I am a freak when it comes to cases for smartphones.
If I see a family member or a friend running around with an unprotected device, my first instinct, after recovering from a panic attack, is to fit that person's device with a case.
I usually have a few models sitting in my "case box," and if the case fits, it's going on the phone if you show up at my house without one.
I used to say that any case on a smartphone is better than no case at all. The main thing you really need to be concerned with is bezel elevation to prevent the phone from falling flat on the screen and taking a direct impact.
Secondary to that concern, you want edge rigidity and shock absorption to buffer against hits on the side and corners.
Prior to the introduction of edge screen designs first seen in devices like the Samsung Galaxy S7 Edge, followed by last year's iPhone X and this year's XS and XS Max, I would have maintained that yes, put on a case, any case.
But given how fragile the design is of this particular phone, and how much this thing dents your wallet when you buy it, and god forbid have to repair it after drop damage, I'm going to have to change my mind on that one.
You want the most protective design money can buy.
There are a few companies that specialize in extreme device protection. One is UAG, and it is an excellent company with great case products. The Monarch is an excellent choice for protecting your new $1,000+ device.
Otter Products is the other major player in this market, and I am a huge fan of its offerings. When I am asked by friends and family which case to get, an Otter case is always my first answer.
My colleague, Matt Miller, has written a nice overview of OtterBox's offerings for XS and XS Max.
Otter traditionally had one ultra-protective design, which is the Defender. And, for years, I only used Defenders no matter which device I had. I still only use Defender on the iPad Pro, because it's the only case I trust on that device right now.
You could just go get a Defender Series Pro (or the original Defender) for your iPhone XS. You would be very safe with that decision and my work would be done. It's a rugged, proven design, so it's practically a no-brainer.
But over the past few years, Otter has really expanded its line of case designs not just in its own branded offerings but also with its acquisition of LifeProof, which was once a fierce competitor.
LifeProof cases once distinguished themselves from OtterBox cases in that they were targeting sporty lifestyle customers, with an emphasis on waterproofing. So, their cases were always a little bit more expensive than the OtterBox designs. The FRE, in particular, is the LifeProof flagship.
For iPhone X, XS, and XS Max, LifeProof introduced two new case designs: the SLAM and NEXT. Based on closer examination, these seem to be very similar two-piece clamshell designs, although, from the samples I received, I noticed that the NEXT had considerably more bumper material on it.
Both are very tight fitting designs and provide ample bezel elevation and side/corner impact protection. However, neither are waterproof or provide additional screen protection for scratches or front impacts.
I used both cases for about a day, and I would say that the NEXT felt thicker, but it's not enough of a difference for me to sacrifice shock absorption with the SLAM -- although the SLAM can accommodate Alpha Glass, like the OtterBox Defender and the Pursuit, which we will get to momentarily.
Personally, if I was inclined to get one of these two cases, I would get NEXT.
The iPhone XS and XS Max are already IP68 water resistant and can survive 30 minutes of immersion at depths of two meters, so if the primary concern is being dropped with occasionally being rained on, NEXT is what I would go with.
However, nothing is so simple when it comes to making case recommendations for iPhone XS and XS Max.
I have not yet received the iPhone XS Max version of FRE, as the company didn't have a production sample ready yet, but I do have FRE installed on my Pixel 2, and I had one on my Samsung Galaxy S8+. So, we can infer that the overall design is going to be similar.
FRE is LifeProof's tried and true waterproof case design, which also incorporates a permanent scratch protector that is a flexible film. This is the case that traditionally provided brand differentiation from OtterBox and the Defender.
Now, with iPhone XS and XS Max already being fairly water resistant to begin with, it would seem that FRE is overkill.
Perhaps, I would tend to agree with this -- if we weren't talking about a $1,000+ device that costs $275 to $400 to replace the screen regardless of whether you bought the thing outright or you are making lease payments on the Upgrade Program.
On iPhone XS and XS Max, FRE has a watertight lightning charge connector door latch in addition to a permanent screen/scratch protector. I'm not sure how necessary this is, but if you spend time near the water or on the beach, it might be a good idea to have this feature.
Additionally, given the fact that you are now constantly rubbing your finger with nails on the screen itself instead of pushing a physical home button, I am inclined to say that a screen protector on an iPhone XS or XS Max is a requirement.
You just spent $1,000 or more on a phone, get the $80 case.
Done, right? Forget SLAM and NEXT. Get the FRE.
Not so fast.
With the iPhone X, and now the XS and XS Max, Otter has introduced a new high-end case, the Pursuit.
It appears that the company has created something of a fusion design between Defender and FRE. It essentially merged the DNA between the two companies with this product.
According to the company, the Pursuit is a stronger case than Defender without the additional bulk.
It's really more LifeProof than an Otter in terms of overall looks, but it isn't inherently waterproof. The FRE still offers additional waterproofing. Pursuit doesn't have a waterproof lightning latch; it has a rubber tab like the Defender instead.
So, is the FRE still better for the money? Well, no.
Scratch resistant cases
All the new OtterBox cases (and the LifeProof SLAM) for iPhone XS and XS Max can accommodate the Alpha Glass accessory, which provides additional scratch and impact protection for $39 more.
Can you buy a third-party scratch resistant film to put on a Pursuit? Sure. But then you should get a FRE. It's cheaper.
Would you rather have additional glass instead? In terms of aesthetic it definitely looks better and is easier to clean, and I think the few extra microns of glass gives me more peace of mind.
I see no point in using either Defender or Pursuit (or SLAM) without Alpha Glass. So, really, in terms of overall decision matrix of which case to buy, in my opinion, it comes down to:
- You want a holster and full rubberization and the tried and true Otter design (Defender/Pro + Alpha Glass)
- You want it to be thin but still highly protective (Pursuit + Alpha Glass, SLAM + Alpha Glass, or NEXT)
- You want it to be more waterproof than what the device provides out of the box, and you want scratch protection but not additional screen impact protection (FRE)
I spoke with Otter reps and asked them why the company simply did not consolidate the product lines or replace the existing Defender with Pursuit and a Pursuit holster.
Otter and Lifeproof have already consolidated their e-commerce sites as well as the type of packaging used in order to satisfy carrier shelf space display requirements and in-store marketing needs.
This is very much like a Ferrari/Maserati or a Cadillac/Buick thing. Same company, same engineering principles, and likely the same production lines. Different brands appealing to similar but different legacy customers.
I think the company could have easily made an FRE that can use Alpha Glass as opposed to the integrated film, and then it could just put different branding on it for the OtterBox version along with a holster. This is what I would have done, personally.
I have to assume Otter has done its market research and determined that not everyone wants a true glass protector and that a certain amount of customers, particularly in the vertical market space (construction, military, etc.), want the additional psychological protection of full rubberization with the traditional Defender design.
With any of these three case designs, you're in good hands. Which one are you planning to use? Talk Back and Let Me Know.
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