Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE [review]

I’m usually very careful with my mobile devices but, even so, I’ve been known to drop them. Before too long, they start to look a little scratched and scuffed. Unfortunately, I have managed to damage a phone and a laptop by dropping… and boy was I annoyed at myself both times!

In my day to day life as an IT Consultant, I don’t need to worry too much about my phone being in a harsh environment. If I drop it, it’s usually only a fall from the desk to my office floor. But what if you need extra protection for your phone? I was given the opportunity to try out an Otterbox Defender case, which claims to offer superior protection.

Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SEThe first thing that comes to mind when I look at the Otterbox Defender is that it’s chunky. I usually prefer my cases to be quite slim, but I recognise that comes at the expense of ruggedness. The Defender is large, mostly because that gives it room to add extra protection. So what kind of protection are we talking about here?

The main body of the Defender is a two-part polycarbonate shell. This rigid shell offers good protection against scratches and drops, forming a barrier between your precious phone and the outside world. The shell has an integrated plastic screen protector which, again, just forms another barrier between your screen and harm’s way.

Around the polycarbonate shell is a rubber “bumper”. This does two things:

  • Firstly, it helps to keep the main shell closed. There are catches on the shell that would keep it closed without the bumper, but the bumper just holds the whole thing together and makes sure there’s no way the case can be accidentally opened.
  • Secondly, because the bumper is softer than the shell (although it has to be said, it’s not exactly bouncy) it provides a little extra shock absorption in the case of your phone slipping out of your hand.

Another layer of protection comes from a thin layer of neoprene inside the back of the shell case. Again, this provides some shock absorption if you happen to drop your phone on its back. Remember the key to surviving a drop is to absorb the energy from the fall, which is why it’s not enough just to have a strong but rigid case (that would just transfer the energy to the phone). Squidgy materials like rubber and neoprene will absorb the energy rather than transfer it, and enhance the survivability of the device within.

So far so good. It’s worth mentioning that there are several openings in the protection, albeit all ones that are necessary for the good operating of the phone. There’s a cutout on the screen protector so that you can use the iPhone SE/5/5S thumb scanner, another for the front-facing camera and earpiece, one on the back for the rear-facing camera and flash, and two on the bottom for the microphone and speaker. There’s also a window on the rear so you can see the Apple logo, but this is covered with the same kind of material as the main screen protector. All of these openings are recessed, so unless you happen to be very unlucky and hit a stone, you’re still well protected.

The rubber bumper has flaps that cover the side switch, headphone port, and charging/data port. These all seem to be quite snug fits, so they should do a good job of keeping dust and dirt out. I don’t know what it is, but my pockets seem to be really dusty, and so far none of that has made its way past the flaps.

Having said all that, there are a couple of things I don’t like, or that I found fiddly.

  • The first was getting the thing open in the first place! The instructions said to remove the bumper so that I could then open the polycarbonate shell, but I found it really hard to do so! I think it was just because the case was new and the rubber was quite stiff (it’s easier to remove it again now) but I was starting to wonder whether I was actually reading the instructions correctly for a while.
  • I’m not too keen on plastic screen protectors. I find they never sit completely flush with the screen so, when you tap, you can kind of feel the screen protector moving. I also find you eventually get dust behind them, so have to keep cleaning them out. It’s not a huge gripe, and perhaps it’s just personal preference, but I much prefer glass screen protectors.
  • Thirdly, the size. And I know this one is just personal preference. As I mentioned earlier, I like my devices to be slim but the Otterbox Defender certainly isn’t that. I just mention it here again to be clear… this is not a small case, but if you’re looking for superior protection you might need to sacrifice a slimline look to get it.

Despite those gripes, I think this is a good choice for people who need an extra layer of protection on their devices. It won’t save your phone from being dropped off a skyscraper or run over by a truck, but it will help to save you from those awful, “slipped out of my pocket” moments (yes, that’s how I broke my last iPhone!)

The Otterbox Defender for iPhone 5, 5S and SE is available from Mobile Fun, priced £29.99 at the time of writing.

Note: The Defender also comes with a belt clip/kickstand. I honestly can’t abide wearing a mobile phone on my belt, so I haven’t used it. If you do want to wear your phone on your belt, you have the option to do so with this case.

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