Review: Otterbox Defender and Commuter protective cases

Smartphones, backed by incredible technology, are more susceptible to damage than ever before. Take the Nokia 3310 as a good example – the phone sold millions of units since it launched in 2000, and to date, there are over 126-million units. It has also come to be known as the “indestructible phone” due to its sheer design in being able to withstand dust and hard drops.

Otterbox's Defender protective cover in a green camouflage design (image: Otterbox)

But back then, mobile phones cases and protected covers were not exactly invented yet. Sure, users could buy different designs and colours for their mobile phone, but that was mostly just a different outer casing that replaced the factory-manufactured one.

And as technology increased the power and operational functions, the parts inside the mobile phones, and eventually smartphones, became more prone to being damaged if great care was not taken.

In 1998 a company based in Colorado, US, saw the trend in devices shift and started to produce waterproof boxes for electronic devices and a means of protecting mobile phones from the harsh environments encountered by outdoor enthusiasts.

A number of products and years later, Otterbox recently released their Commuter and Defender range of covers and cases for Samsung’s Galaxy SIII and Apple’s iPhone 5.

Otterbox Defender series

In terms of smartphone protection, users cannot be more protected from the elements than with the Defender. This series of covers make use of an incredibly tough 3-layer protection system that is capable of withstanding rather heavy drops, bumps and shocks.

Getting the smartphone into the cover might be a bit of an exercise in itself, but at the end it will be all worth it. For starters, the phone needs to slip into the first layer of protection – a hard 2-piece polycarbonate inner layer that snaps open and around the device. After that, the inner layer is inserted into a soft silicone layer. Then, the two layers are encased in the last level of protection – an extremely hard belt-clip holster.

Users do not necessarily need to use the belt-clip holster, but it affords them with a sturdy outer layer of protection while keeping the phone on there hip for easy access. It’s built tough for active and outdoor enthusiasts, and it is guaranteed to keep their phone safe from whatever nature can throw at them. The built-in screen protector also protects the mobile phone’s screen from scratches, so when making use of the Defender, the phone is more than likely to survive an nuclear explosion.

It is one of the toughest phone protectors that we have seen in a very long time, and adventurous users will be glad they purchased the Defender the first time their mobile takes a tumble. If users enjoy hiking, mountain climbing or camping, the Defender is the perfect solution. The only drawback to being an adventurer’s phone cover, is that it is not waterproof, but Otterbox has the Pursuit series for that.

With that said, the Defender is not really for home-to-office-to-home users, as the level of protection will be slightly overkill – for that, there is the Commuter.

– Available in a range of colours and designs, as well as camouflage.

Otterbox's Commuter protective case in it's all-black design (image: Otterbox)

Otterbox Commuter series

Removing one layer of protection from the Defender, and users get the Commuter series of protective cases for Samsung’s Galaxy SIII and Apple’s iPhone 4. The Commuter has been developed with everyday use in mind, and affords users the comfort that their smartphone will be safe when it is dropped during normal use.

Making use of a 2-layer protection system, the smartphone is slipped into a soft silicone inner layer, which is then encased in an extremely hard polycarbonate outer layer. But do not be fooled by the appearance of the soft silicone layer, it is still incredibly tough.

The Commuter does change the shape of the smartphone and makes it a little bit thicker as it does not follow the same contour lines of the smartphone such as the Galaxy SIII, but for the level of protection, it is a small sacrifice to make.

Unlike the Defender with its tough built-in screen protector, the Commuter comes with two self-adhesive screen protectors which are actually rather easy to install. Once the case is fitted to the smartphone, it will protect the device from dust, drops and scratches. It is an excellent alternative to the somewhat-flimsy mobile phone protectors on the market at the moment.

As mentioned it does alter that look of the smartphone, but it still manages to keep the mobile device stylish yet rugged. The Commuter also has cleverly-hidden covers for all the ports on the device, such as the headphone port and the charging jack – this protects it from dust creeping in.

 – Available in black, as well as four other two-tone designs.


It is incredibly hard to fault Otterbox’s Defender and Commuter series of covers for smartphones. They do exactly what they were designed to do, and while they might not really survive a close-by nuclear explosion, they will sure do an excellent job at ensuring that communications run smoothly until their untimely demise. The only slight criticism of the Defender and Commuter’s design is that it does make the external buttons (such as the power and volume) on the phone slightly harder to press.

The outer layers of both series are incredibly, and somewhat surprisingly, tough, and users will definitely reap the rewards of having a decent and sturdy form of protection for their mobile phone – after all, a mobile phone is in many occasions the lifeline of many users.

Charlie Fripp – Consumer Tech editor