The Unwired Medic

Teaching EMS providers & other public safety pros about using mobile tech to improve their practice, patient care, continuing education, scene safety, general entertainment, & productivity.

Accessory Review: OtterBox Defender Case


Accessory Review: OtterBox Defender Case

OtterBox Defender Case

I’ve had an OtterBox Defender case for my iPhone 4S for about 6 months now.  I’m rating this phone cover at an 8/10, which for a phone case, I think is excellent.  Here’s my impression of it…


I’d have to say the Defender has been a fantastic case.  It isn’t the perfect case, but it’s primary purpose is to defend your device against the daily grind, which for me can vary from sitting at a desk all day to working in a warehouse, to running 911 calls in the great Nevada desert surrounded by what we affectionately call “poof dust”.   Incidentally, poof dust, a.k.a. alkali dust, is a very proliferative, very fine powdery dust that sits on top of harder ground, is easily blown about by wind, is usually at least an inch thick on the ground and likes to suddenly create clouds around any movement, like your boots walking on it or a car driving across it.  Oh, yes, it sticks to everything and doesn’t wash off easily.  Anyone who has had the pleasure of visiting the Black Rock Desert (home of the annual Burning Man event) can attest to the truth of this.

The holster…

OtterBox Defender Case in Holster StandMy phone gets bumped constantly and the case has the scratches to prove it.  But taking the iPhone out of the case, I never see a mark on it.  The OtterBox Defender comes with an adjustable hard holster that you can snap the case into in many different configurations.  The clip on the holster is my biggest complaint about the Defender.  It rotates 360 degrees in clunky increments and doesn’t swivel easily, which I like since it means my phone stays in either portrait or landscape orientation on my belt.  It also snap-locks open so the user can use the holster and case as a phone easel.  This requires a bit of effort to accomplish as you have to change the clip’s swivel position, and you have to snap the phone in a specific direction (placing it face out with the volume buttons down into the holster, it constantly presses the volume down button).  Okay, I can OtterBox Defender Case in Holster Standlive with having to take about 15 seconds of my time to make this happen.  One position sits perpendicular to the surface you set it on.  This could be useful if you wanted to set it on a countertop and take a picture or video with the front camera.  You can also tilt it to 60 degrees, which is more comfortable and convenient for viewing videos and using FaceTime or another angle for using the front-facing camera.

That clip also has a bit of a habit of locking open when you bump against things.  This can make it easy to dislodge the clip from your belt, causing your phone to drop from your waist to the ground.  That tends to initiate what we affectionately call “the pucker factor” in EMS.  Well, the case is extremely resilient to damage, and still does an excellent job of protecting the device inside, but that doesn’t change the fact that the user will still cringe at the thought that this fall will cause the perfect hit that cracks the screen or dislodges some internal, non-replaceable component, thereby rendering the phone inert.

That clip also needs a bit of refinement if it is to be useful in public safety.  When I wear business casual clothing, my belts tend to be of a lower profile, so it works great.  When I dress a bit more utilitarian, such as for field work, in uniform, or wearing a reinforced belt for a concealed weapon, the bottom of the “J” shape doesn’t fully seat around the thicker belts, so it tends to slip away, and I spend a noticeable portion of my day pushing it back into place to ensure it doesn’t fall to the ground, or heaven forbid, so I don’t lose the whole bloody phone.

Installing the case…OtterBox Defender Case Components

This is a bit cumbersome, as the instructions for how to open the case to insert the phone are tucked inside the case, so you have to experiment to open the case without breaking the plastic or tearing the rubber sleeve surrounding the plastic.  A smarter packaging move would be to put these instructions on the outside of the case, but still inside the retail packaging.  I felt like I nearly broke the case trying to do this.  Once you opened it up, the instructions are essentially useless, as you have already reverse engineered the case enough to figure out how to place the phone inside and reseat the plastic and rubber shell.  Don’t be daunted.  If you haven’t damaged the case, at this point, it will be perfectly damage resilient once you reseal the phone inside.


Installing the OtterBox Defender CaseThere is a great (but non-replaceable, screen protector to go over the top of the phone, already built-in to the case.  Fortunately, the phone can be installed into the holster with the screen facing the body, rather than away from the body.  To me, this is no small benefit, as I have shunned purchasing many other cases due to the screen being left exposed to the world while in a holster.  That also leaves the contents of your screen open to Peeping Tom’s.  You can still do this with the Defender, as it allows you to mount the case into the holster in 4 different orientations, but at least you have the choice.  Installing the OtterBox Defender CaseThe screen protector, as is the case with nearly all screen protectors, sometimes interferes with scanning a barcode from my screen using the Key Ring app, but that isn’t anything I can fault OtterBox for.  That has happened on three different phones I own, and the other two don’t have OtterBox cases.  Persistence and cleaning the screen cover often helps.


There are a few soft port covers to protect the vibrate/ring switch, the headphone port, and the charging/sync port on the phone.  The iPhone 4S I use has a very broad charging/sync port, unlike the many Android, Blackberry, and OtterBox Defender iPhone 4S Case USB Port CoverWindows phones, which almost exclusively use the tiny microUSB ports.  The rubber sleeve over the plastic case makes closing this particular port a chore.  It also prevents you from charging the iPhone while it is still inserted into the holster.  I’ll often reach down to grab the phone to find this port cover has slipped off the port and is wide open.  The other soft ports work pretty well.  Occasionally, I will go to close the vibrate/ring switch cover and the rubber sleeve will unseat itself from the plastic on the front screen frame, and I have to fiddle with reseating it to maintain proper seal and protection, but it isn’t too big of a concern.

In summary…

The OtterBox Defender case lives up to its name.  I have seen phones in this line of cases go sailing across rooms in their best imitation of a baseball come out completely unscathed.  I’m not the biggest fan of the clip, and easel feature on the holster is essentially useless unless they refine the design to allow a more natural viewing angle.  The port covers can be temperamental and irritating.  None of those concerns is enough to dissuade me from buying another one.  The case adds nearly double the girth to the phone, but that has never bothered me, since I know that additional thickness = better protection for my tech toys.  The case design is innovative.  It has kept my phone from suffering damage through a rainstorm.  It keeps most (but not all) of the dust out.  I’d still recommend taking the phone out of the case at least quarterly to clean off the dirt and gunk that will eventually build up inside any non-hermetically sealed case.  After 6 months of using it, my phone is still as sparkly as the day it came out of the box.

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