iPad Air heavy case showdown: Griffin Survivor vs. OtterBox Defender

iPad Air heavy case showdown: Griffin Survivor vs. OtterBox Defender

Summary: Both of these armored cases are polycarbonate clamshell, silicone rubber-wrapped monsters designed to take a beating for your iPad Air or iPad mini. But which one reigns supreme?

TOPICS: iPad, Amazon, Apple, Tablets

Ladies and gentlemen... this is the battle you've all been waiting for. The iPad Air heavyweight case BATTLE ROYALE!

In the first corner, we have the competitor, the Griffin Survivor. Retailing at $79.99, but can be found at various ecommerce sites like Amazon for $39-$45, this case comes ready to rumble, or ready to go to war, if you read the pure specifications.

Weighing in at 11.5 ounces, it will bring the iPad Air to 27.5 ounces, or 1.71lb if so encased.

I absolutely loved this case. It's got excellent screen and bezel clearance, and what I think is an ideal mix of rigid polycarbonate housing combined with a very ample amount of silicone rubber.

I used the Survivor for iPad Air for about a week, and although this is without question one of the heaviest, shock and impact-resistant cases you can buy on the market, it didn't feel like I was holding a brick.

The polycarbonate and the silicone rubber seems to organically "merge" together, particularly in the way the tablet itself gets encased.

Both rubber and polycarbonate is shaved off in appropriate spots so the case has sort of a sculpted look, while at the same time removing excess material and lowering the weight as much as possible and still being highly protective, particularly on the corners. 

Like many other hardcases on the market, it integrates a permanent (transparent) screen protector. And rather than going for a shock cover with integrated easel/stand like the OtterBox Defender, it includes a clip-on, lightweight stand/easel for propping the device up to watch videos and other content.

I kind of feel like Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. Instead of reviewing $800,000 extreme sports cars, I get to review $80.00 iPad cases.

I found this accessory to be somewhat difficult to snap on and off, but it's a nice addition to the product.

Griffin's design is also very modern and attractive looking, especially if you are using one of the six different color combinations, which are matched to Apple's native animated wallpapers in iOS 7.

The Survivor is also the only hardcase i've seen that allows you to seal every single one of the ports so as to maximize dust and liquid protection. This includes the rear camera window, which can be opened and closed with a silicone rubber and polycarbonate flap.

And in this corner, we have the Defending heavyweight, the OtterBox.

I received the OtterBox Defender for iPad Air about a week after getting the Griffin Survivor, and I have both cases in-house at the moment, so we have a very close basis for comparison.

What is there to be said about OtterBox's cases that hasn't been said before? This case is a rock and is designed to take a brutal amount of abuse. It retails for $79.99 but you can get it from online sources for about $50. 

What differentiates it from the Griffin Survivor is that it uses proportionately more polycarbonate to silicone in its design, and it also incorporates a shock cover/easel to provide an additional layer of protection when carried.

As with previous models it also incorporates a permanent screen protector in the design as well.

What does this mean for your iPad Air in terms of total weight? 27.3oz or 34oz with hardcover attached. 1.7lbs, about the same as the Griffin Survivor, without the cover.

With the cover, 2.1lbs, effectively doubling the weight fo the iPad Air.  

It's also currently only avaliable in their classic "Batman Black" but as they start to manufacture it in volume, there will be three additonal two-tone color combos avalaible, a cyan/grey, a off-white/raspberry and a white/grey.

But hey, this isn't a beauty pageant or The Biggest Loser. We're talking about a product for users who are most concerned about protecting the device.

That being said the iPad Air version of the case has been slimmed down from the generation 3/4 "iProtection" model, and changes include a less severe angle of display elevation at the bezel area.

I still think it has (more than) sufficient elevation to protect the screen from a forward drop, but there was definitely more clearance in the previous model and I think the Griffin has a slight edge here as well.

However, once you put the shock cover/easel on top of the device, as I say in the video "ain't nothin' gonna break that screen".

In keeping withe the slimming down the amount of silicone has also been reduced. Again, this is in comparison with previous models, but we're still talking about a significant amount of silicone rubber wrapping on the case here.

OtterBox also sent me a Amazon Kindle Fire HDX 8.9 version of the Defender which has all of the same protection characteristics of the iPad Air/iPad mini models. If you have a klutzy wife, kid or loved one that's getting one of those tablets this holiday season, I'd strongly reccomend it.

So which case is better? I think this is one of those comparisons where it all comes down to personal preference and how you feel about the aesthetics and weight tradeoffs. It's a toss-up.

These are both excellent extreme protective case solutions for iPad Air/mini and you'd be well-served by going with either one. Griffin relies more on the silicone rubber whereas OtterBox relies more on polycarbonate in its protection recipe.

I kind of feel like Jeremy Clarkson on Top Gear. Instead of reviewing $800,000 extreme sports cars, I get to review $80.00 iPad cases.

This is very much like a BMW 7-series vs. Mercedes-Benz S-Class, or Sig-Sauer P226 versus GLOCK 17 bake-off, or any like comparison where you have the two top products competing in each category.

Choice is going to be a very subjective one. There's no clear "winner" here.

I do happen to like OtterBox's clean, conservative and polycarbonate-heavy design, and I plan to keep it on the device.

However, the Griffin is really a very nice case, with an attractive active lifestyle branding with a bunch of nice color combos coming out of the gate. OtterBox should definitely not sit on its laurels. 

Are you considering the Griffin Survivor or OtterBox Defender for your new iPad Air or mini? Talk Back and Let Me Know.

Topics: iPad, Amazon, Apple, Tablets


Jason Perlow, Sr. Technology Editor at ZDNet, is a technologist with over two decades of experience integrating large heterogeneous multi-vendor computing environments in Fortune 500 companies. Jason is currently a Partner Technology Strategist with Microsoft Corp. His expressed views do not necessarily represent those of his employer.

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  • How to ruin the iPad Air; by Otterbox/Griffin

    I never understand all the talk about how light and thin something is and then everyone clamp bulky covers and cases to them.

    Seems to defeat all those benefits with little reward.
    • To make them rugged

      I would agree that making an iPad Air rugged is not necessary for the vast majority of users. But if you have a need to use it for work in an outdoor environment or in a dangerous environment, there is a need to make it more rugged. You could spend a fortune on models made for rugged environments, but given that Apple likes to limit its models to a manageable number, you'd have to either get something that is not Apple or get a third party enclosure like these. And given that these are pretty affordable, this is an attractive option.
      Michael Kelly
    • yea this is stupid

      And worse yet, the article isn't even helpful. Its like reviewing a car without driving it. so which one took the beating without the ipad breaking?
  • re:

    I was thinking the same thing. On the other hand, the fascination pundits and reviewers have for ever thinner and lighter is leading to flimsier devices. So I guess a great big crate to keep it in isn't completely off base. If iPads get much thinner, Apple fans are going to start suffering cuts on their soft, uncalloused hands.
    Sir Name
  • Business friendly?

    Actually, I had the Griffin case for one day and had to return it. It's a difficult beast to open and access the iPad if you need it quickly for something and unfortunately, the Square reader cannot be fully inserted into the headphone jack.
    I would be interested in knowing if the Square can be fully inserted into the OtterBox, which if it can't means that these cases can't be readily used for business use for accessory use.
    Shame really, that's when you need a robust case the most is when the device is being handed around.
    • Neither of these cases are easy to open

      If you look in the OtterBox video my fingernails look totally torn apart, because I had to open the Griffin, extract the iPad, open the OtterBox, put in the iPad. You really need to use a small flat blade screwdriver to do it, and it's a very tight fit on both products.
  • The bigger they are the harder they fall

    My gen1 is still going on strong...... and has rarely been out of it's protective case which I use for far more than just protection.......... I dislike the slippery thin gripless bodies these things have, and that's the main reason why a case is necessary.......that and the fact that the screen is the first thing to the accident so to speak..... and of course there is no corner protection. It's elegant but bad design for a device meant to be used in the real world!! I look forward to the Ipad leaf....... the one that when you drop it flutters gently to the ground like a falling leaf! I find humor in the fact that everybody wants to turn a tablet into a notebook with a physical keyboard. We armor and kluge up our svelte devices until they are netbooks with removable keyboards. In a way Google Geek ...I mean glass..... is blazing the way to a brave new world of computing. A world where we will interface with devices that have no "monitor" or keyboard..... they haven't really addressed the data input issue yet. While the future of computing will not be geeky looking glasses, it will be devices that in no way resemble what we are used to, having nothing resembling a screen or keyboard.
  • first rule of protection

    is doubling the mass the best way to protect something? I like the floating like a leaf idea. Now if they would get rid of that soft aluminum and make the corners of resilient you wouldn't need to ruin your experience with that big, ugly, heavy, case.
    • cat butter

      I'm going to begin marketing a new protective device for the Ipad. It will be a dry, just add water bread mix with a special pan to bake it in. You mix the dough up, plop your Ipad into it so the dough rolls up around the outer bezel enough to hold it in, let it rise and bake it, then butter the bread on the back side. The bread will be a cushion to protect the back of the Ipad if it falls, and the butter will guarantee that the Ipad will fall butter side down as bread always does!! The entire kit will cost only $4.99, and will include your choice of colors to add to the dough, plus a foil package of attractively colored butter!
  • Making tablets more durable only leads to fewer sales.

    Hardware makers have convinced consumers that $500+ devices are only supposed to last 2 years, do less and receive less updates.

    It isn't in the best interest of the market leader to make their devices more durable until sales start declining or they need to match the durability of their competition.
  • Survivor case

    I have one on the iPad third generation and it was fine until IOS7 came on the scene and I found that the protection that the case applied with its bezel makes it impossible to bring up the brightness and volume me is from the screen bottom and this one of the mew main IOS7 features cannot be accessed. Apple has not done anything about this unfortunately. I will have to file down the case to allow at least one point where one can activate this onscreen activity. It is a great case however, tough as can be. I removed all the flaps from it with scissors as they are unnecessary in my life and are awkward but I suspect necessary in the jungles of Borneo. Because it is a grippy case, one can literally carry it about with two fingers as it has excellent hand thickness and ergonomic positioning of its thicker and thinner aspects..too bad about the screen activation issues. Otherwise it is perfect.
  • Samsung S4 and other electronics

    I saw some brilliant deals on Ebay before, over 50% off on some major brand electronics including samsung have a look http://bit.ly/1boNpwK
    Steven Liamson
  • What about Gumdrop cases?

    Speaking from experience as I have dropped an iPad2 and had to replace the broken screen, I have Gumdrop Drop Tech cases on an iPad2 and iPad3. http://www.gumdropcases.com/
    They are big and bulky but are non-slip and have saved the iPads from drops onto the floor on its corners. They don't seem to get the same coverage as Otterbox or Griffin. Why is that?
  • Both great cases

    I have personally had both of these case. Both did more than what I expected. After a few months the rubber started to rip on the otterbox. And on the survivor case it just stretched so just put it in boiling water to prevent the ripping. To me both do the job the same as the other
  • Beware of Amazon knockoffs

    I found something worth sharing with anybody else who may be considering the same cases. There are some fake cases being sold on eBay that would in appearance look the same, but they are definitely knock-offs. I read a few comments saying that was what they received and one which said he had contacted Griffin directly and was told by them that there were cases being sold on Amazon which almost certainly were not from Griffin. Before giving any money ($38.99) over Amazon, I decided to contact Griffin as well. I was told the same information. Thankfully, I found that Best Buy was selling the Griffin Survivor case for only $5 more, and I confirmed with Griffin that if Best Buy was selling it, you know it is the real thing. So, get peace of mind, the real thing, and a reputable company and pay a few dollars more if possible.

    As for the article itself: I essentially came down to deciding between these two myself (before reading this review) and went with the Griffin Survivor case. It's a very nice case. If you must have a case that has armor for the screen when you are not using, you should go with the Otterbox and its removable cover. Otherwise, the Survivor is excellent. It's obviously made for protection and has some very nice covers for all the ports on the iPad which don't compromise any of the functionality. Example: the speakers are covered with some form of material that keeps out dust and moisture yet still permit a good deal of sound to come through. The microphones have similar protective measures. Other ports and switches have flaps which can be opened to permit access. The buttons are all covered and easily usable. The only thing that isn't covered in any way is the camera on the screen side of the device, but the polycarbonate presses tight up to it, so I doubt dust or water could get in unless you try burying it in the dirt or dunking it under water for a minute. The stand is not bad. It is a little annoying to remove and put back on, but since it can only be used with landscape orientation (due to the design of the case itself), you don't need to move it from one side to another. It's just either on or off. I leave it on all the time and fold it down and out of the way when I'm not using it. Apart from what I've said about it, it works quite well and even has silicone on the feet for traction (nice touch, Griffin).
    Wiser Guy
    • Correction... not eBay - Amazon

      Change any mention of eBay to Amazon. The Griffin rep said a dead giveaway for knockoffs is how long the actual selling company has been around for. If you look under the price and the phrase "In Stock," you will see "Sold by" and "Fulfilled by." Click on the name after "Sold by" and it will give you information on the past 12 months. If the company doesn't have much information there and they are selling Griffin products, you are likely looking at realistic looking but for-all-practical-purposes junk that you shouldn't want to put your iPad in. I once bought a very nice-looking GoreTex Timberland coat in China. First time it rained, the water soaked through. Looked good, but as a knockoff it did not do what the real thing did. Reject sound wisdom and prudent warnings if you must, but you'll likely be disappointed.
      Wiser Guy