My honest Otterbox Defender review, including everything to know before you purchase one for yourself.
TL;DR: I found the Otterbox Defender to be very durable and protective but a little too bulky and clunky to keep using long-term.
I’ll admit that there was a time in my life, years ago, when I walked around without any phone case at all.
I know, it was foolish.
Especially since I tend to be clumsy with my electronics (don’t ask me how many times I’ve spilled water on my laptop). We all have our flaws.
Of course, during this risky period of my life, I eventually dropped my iPhone on the sidewalk and cracked the screen.
It turns out screen repair is expensive. Who knew? Scrolling through Instagram with a cracked screen is not fun or easy.
And since I’m an artist, I use Instagram to promote and show my work, so a functional screen is extra essential.
Luckily, I’ve learned from my past mistakes, and now I wouldn’t dream of walking around with a naked phone.
For people like me, the Otterbox Defender Series offers extreme phone protection, keeping your phone out of harm’s way from daily bumps to accidental drops.
At least that’s what Otterbox claims, but is it true? I tested this case out with my iPhone, and I’m here to share my experience with it.
This is my in-depth and honest review of the Otterbox Defender case to see how it fared against my busy lifestyle.
Note: this post contains affiliate links, which help run this site at no extra cost to you so I can keep providing free travel advice and tips.
A Quick Look at Otterbox as a Company
Otterbox has its headquarters in Fort Collins, Colorado. They launched in 1998, and their original products were water-resistant boxes for any electronic device.
The company’s founder, Curt Richardson, invented the Otter Box in his garage in the early 90s in response to the growing popularity of watersports.
Today, the company makes extra-durable cases for smartphones and tablets, as well as power banks, chargers, and gaming accessories.
And, as of 2020, Otterbox has been focusing its efforts on improving its sustainability.
They’ve partnered with the Sustainable Packaging Coalition to offer recyclable packaging on select products.
They’re also integrating recycled materials into the fabrication of some of their products.
Otterbox Defender Review: My Experience With the Otterbox Defender
The Defender is Otterbox’s most rugged and heavy-duty case.
It comes in three parts: a polycarbonate shell with a built-in screen protector, a synthetic rubber slipcover, and a polycarbonate holster.
My old iPhone case was getting pretty worn out, so I was excited to try out the Otterbox Defender.
I have an iPhone 7, so I purchased the Otterbox Defender model for the iPhone 7.
I chose the “Big Sur” Otterbox cover, which is dark teal. It comes with a polycarbonate shell that’s bone white, visible as a frame around the screen.
The box that came in the mail was super easy to open. There was no annoying vacuum-formed plastic, and I didn’t have to cut anything, it just slid right out.
And, upon closer inspection, the packaging that it came in was also fully recyclable. Win-win!
With that said, I had some trouble opening the polycarbonate shell.
It snaps together with little hinges, and it kind of felt like I was going to break it that first time I tried to open it. But eventually, with a bit of muscle, it snapped open cleanly.
Once my iPhone was safely snapped in, the rubber slipcover went on easily and snugly, and the holster clipped on over that. As a side note, the holster has a belt clip that also works as a kickstand.
I like to carry my iPhone in my back pocket or coat pocket, but I found the holster to be too bulky for me.
I don’t wear belts very much, and clipping my iPhone onto my belt isn’t really my style. So I took the holster off after a day.
Now that I’d safely snapped my iPhone inside, it was time to see how the case performed in my everyday life.
Read on for my full Otterbox phone case review.
- Materials: Polycarbonate and synthetic rubber.
- Special Features: Built-in screen protector, port covers, and three-layer protection.
- Fits: Otterbox makes Defenders for iPhones as old as the iPhone 6, all the way up to the newest model. They make Defenders for Samsung phones as old as the Galaxy A51.
- Best for: Adventurous phone users prone to dropping their phone, making a mess, and other accidents. It’s also for active people who like to take their phone on adventure activities.
Otterbox Defender Series Pros
This phone case definitely does what it claims to do! Here are the upsides of this case:
The first and most prominent positive feature of the Defender is its protection. The inner hardshell case protects your phone from just about anything.
The rubber slipcover also feels like it provides some cushioning and shock absorption.
You could drop your phone an infinite amount of times in this case, and it would remain unscathed.
Every other protective case I’ve used for my phone in the past pales in comparison to the Defender when it comes to drop protection.
Built-in Screen Protection
The Defender comes with a plastic built-in screen protector, so your phone is completely sealed inside of a box once you snap it in.
This screen protector is a thin polycarbonate, so you don’t have to worry about cracking it. It even covers the home button, but your fingerprint remains readable through it.
The screen cover essentially protects your phone screen from scratches only. The raised edges of the surrounding box are what prevents cracks and shatters.
Recyclable and Convenient Packaging
I appreciated how easy it was to open the package I received in the mail.
Many small products such as these come in those vacuum-formed plastic boxes, which often aren’t recyclable and are always very hard to open.
The Otterbox Defender box opened easily like a drawer. No cutting, no ripping, no headache.
Even better – the packaging was fully recyclable, which is just one of the ways Otterbox is striving to be more sustainable these days.
As I’ve said, the holster was not to my taste, but that’s a matter of personal preference.
I have small hands, I generally wear fitted clothes with limited pocket space, and I don’t wear belts. So for me, the holster’s belt clip was just too much bulk.
In general, having a kickstand built into your phone case is a handy feature for watching videos or if you like to stand your phone up on a surface when you’re tired of holding it. It can also be nice for doing self-timer shots with a group of friends.
The fact that you can choose to use the holster or not is an advantage.
It pops on and off easily, so if it’s too bulky for your everyday life or you don’t want a belt clip, you can take it off. But if you like to watch movies in bed, you can snap it on temporarily.
And, if you happen to misplace your holster, but later decide you’d like to use it, Otterbox also sells them separately at a reasonable price.
Otterbox has really thought of everything with this case. No moisture, dirt, or dust will infiltrate your charging port or your silent mode switch.
The port covers are little rubber flaps that lift open and then snap snugly into place. They’re a part of the outer rubber shell, and they fit into the hard inner shell.
If you need to access either of these ports, you can simply lift these flaps. Otherwise, they’ll remain closed for business.
Functional Volume Buttons
Even though the rubber shell covers all of your phone’s buttons to protect them from dust and dirt, the rubber covers remain super responsive and easy to push.
I’ve had cheaper iPhone cases where you had to squeeze pretty hard to get the covered buttons to respond, and that’s not the case with the Defender.
Attractive Color Options
Color options vary depending on the make and model of your phone. For my iPhone 7, cases come in plain black, “Big Sur,” “Marathoner,” and “Nebula.”
I have the Big Sur case and it’s a lovely dark blue-green. On the other hand, Nebula is a dark mauve and Marathoner is a silvery-gray.
I like these colors because they strike a good balance between neutral and unique. They’re not too loud, they don’t shout their presence, but they’re also far from boring.
For newer iPhones and Samsung phones, the color options are different. However, they all stay in a similar family of muted blues, purples, and greens alongside a standard black and gray.
Otterbox Defender Cons
I promised you an honest Otterbox Defender Series review, and no honest Otterbox review would be complete without cons. Here are mine.
The Otterbox Defender’s size was a definite drawback for me. Even without the holster, this case adds a lot of girth to your phone.
As I said above, I have small hands, and with the Defender, I couldn’t hold my whole phone with one hand and scroll with my thumb the way I’m used to.
I’ve spent a long time using a phone case that doesn’t offer much protection, but that also means I feel most comfortable with a phone that has a slim profile.
Of course, it’s a trade-off. Otterbox wouldn’t offer the same superior protection without those added centimeters.
And, if this case is too bulky for an everyday case, you could choose to mostly use it when you’re doing adventure activities and you need the extra protection.
Tricky to Open and to Plug Into Charger
When I first got my Otterbox iPhone case, it was challenging to pull apart. And once I got it into the case, it was tricky to take it out again.
Luckily, over time, this improved as I got used to it, but it’s still a slightly tricky case to take on and off sometimes.
Likewise, the drawback to the port protectors is that they’re a little difficult to open.
When you’re plugging your phone into your charger, you have to hold the flap open.
This can get a little tough if you’re plugging it in while you’re half asleep, or in the dark, or just trying to plug it quickly.
You can get around this issue by using a wireless charger.
Still, you should note that wireless charging produces a lot of heat that will have trouble dissipating inside the Defender case, which could eventually damage your battery.
Ultimately, the drawbacks mirror the pros. The bulkiness and the difficulty of opening the case are byproducts of the Defender’s rugged protection.
You can’t have a slim, light case that’s also 100% drop-proof.
Problems with the Screen Protector
Although I like that Defenders have built-in screen protectors, I found that mine had a few problems with functionality.
Otterbox claims that their screen protector on the Defender offers an ultra-responsive touch, and while that’s not untrue, there’s just a hair of space between my phone face and the covering.
It doesn’t inhibit the touchscreen’s responsiveness, but it does create a flexible plastic feeling that I’m not super fond of.
On the first day I used it, a small amount of moisture found its way into that space, which stopped the touchscreen from functioning, and I had to open it and wipe it out.
While it wasn’t a huge deal, it was a bit of a pain.
Read our guide to the best Otterbox alternatives.
Otterbox Defender vs. Defender Pro
There’s an upgraded version of the Defender, called the Otterbox Defender Pro.
The Pro version is also a heavy-duty case that has the same three-part configuration and wireless charging compatibility, but it comes with some added features that set it apart.
Phones are one of the dirtiest items we encounter every day.
I hate to tell you this, but the average cell phone has over 25,000 bacteria per square inch and is ten times dirtier than a toilet seat. Yikes!
If you think too hard about how we often use our phones while eating, you can quickly get pretty grossed out.
The most significant feature of the Pro version is its antimicrobial case. The case and outer shell have a silver-based additive infused throughout.
Silver is antimicrobial, so it works to block bacterial growth on the surface of the case.
Easy Grip Slipcover
Aesthetically, the Pro looks similar to the classic Defender, but there are ridges along the back to provide a better grip.
So, not only does this case protect against drops, but it also helps prevent them entirely by keeping your phone safely gripped in your hand.
Unsurprisingly, the Defender Pro costs a little more than the standard version.
However, the cost difference is pretty minimal. The Pro is only about ten dollars more than the classic Defender.
Other Otterbox Phone Case Series
The Commuter is like a slimmed-down version of the Defender.
It has an inner and outer shell for a double layer of protection. The inner body is flexible rubber and the exterior is hard polycarbonate.
This is the opposite of the Defender, which has a hard inner shell and a soft outer.
While it’s compatible with a separate screen protector, it doesn’t have one built-in as the Defender does.
However, like the Defender, the Commuter features a port protector over the charging port.
Read our guide to the Otterbox Defender vs Commuter.
The Symmetry series is a slim phone case that has a hard shell outer. It doesn’t come with a screen protector or port covers but offers excellent protection from accidental drops.
The Otterbox Symmetry is available in a wide range of colors and patterns, and there are some with a built-in pop socket on the back.
The Strada Series is a wallet case with a quality leather outer. It features a folio design, which means that the leather cover closes over the screen and stays closed with a magnetic latch.
Beneath the leather is a hard polycarbonate shell, offering the same superior protection as Otterbox’s signature cases.
Strada is compatible with a limited number of iPhones and Samsung phones.
There are models to fit the iPhone 11 and newer, in addition to the iPhone 6 and 6S, and it works with the Galaxy S20 and S21 models.
It’s available in either black or gray.
The Statement Series has a similar profile to Symmetry with a slim plastic case.
The design features a clear window on the back that highlights the Apple logo, with a genuine leather accent along the bottom.
This accent comes in a range of colors and matches the polycarbonate rim.
The Statement Series is compatible only with a select list of Apple products, including the iPhone XS and the iPad pro.
Otterbox Return & Exchange Policy
If you buy your case directly from the Otter Products website, then you can return your item within 30 days of purchase.
Credits are issued back to the card you used for the purchase, but this, unfortunately, doesn’t include shipping.
The Otterbox Defender, like all of their smartphone cases, comes with a limited global warranty for the lifetime of the product, which is seven years from the original purchase date.
Other Otterbox products have different lengths of time designated as their “lifetime.”
If you purchase an Otterbox case from Amazon, the usual return and exchange policies on Amazon apply.
As a bonus, you also still get to enjoy the Otterbox limited lifetime warranty if you purchase through Amazon.
Otterbox Discounts & Coupons
Otterbox has periodic sales and they offer monthly coupons, which you can find by Googling “Otterbox Discount Code.”
Find a valid and up-to-date code and enter it at checkout. Just note that these coupons only work on the official site.
Other authorized retailers sell Otterbox products and may or may not offer seasonal discounts and sales.
I’d recommend checking the different locations to see where you can find the best price, just make sure you’re shopping from an authorized retailer.
If the price is suspiciously low, or the store isn’t on this list of verified retailers, it may be a knock-off.
Where to Buy the Otterbox Defender Series
In addition to the official Otterbox website, you can buy Otterbox products from a select group of authorized retailers.
You can purchase Otterbox phone cases at cell phone stores such as Verizon, AT&T, and T-Mobile, as well as Walmart, Target, and the Apple Store.
Otterbox products are also available on Amazon, where they have some fantastic deals.
Another advantage to purchasing from an outside retailer is that the official website doesn’t show customer reviews, so you can’t get a sense of multiple consumer experiences there.
The only drawback to purchasing your Otterbox from an outside retailer is that you’re not eligible for their return policy if you do.
However, other retailers will likely have their own return policy and places like Amazon still offer the Otterbox limited warranty.
FAQs About the Otterbox Defender Series
Are Otterbox cases actually good?
If you want dependable and heavy-duty protection for your phone, then an Otterbox case is the way to go.
When it comes to quality materials and defense against damage, Otterbox cases are outstanding.
What does the Otterbox Defender Series protect against?
The Otterbox Defender protects against drops, scratches, dust, and dirt. It’s not waterproof though, so you won’t want to take it swimming.
What is the Otterbox Defender Series made of?
The Otterbox Defender has a polycarbonate inner hard shell and a synthetic rubber outer shell.
Is the Otterbox Defender Series waterproof?
No, the Otterbox Defender isn’t waterproof or water-resistant. Moisture can get inside the case, making it difficult to use your screen. If this happens, simply open it up and wipe it out.
Should I also get the Otterbox Screen Protector with the Defender?
You don’t need to purchase a separate screen protector with the Defender because the screen protector comes built-in.
Conclusion: Is the Otterbox Defender Worth it?
I have to be honest in this Otterbox Defender Case review and tell you that ultimately, I ended up opting for a slimmer iPhone case after testing out the Defender.
But that’s not because the Defender lacks protection, functionality, or quality. I simply find it too bulky for everyday use, and I don’t love the way it feels in my hand.
That said, I’m probably a prime candidate for the Otterbox Defender. I’m clumsy, I frequently drop my iPhone, and sometimes I gesture too widely and smash it against a doorframe.
I also use my iPhone for everything, which includes messy work environments.
I once dropped my iPhone into a tray of paint. And while the Defender isn’t waterproof, it definitely would have slowed down that paint before it reached my iPhone.
So, if you have the same problem as I do, and you’re not as picky about the girth of your phone case, the Defender could be a good choice.
And I’ll still keep it on hand for any upcoming adventure activities when I feel like I really need that extra protection. I just won’t be using it as my everyday phone case.
If you think about it in terms of money, it’s a purchase that makes sense.
Repairing a cracked screen at the Apple store costs $150 once your AppleCare runs out. The Otterbox Defender retails for around $50 before any discounts and prevents that cracked screen in the first place.
So, bulky or not, it’s a wise investment that will save you money in the long run.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Elina Ansary is a writer, visual artist, and avid traveler. She grew up in San Francisco, CA, and spent her childhood camping up and down Northern California. These days, she visits artist residencies around the world and has lived in Amsterdam, Australia, and now Brooklyn, NY.
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