plastic belt clip holster. The belt clip can be rotated a full 360 degrees. It is a little stiff though, and it sounds like you are breaking the clip when you adjust it. 

Another quick note about the belt clip. I'm not sure if this was by design or by coincidence, but the clip can be latched open. I'm not sure what purpose this would serve, but I discovered this feature when I accidentally dropped the phone after it snagged on something and was pulled from my belt due to no grippy by the clippy. 

Incidentally, an iPhone in a Defender case does bounce a little, but it didn't shatter. So, it's all good. 

The last thing I want to comment on about the Defender is the rubber case. It affords excellent grip even with sweaty palms and fingers. The downside of that excellent grip is that, if you are accustomed to dropping your phone in your pocket as I am, it interferes with getting the phone in and out of a pocket. 

So, after a few weeks of carrying the Defender around both with and without the plastic belt holster, I got frustrated with it. With the holster, it just felt awkward to me. Without the holster, I was constantly having to shove my pockets back in. 

Well, enough of that noise. The nets were cast again, and lo and behold the Otter Box Commuter arrived here at the house. 

The Commuter is essentially a slimmer version of the Defender in reverse. By that, I mean that the rubber part on the inside with a plastic case on the outside holding the rubber part in place. 

Here again, the one other user of the Commuter that I know expressed frustration with the ins and outs of getting the case on and off. As before, I didn't have a problem. 

The hard plastic case of the Commuter does not cover 100% of the back and sides of the phone. It leaves plastic off from the obvious places such as the camera and the volume buttons. This allows the user to have some grippyness to hang onto. The hard plastic shell provides adequate protection from drops ('cause I seem to have developed a case of the butter fingers) and allows people like to me to get the phone in and out of pockets without dumping the contents of the pocket on the floor. 

The one thing the Commuter lacks that the Defender does not (which I consider to be a feature instead of a bug) is the belt clip holster. If you want to feel like Batman with a bunch of stuff hanging off your belt, knock yourself out. I prefer less stuff on my belt unless it goes bang.

Summing things up, both the Commuter and Defender offer good to excellent protection against impacts and drops. They come in a variety of colors. If you are looking for one at Walmart or Best Buy, expect to pay between $35 and $40. Searching online will yield prices ranging from $18 (what I paid) to the mid $20 range. I was able to get free shipping on my order from Amazon since the total was over $25. 

If you are looking for a good cell phone case, I would not hesitate to recommend either one depending on your preferred method of carrying a phone. 

FTC Disclaimer: I used my own money to buy these cases. No one at Otter Box or Amazon gave me anything for this review. So, go bother some investment banker. Better yet, go investigate the .Gov for operating a Ponzi scheme. 


  1. I have my iCrack 5 in an Otterbox something or other that my wife bought for me. My wife knows that I break things simply by thinking about the object, so she got me this before I even saw the phone.

    Works great so far.

    1. That Guy, the Otters have a well deserved reputation. That's for sure. Good thing you have a smart wife looking out for you.


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