OtterBox Defender & Commuter for iPhone 5s: Still the protection standard?

OtterBox Defender & Commuter for iPhone 5s: Still the protection standard?

Summary: UPDATED: The newly redesigned iPhone Defender case from OtterBox is less bulky, but is it still as protective as before?


Editor's note: This article has been updated from the previous version to reflect corrected copy and a new video.

This weekend, I was lucky enough to be one of the few that was able to secure an iPhone 5s, and I needed a new case to put on it. But as with any new device coming out of Cupertino, the issue of adequate protection versus how much aesthetics one is willing to compromise comes into play.

I've always been a big fan of OtterBox's Defender Series cases, regardless of which OEM device I happen to be using. In my opinion, they are the gold standard of device protection, with their polycarbonate clamshell, permanent screen protector, and rubber anti-shock covering.

Their products have saved me headache and heartache on multiple occasions when I've had a "whoops" moment due to an accidental slip or drop.

Even with accidental damage coverage such as AppleCare+ or Asurion plans offered at carriers like Verizon, device repair and replacement can take days, and the process is aggravating as well as potentially costly due to the temporary interruption of business that occurs between replacement of the device.

Additionally, such plans, particularly AppleCare+, still involve a per-incident repair cost. So having a protective case is still a very good idea.

The new Defender Series, as well as the Commuter Series, completely redesigned for the iPhone 5s and 5c, are both good cases, but I have some concerns (albeit relatively small) that the products are no longer as protective as they were previously.


OtterBox Defender & Commuter for iPhone 5s, 5c

OtterBox Defender & Commuter for iPhone 5s, 5c

The new OtterBox Defender and Commuter case lineup for the 2014 iPhones.

In both the the Defender and the Commuter, OtterBox has forgone the ugly, bulky design of previous products (a design choice that I felt was necessary to preserve its protective qualities) in favor of a thinner, more aesthetically pleasing design that closely matches the actual industrial design characteristics of the iPhone.

The new Defender and the Commuter have the same polycarbonate clamshell and rubber coating, but the thickness of the polycarbonate and the rubber appears to have been reduced in certain impact-prone areas. In order to accommodate the new fingerprint sensor on the iPhone 5s, a cut-out has been made in the permanent screen protector.

While the Commuter has always been the less-protected option between the two products, the Defender case for the 5s now has reduced bezel protection on the home button area than in the previous design for the iPhone 5.

In fact, the home button area has no bezel at all.

If you're not looking carefully, the Commuter can be easily confused with the Defender in the new 5s and 5c designs, a mistake I actually made in an earlier version of this review. The difference between the two products is minor, in that the Commuter has rounded corners and a contoured back, whereas the Defender retains its largely squared-off design.

Truthfully, if you are going to put a big plastic and rubber black case on your iPhone, you might as well go with the Defender to get the extra protection. I'm not seeing a huge aesthetic difference between the two products in this iteration.

The evaluation sample of the Defender was sent to me in the standard black-on-black color, which sells for $49.95. Other more aesthetically pleasing color combinations can also be ordered directly from OtterBox for approximately $59.95, but as this is a new product, there may be shipping delays on the custom color versions.

As with previous Defender products, the new 5s version also comes with an optional holster clip, which can be used to completely cover the screen face when being carried. I find that this adds a nice layer of security when the phone is in my pocket or it is being tucked in a piece of carry-on luggage and the potential for being bounced around along with other objects that can potentially scratch or damage the screen is high.

While I happen to like the new OtterBox Defender and Commuter for the 5s and 5c, and applaud the company's initiative to make its products less bulky for the majority of consumers that want to preserve the aesthetic properties of their iPhone as much as possible, I'd still like to see it release an Armor Series for the 5s and 5c for those of us who want that extra piece of mind.

Are you planning to pick up the new OtterBox for you new iPhone? Talk back and let me know.

Topics: Mobility, Apple, iOS, iPhone, Smartphones


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.

Kick off your day with ZDNet's daily email newsletter. It's the freshest tech news and opinion, served hot. Get it.


Log in or register to join the discussion
  • What an ugly piece of ..... what to call this?

    It's like wearing a Valentino dress and put a yellow raincoat not to make a stain on it.
    I like the round hole to show the apple, it's like saying to the world - "don't be fooled by this ugly rubber/plastic stuff, underneath there is an iPhone"
    • Black one is not that ugly, it does not looks bat at all, actually

      But, of course, whole point of iPhone 5S design is completely obscure with it anyway.

      I could understand why no one would care how SGS4 looks (a piece of soap), but iPhone is different story. The design is superb and to cover it up makes whole design thing useless.

      However, some people like Jason might not care about design at all, they care about functionality, convenience and ecosystem. So their priority is to keep the phone safe.

      (This is not for me, though, as I am not prone to dropping phones, and I like how they look.)
      • And thats a problem with this country.

        More and more people have become snobs when it comes to everything from their phone to their clothes. I have a Optimus G pro with a small crack in the corner. My phone still works. Whoever don't like the way it looks can stuff it.

        There are certain brands of clothing that look just as good as designer, but once again its the Brand that matters...I'll stick to Walmart clothing.

        Same with food. I found a generic brand of lunchnest that is just as good if not better than the high cost brand. However because people sew the Brand and immediately think it must be better than generic, they buy it.

        Remember what's important in the world and get away from being snobs.
        • That s very good...for you

          If only every one else is like you. Unfortunately most are not.:-(
    • You seem to miss the point

      Of using such a case. It's not for aesthetics but to protect the phone. I've used one for every smartphone I;ve had from the Blackberrys and Android based phones to my iPhones. Personally I'd much rather have the "ugly" case on my iPhone for the 2 years I'm going to use it so when I sell it the phone is in mint condition and I can get what I paid for it on eBay.
    • If one is accident prone

      Or in a rough work environment a case like this - as ugly as you may find it to be - is essential to keeping one's device from being broken. Cases like this have saved me from replacing my iPhone and my HTC TBolt more than once. The black one is not very ugly at all - then again that is a subjective thing.
  • Re: OtterBox Defender for iPhone 5s....

    The question that begs to be asked though is why would you go for an iPhone if it is going to be bashed to hell seven days a week. You wouldn't.
    • It doesn't need to be bashed several days a week.

      It only needs ONE drop to destroy an unprotected phone. ONE.
      • Bad designed

        You are right, but a mobile phone should be able to resist a waste level drop at least - phones are handled reckless, taken in an out of pockets, ... sadly along the way, the lack of scratches (that are basically irrelevant in a device covered with fingerprints) and aesthetics, became more important that functionality. My smartphone should be my "slave" not the other way around.
        • Really?

          As a test a year ago I threw both my iPhone 4 and my HTC Thunderbolt at the wall - both encased in otterbox defender cases. The iPhone was good to go, the T-Bolt needed the battery pulled. The cases work.

          I'd also put a naked iPhone up against a naked Samsung or LG anytime.

          BTW it's "waist" level not "waste" level.
          • They should be sold with the case

            If it's v really necessary.
      • Re: It only needs ONE drop to destroy an unprotected phone....

        Even so why does it take on the appearance that it belongs on a building site?
      • Mine is busted

        Amen Jason. I got 5s Friday at 10:20 AM. It slipped out of my hand and shattered the screen at 11:30 AM Sunday morning. While I am an aesthetics person (female) I will be buying an otter box now. Shows what I know about myself...thought that since I'd never busted a phone before I wouldn't start now...doh!
        Amber C
      • yep

        I learned the hard way that using my iPad in a bathroom with a tile floor is a bad idea!
  • where do you find it?

    I don't see this model available anywhere. Otterbox's website seems to only have the old Defender?

    Great Review and video.
    • Jason provided a link within the article.

      It has the description "Other more aesthetically pleasing color combinations..."
  • Damn

    That looks contrast to the good looking iphone.
  • Looks good however

    I bought a Griffin case and it just feels better than the old Otterbox that eventually got too loose on the rubbery parts. (4s model). Maybe their newer models improve on that, though - good on them. :)
    D.J. 43
  • Belt clip for camera use?

    They could have integrated screwhole for tripod and a hole with cap for camera. That would have doubled the usefullness of belt clip.
    BTW, is there any case for 4S with both additional battery and QI?
  • dj

    til I saw the receipt which had said $7124, I did not believe sister had been actually taking home money part time on-line.. there moms best frend had bean doing this for less than twenty one months and by now repaid the dept on their apartment and purchased themselves a BMW 5-series. from this source......