OtterBox iPhone cases shootout: which one should you get?

By , Feb 11, 2016

otterbox-tag-centered

OtterBox is one of the most renowned case-makers in the smartphone industry, having a reputation for making cases that can withstand even the greatest of abuse from various kinds of treatment.

Among two of their most popular cases on the market are the OtterBox Defender Series and the OtterBox Commuter Series, and in this piece, we’ll talk about the ups and downs of each. As a bonus, we’ll even give you a look at OtterBox’s new Statement Series case.

All of these reviews will feature cases for the 5.5-inch iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus because that’s the model of iPhone I have available to test these cases with. The actual product may vary based on the iPhone model you’re using, whether it’s the smaller iPhone 6 and iPhone 6s Plus, or the even smaller yet iPhone 5s, 5, 5c, etc.

Please keep in mind that there are also different color choices available, and I’ve chosen black on black for all my cases because that’s my style when it comes to using cases with my iPhone.

OtterBox Defender Series: The tank for any job

otterbox-defender-series-back

OtterBox’s signature case is certainly the Defender Series case; it’s got that signature round circle on the back that exposes the shiny Apple logo on the back of your iPhone. This is the case you see most OtterBox users using on a day-to-day basis. It’s designed with so much protection that you could probably drive your car over your iPhone and most likely not see any damage.

The case is designed with a durable plastic inner shell that is encased with thick and rugged rubberized sleeve. It’s really hard to imagine any kind of shock ever getting to your iPhone when you feel how thick this rubber sleeve is. All inside the plastic shell are light padding material inserts that your iPhone rests on to prevent scratching inside the case from friction.

I’ve personally used this case for ages before using what I use now, and I feel that it’s something I could depend on when I really need it. In fact, sometimes when I know I’ll be doing something rough, I choose to install this case on my iPhone just for the peace of mind.

Accessibility of buttons and ports

The rubber sleeve covers everything from the back and sides of the iPhone, including the buttons and the ports:

otterbox-defender-series-ringer-switch-closed

otterbox-defender-series-power

otterbox-defender-series-ports-closed

Although this provides a very decent amount of protection, it’s also one of the downfalls of the case. The thick rubberized coating can make it a pain to press the buttons because it requires a lot of force with your finger to actuate them. The ports and ringer/silent switch are also covered, which means you have to lift the flaps to get to each of the ports and the ringer/silent switch.

Fortunately, however, the ports are very effective at preventing lint and other debris from collecting in the Lightning port, headphone jack, and ringer silent switch like it loves to do when there’s no protection at all, and the OtterBox Defender Series also includes cut-outs for the microphone and speaker on the bottom of the iPhone so you don’t lose out on sound quality, whether incoming or outgoing.

otterbox-defender-series-ringer-switch-open

otterbox-defender-series-ports-open

Accessibility of cameras and sensors

In terms of accessibility to the iPhone’s cameras when using the OtterBox Defender series, you’ll be happy to know that the case keeps a large enough opening not to interfere with your device’s photography and videography capabilities, and that it won’t cause any glare when using the LED flash.

On the back of the case, the Apple logo is even covered by a thin strip of plastic to prevent scratching of the metal.

otterbox-defender-series-camera

otterbox-defender-series-front-camera

Accessibility of Touch ID

The OtterBox Defender Series case comes with a built-in screen protector, but it’s worth noting that it’s a plastic screen protector and is prone to waviness. The screen protector also covers the Touch ID sensor, but despite what you might think, the Touch ID sensor can still pick up your fingerprint through the flexible piece of plastic that is covering the sensor at all times.

otterbox-defender-series-front

otterbox-defender-series-touch-id

Note: It’s a good idea to re-calibrate your Touch ID sensor when using a case like this, because it’s better that your Touch ID sensor gets used to reading your fingerprint through the plastic cover than trying to read a regular fingerprint through a plastic cover that could cause interference. Over all, taking this extra step can help speed up your Touch ID performance when using this case.

The included holster doubles as a kickstand

Now one thing to note about the OtterBox Defender Series case is, well, it’s a brick. There’s hardly any chance of you putting this thing in your pocket in your pants unless you’ve got the baggiest pants known to man, but that’s okay, because this case comes with a very utilitarian holster that doubles as a kickstand, as well as additional protection on the side of your iPhone of your choice.

otterbox-defender-series-kickstand-back

otterbox-defender-series-kickstand-front

The holster’s belt clip fastens to any pocket, waist band, or book bag, and ratchets in any direction you need it to in order to get the perfect reaching angle for you. I personally find that the kickstand mode is perfect for watching videos, looking at photograph slideshows, and having FaceTime calls.

Synopsis of OtterBox Defender Series

The OtterBox Defender series is a true tank of a case. It’s made one for someone that demands more heavy duty protection than the average Joe, and works great for people who work in dirty or rough job conditions, such as car mechanics and construction workers just to name a few.

But you don’t have to be a heavy-duty employee to use the OtterBox Defender Series case; it’s also great protection for kids, who you know darned well are going to be rough or careless with their stuff because they’ll rarely think about the fact that they’re holding a device costing well over half of a grand.

Here are some pros and cons of the case:

Pros:

  • Very durable outer rubber shell keeps most drops and shock at bay.
  • Inner plastic shell keeps iPhone secure under pressure and movement from falls.
  • Built-in screen protector offers additional screen protection.
  • Port covers prevent dust and debris from accumulating in small spaces.
  • Holster makes carrying easier and doubles as a kickstand.
  • Huge cut-outs make room for many third-party headphone/speaker/Lightning cables.

Cons:

  • Thick case makes the iPhone harder to put in your pocket.
  • Case’s port covers make docking stations incompatible.
  • Screen protector is wavy and can scratch easily.
  • Incompatible with tempered glass screen protectors without modification.
  • Rubber outer shell collects dust easily.

If you need protection, I would rate this case at an easy 5/5, but if you’re a minimalist, I’ll tell you now; you’re going to hate it. The OtterBox Defender Series case for iPhone 6 Plus and iPhone 6s Plus can be had for $39.49 on Amazon.

OtterBox Commuter Series: Medium duty without compromise

otterbox-commuter-series-rear

If the OtterBox Defender Series seems like a little too much for you, and we could understand why that may be the case (no pun intended), then we think you’ll really like this next one; the OtterBox Commuter Series.

This case is designed as a medium-duty case with similar protection qualities as the Defender Series, but is made to be easier to transport and much more minimalistic. Unlike the Defender Series, which had a rubber exterior and plastic interior, the Commuter series is the other way around, with a plaster exterior and a rubber interior.

Like the Defender Series, this case sports the iconic circular cut-out around the Apple logo on the back of your iPhone so it can still shine in the light.

Personally, this is my favorite of the OtterBox case lineup, because it’s relatively lightweight and slim compared to others, and it’s also still got many of the protective qualities of the Defender Series without being as bulky.

Accessibility of buttons and ports

With the outer shell being plastic this time around, the parts of the case surrounding the buttons and ports on the iPhone are crafted a little differently with the Commuter series.

otterbox-commuter-series-ringer-switch

otterbox-commuter-series-power-button

otterbox-commuter-series-ports-closed

Unlike the Defender Series, the Commuter Series leaves the iPhone’s ringer/silent switch accessible at all times, but the ports at the bottom of the iPhone are still covered by flaps that you can open or close to prevent dust from accumulating in tight areas and causing problems with using the ports later down the line.

The power button and volume buttons are covered by rubber boots, but they’re significantly easier to press than they were in the Defender Series case due to the fact that the rubber layer is much thinner (and harder).

The cut-outs for the speaker grille and microphone are plenty large enough to prevent sound quality issues when you’re trying to have a phone call with someone, or watch videos on your iPhone, so that’s another good feature of this case that many defensive cases lack.

otterbox-commuter-series-ports-open

The cut-outs for the Lightning and 3.5mm headphone jack are large enough to fit even the larger third-party accessories to your iPhone without the worry of fitment being an issue.

Accessibility of camera, Touch ID, and sensors

What you’ll see right off the bat from looking at the front are some of the biggest differences between the Defender Series and the Commuter Series. The Commuter Series, which is a medium-duty protective case, is 100% open on the front, meaning there is no integrated screen protector, and no part of the case covers any part of the front of the iPhone whatsoever.

Fortunately, this means you have very easy access to the front-facing camera, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, speaker, and Touch ID sensor, and it also means you can more easily use third-party screen protectors with your iPhone (Commuter Series even includes a stick-on screen protector in the box).

otterbox-commuter-series-front

otterbox-commuter-series-camera

In terms of the rear-facing camera, you’ll find the same design as on the Defender series, with a cut-out large enough to not interfere with your photographs and not to get in the way of the rear-facing LED flash when you need to use it.

Because the Touch ID sensor isn’t being covered, you won’t have to re-calibrate the Touch ID sensor often, and it’s going to be much faster at unlocking your iPhone in most respects.

Synopsis of OtterBox Commuter Series

The OtterBox Commuter series is a Defender Series case gone on a diet. It’s still got plenty of drop and shock protection to keep you satisfied, but it sacrifices a little frontal protection and dust protection to make for a slimmer fit that’s much easier to stuff into your pocket. This improves the portability of the case, as well as the practicality in most everyday environments.

I often refer to this case as the minimalist’s Defender Series because it’s a good mix between protection and minimalism. It’s going to protect you from drops and shock, but it’s not a case that’s going over the top in protection. I could probably do without the dust guards, but when I realize how little I actually have to charge my iPhone 6 Plus because of the large battery, it suddenly doesn’t seem like that big of a deal.

Here are some of the most notable pros and cons of this case:

Pros:

  • Lightweight and slim design make this a practical defensive case.
  • Easy access to entire front side of your iPhone.
  • Plastic outer layer makes slipping in and out of your pocket easy.
  • Dual-layer protection is effective against drops and shock.
  • Affordable price puts this case in the reach of anyone.
  • Compatibility with third-party screen protectors.

Cons:

  • No holster to hold the iPhone out of your pocket or use as a kickstand.
  • Apple logo on rear of iPhone is exposed to the elements.
  • Ringer/silent switch is exposed to the elements.
  • Docking stations are incompatible due to the port flaps.

In terms of protection, the OtterBox Commuter Series gets a 4/5 from me, but it’ll definitely appeal more to the minimalists out there than the Defender Series ever would. It’s still my favorite case in the OtterBox series though and can be bought on Amazon for $22.61.

OtterBox Statement Series: Minimalistic, and a little bit sassy too

otterbox-statement-series-rear

The OtterBox Statement Series is the newest of OtterBox’s case offerings. It’s a little different than your traditional OtterBox case, as you can well take in for yourself from the images you’re about to see. It’s intended more or less for minimalists out there looking for a way to have protection, but still be able to see the beautiful craftsmanship of their iPhones.

So… why do you call it “sassy?” – The Statement Series case is a bit of a mix between utility and fashion. The bottom rear portion of the case is covered with premium leather accent, which helps with your ability to grip the case when you’re holding your iPhone with just one hand. The leather makes the case bite back a little in terms of fashion, so that’s why I chose to call it sassy.

I think it’ll appeal to female audiences more than males, but the Statement Series case is one that can be enjoyed by both sexes depending on the environment that the iPhone will be used in. Since it’s a minimalist case, I think it works well around the office and for people who are incredibly careful.

Lacking any real layer technology, it doesn’t have the same drop protection standards as either of the two cases we’ve discussed above, but the case does get OtterBox’s seal of approval for drop testing, and its rubberized plastic bumper-like sides help absorb some shock from drops.

Accessibility of buttons and ports

In terms of reaching all the buttons and ports, they’re essentially all exposed in the Statement Series. The holes are cut a little smaller, which means some third-party accessories might be limited in fitment, but we haven’t come across any that didn’t fit just yet, so it’s a good start for us so far!

The ringer/silent switch is exposed to the elements, just like in the Commuter Series, but the volume buttons and power button are still covered by a rubber boot that helps protect them from scratches or dents.

otterbox-statement-series-ringer-switch

otterbox-statement-series-power-button

otterbox-statement-series-ports

The speaker grille and microphone are far more accessible than either of the two previous cases, so what you’ll notice here are slight improvements in sound quality (although not too much, because muffling was hardly even a problem in the earlier cases).

Accessibility of camera, Touch ID, & sensors

With a completely wide-open front, your touch screen, Touch ID sensor, front-facing camera, proximity sensor, ambient light sensor, and front speaker are all very easy to access without any part of the case hindering your reaching capabilities. With all the open space, you can even fit a third-party screen protector if you wanted one.

otterbox-statement-series-front

otterbox-statement-series-camera

The rear-facing camera, as well as the rear-facing microphone and rear-facing LED flash are all wide open thanks to a nice large cut-out on the rear of the case that prevents glare and other issues form hindering good photography or videography.

Also, because the back of the case is clear, the Apple logo shows without any issues, but is still protected by a layer of plastic to prevent scratches on the surface. Never fear though, even the clear plastic is scratch resistant, so it’ll stay new-looking for a good, long time.

Synopsis of OtterBox Statement Series

The OtterBox Statement Series is a case made for those that need a minimalist-style case that still offers some protection, but as an added bonus, you get a strip of leather that makes gripping the phone in your hand easier. It’s not even in the same realm of protection as the two other OtterBox Series cases we’ve shown you above, but it’s something new and different that may be worth checking out if you need a case that fits into a bag or purse more easily.

Personally, I’m not so much of a fan of cases with clear backs, and I prefer black cases. The Statement Series case isn’t my first choice for iPhone cases because it’s not as protective as others and I don’t really need the added fashion statement of leather on my cases, but that’s not to say someone else wouldn’t enjoy its features.

We’ll walk you through the pros and cons of this case below:

Pros:

  • Lightweight and easy to fit in a pocket or purse.
  • Leather strip not only looks nice, but adds grip.
  • Decent scratch and impact protection.
  • Clear design lets you see the beauty of your iPhone.
  • Full access to all features of your iPhone.

Cons:

  • Much less drop protection than other cases on the market.
  • Leather strip feels out of place on the plastic case.
  • Port cut-outs are a little bit more restrictive, limiting some accessories.
  • Pricey for what it is.

The OtterBox Statement Series case gets about a 2.5/5 from me. I guess you could say it’s not really my style of case, and because it lacks some of the protective features of other OtterBox cases, it’s not really in the same class as those ones are. On the other hand, it appeals more to minimalists than the cases above because it’s slimmer and more revealing and is available for $44.95 on OtterBox’s website.

Choosing the right OtterBox for you

If you were to ask me what OtterBox case you should get, chances are I would recommend the Commuter Series case. The thing is, it’s a very good platform because it’s highly defensive and offers the best of both worlds for protection and minimalism. That’s not to say it’s a minimalistic case, because it’s not, but it’s definitely a case you’ll be able to fit into your pocket and still be confident it can take a drop.

I would recommend the OtterBox Defender Series to people who have professions in dirty or abusive environments, such as where there will be a lot of dust particles in the air, lots of dropping, or lots of potential crushing or smashing. This case is ready to take on this environment, and will keep the screen from getting scratched, keep the iPhone from breaking in drops, and keep the ports from getting clogged with debris.

The Commuter Series could also be a good case in these environments, but it lacks the screen protection. Fortunately, it’s wide-open on the front, so you could use a third-party screen protector, such as the OtterBox Alpha Glass tempered glass screen protectors, which just so happen to be carefully tailored to many OtterBox cases and can be had from Amazon for just $17.94.

You really have to ask yourself what’s more important – protection, or practicality. How likely are you to drop your iPhone on a daily basis? How likely will it be that dust accumulation could cause problems for your ports? Do you want slim, or heavy duty? These are questions you need to answer for yourself before you can make any big decisions on a case purchase, but when you do make a decision, you can head over to Otterbox’s website.

What is your favorite OtterBox Series case? Share in the comments.

  • Share:
  • Follow:
  • Kenrick Fernandes

    So how much did Otterbox pay you for this 😉

    edit: could have atleast done a free otterbox giveaway

    • Cristian B

      LOL I personally hope they didn’t but overall still a good article. Might be picking one of these cases since I’m skipping the iPhone 7.

    • Kinda have to agree with you when this is one of the longest articles I have ever seen on iDB and it’s about a freakin’ cellphone case! Lol
      OtterBox makes the most hideously ugly cases and their lack of new & fresh looking designs is gonna bite them in the arse soon enough. Never understood why someone buys a beautiful iPhone, that Apple engineers & designs, just to slap an ugly & bulky case like these on it.

      • Agreed..I’m not able to wrap my head around the idea of literally enclosing your phone in a case that more than twice the thickness of the phone. Such a shame that the phones design remains unappreciated because of a dumbass case culture

      • Anthony Bouchard

        Because sometimes people work dirty or destructive jobs, as we noted in the post. And sometimes, leaving your pretty iPhone at home when you have a job to do to bring home the money isn’t in the cards, so you buy a protective case to protect your investment.

    • rvs007

      My critique of the Defender case got deleted. That goes to show what bias this article has for Otterbox. If iDB is going to post a review of a product, at least give users a chance to post their real-world experience!

      • I didn’t get deleted. It got put in moderation because it contained a link. Cool down.

      • rvs007

        Thanks for clarifying!

    • rvs007

      Here’s what I posted that got blocked. Maybe I’ll leave out the youtube video link in case that was the reason it was blocked. My experience with the Defender case: “Don’t get the Otterbox Defender for the iPhone 6 (maybe even the iPhone 6S)!!! The flexible piece of plastic that covers the TouchID will leave a permanent imprint/smudge on the iPhone’s screen, and no amount of cleaning will get rid of it. It happened to my iPhone 6 and then I found a youtube video about this problem so I know it’s not isolated. I don’t dare to use it on my iPhone 6S now in case it will do the same. Avoid it if you want your iPhone screen to be pristine!”

    • rvs007

      And if anyone is interested in the Youtube video, search for “Otterbox Case Damages iPhone 6 Screen when used properly”

  • Mike M. Powell

    I stopped being a fan of otter boxes when I got it with my first iPhone (ip4). To bulky like you mentioned, but they do as advertise though. I was clumsy in the past so I definitely needed it. Lol

    • Anthony Bouchard

      That’s why I like the Commuter Series. It’s not overly bulkly, and almost as protective as the Defender Series.

  • Luke

    I would just like to mention that the otterbox commuter series isn’t exactly measured for the iPhone 6s/Plus… I bought one off of amazon and the color was inaccurate to the picture (which looks like navy blue) and it came in a light blue/dark combination… I also noticed gaps in some places where the two pieces connect. Weird and disappointing..

    • the hood

      You may have unknowingly purchased a fake.

      • That’s what I was thinking too.

      • Anthony Bouchard

        My thoughts too. Every OtterBox I’ve ever used has been pretty precise.

    • Anthony Bouchard

      As other users have suggested, it may have been a third-party replica. If it were an OtterBox, the company would replace it for free as their cases are warrantied from defects.

      • rvs007

        But does their warranty cover damages to the iPhone as the result of using their case properly? My iPhone 6 has a permanent smudge on it now because the membrane that covers the Touch ID sensor on their Defender case leaves that over time.

      • Anthony Bouchard

        Their warranty covers defects in their case. I’ve never heard of what you’re describing. I’m not calling you a liar by any means, but I used the Defender Series for months and there are no smudges on my Touch ID sensor. I’m sorry if you didn’t have a good experience 🙁

      • Luke

        I know for sure it wasn’t a fake. I bought it off of amazon and I verified the seller….I bought the same case but for my old iPhone 5s. No problems there, it fit fine. It came in the packaging and had a serial number and everything.

  • I don’t need a bulky ass case because I’m not clumsy.

    • iPhoneWINS

      Me either but its hard tok find great minimal cases for 6+

      • Anthony Bouchard

        Then stay tuned 🙂

  • The Fluffy Alpaca

    The sassy case looks like the first iPhone.

  • Gucciipad

    I had an otter box. There’s a delay when u unlock the phone. Plus it’s to thick. I decided on tech 21 much better. Thinner. No screen delay. I have two cases actually. My tech 21 for work. And tumi for going dressy.

    • Anthony Bouchard

      If you’re experiencing a delay while using Touch ID, try what we suggested.

      • Gucciipad

        Not with the Touch ID with the screen it’s self. Like if I wanted to go to my home screen page 2.

  • iPhoneWINS

    THEY ARE ALL BULCKY AND UGLY… AND CST TOO MUCH.. IJ have a Pelican with is also bulky but has similar protection half the price .. Sans the touch inhibiting screen covers

    • Anthony Bouchard

      There are a number of different OtterBox cases to choose from, not just
      the Defender Series, which is the bulkiest of them all. Commuter Series for example isn’t as bulky, and is much more inline with other cases out there.

  • D. None of the above.

    The best Otterbox to get was for the 3G and 3Gs These new ones are crap…

  • Martynet

    I will never understand iPhone cases with a hole on the back. It’s just stupid.

  • Jamie

    I love the Griffin Survivor cases. I’ve had Otterbox and Griffin and will take Griffin over Otterbox any day.

  • Digitalfeind

    I’ve always used Speck cases. I’ve found they work and feel better than the Otterbox series.

  • Tim

    Mofo cases