Otterbox Defender iPhone Case [Review]

iPhone Defender case

This review covers the Otterbox Defender for iPhone 3G and 3GS. iPhone 4 owners, see the product listing for the Otterbox Defender iPhone 4.

Otterbox recently sent me their iPhone Defender case for review, and let me say right off the bat that this case is solid. The iPhone Defender case protects your iPhone with two layers: a strong plastic case and a rubber enclosure that holds it together.

The Defender also features:

  1. a plastic screen that shields your iPhone’s glass
  2. rubber flaps that cover iPhone’s buttons, openings and switches
  3. iPhone Defender case rubber

  4. foam rings that cushion the iPhone’s speaker and microphone without muffling them.

If you want to insure your investment, the Otterbox Defender case is the ultimate protection for your iPhone.

If, on the other hand, you just want to prevent keys and coins from damaging the delicate plastic on the back of your iPhone, and you’re confident that you won’t ever crack the glass and ruin your phone, a mistake that could cost you up to $250, then just buy a protective skin.

Yes, the Defender case is great for peace of mind. But it does have some downsides.

This is what I’ve noticed after nearly a month of using the iPhone Defender case.

The downsides

  1. The Defender is not the most sleek or glamorous case on the block. A couple of people have even told me I “look like a construction worker” with it. Actually, the Defender is the perfect case for construction workers, because it protects your iPhone from both shock and debris. But I don’t see the Otterbox Defender being featured on Gray’s Anatomy or The Hills any time soon, if you catch my drift.
  2. The bulk makes it impossible to use the Defender case with my iPhone Xtand or the factory iPhone dock.
  3. The screen protector is prone to air bubbles when you press on it.

    iPhone Defender case bubbles

    I contacted the friendly folks at Otterbox and they suggested a couple of fixes:

    1. “We have found that applying the adhesive screen from the Impact Series helps eliminate the air bubbles.” – Otterbox

      I didn’t get an Impact Series adhesive screen because I think this case should work on its own, without having to buy an additional product, but I did have another plastic film screen that I tested with the Defender, and it did not ameliorate the air bubbles.

    2. “We also suggest using the natural oils from your skin. Take the phone out of the case. You’ll want your hands to be clean, but not just washed. You want to take the palm of your hand (or you can also use your cheek) and press it lightly on the front panel of the OtterBox (the part that would touch the phone screen). It might seem like there will be finger prints that would show on the screen of the phone, but they do not. The natural oils of your skin should help with the oil/bubble look on your screen.” – Otterbox

      Surprisingly, the oils from my palm prevented bubbles to a large extent. The solution isn’t perfect, since it still produces some air pockets, but the bubbles were reduced by 95 percent.

  4. The inner plastic case is tough to open without long nails. But hey, at least you know your case isn’t going to pop open if you drop it, considering the strength of the plastic clips and the rubber that keeps the plastic intact. Hint: Try using a dime or other small coin to pry the case open.
  5. The exposed plastic on the back of the case causes the iPhone to vibrate louder. This is a downside for me, since it can be a nuisance in class or during meetings, but it could be an upside for you if you think the iPhone’s vibration is too weak.

The verdict

If damaging your iPhone is a concern for you, and you’re not too worried about glamour, then the Otterbox Defender case for iPhone is a great investment. Maybe you work, play or exercise outdoors. The Defender lets you go wild without worrying about your iPhone.

The truth is, though, that sometimes I just want to set my iPhone free and use it as Apple intended. The bulk is not always practical or pleasing to the eye.

Nevertheless, whenever a friend would comment on my bulky iPhone case, I would drop my iPhone on the ground. “They call it the Defender for a reason.”

Have you used the Otterbox Defender?

Do you use the iPhone Defender or some other iPhone case? Or is a bare naked iPhone worth the risk to you? I’d love to hear what you think in the comments.


Buy on Amazon: Otterbox Defender iPhone Case
Shop: Buy Otterbox Defender for iPhone 4
Manufacturer: Otterbox

45 thoughts on “Otterbox Defender iPhone Case [Review]”

  1. I have the Iphone 4s just got a replacement otter box realtree series case due to the other one wore out and the plug areas had basically come off. So within 2 weeks of the new one I dropped phone and the back of the glass is shattered where camera is and apple emblem. I haven’t taken the case off afraid the glass will start falling out. But this case useless since dropped from basically my side to the ground. My phone is not a year old yet and I have apple care so I guess will have to see about replacement.

  2. I have owned 3 iphones and all have had the protection of the OtterBox, I would not trust myself or anyone else with my phone without the protection. I also keep mine wrapped in a plastic type armour that is like a clear film and everytime I go to resell my phones I take off everything and they look like brand new and I have also dropped mine many times from varying distances. It must have been the way that it the ground.

  3. Garbage…The defender series is absolute garbage. I bought a brand new “Otterbox” for $55 after tax at the local Best Buy. The very first time i drop it, from a seated position no less, the back or the phone cracks. Up until i had this piece of trash on my phone, i had dropped it once or twice from higher heights, only to pick it up and find that there was not a single crack. As we have all realized, the iPhone4 is somewhat expensive and thought this would be a sound investment considering my warranty had just expired. I am not only livid by the fact that it did not protect the iPhone, just as it is advertised to do, but this lividity is only exacerbated I have a small hunch that it may have actually CAUSED the cracking. Maybe this is me being somewhat paranoid, but one must admit that this seems somewhat wrong, to spend as much as I did on something expecting it to only do WHAT IS ASKED of it, to have it fail the very first time. Keep in mind this came after well over a year of not ONE crack on the entire phone. I’m incredibly disappointed and, frankly, infuriated. This is incredibly wrong. i have every intention of returning my Otterbox for my money back, and even more intention of emailing and calling Otterbox to let them know they have permanently lost a customer. While I know a large company doesn’t care about one customer, I vow to talk everyone i know out of buying an Otterbox when the time comes for them to buy a phone case. They’re really pushing polished turds if you ask me.

    • I hope you make headway with Otterbox. BUT I DO DISAGREE WITH YOU. You had some bad luck obviously, but the defender case has most likely save my glass from breaking I am sure on many occasions although I can’t prove it. I even lost the clip and wrote Otterbox and they graciously replaced it for me gratis. If you had both parts of the case, the rubber part on top and the plastic part underneath it must have been a pretty bad fluke that the back of your case broke unless you dropped it really hard or like a diamond ring you dropped it in just the right place. Not all accidents can be accounted for. Let us know if Otterbox does something for you… I am pretty sure I paid a lot less for my case. I think I got it on Amazon. I had waited a little while until the color a wanted was released. I had two previous phones not in an otterbox – one slipped out of my pocket a week after I got it and the glassed cracked immediately. Cost me $199 to replace the glass. Second time it slipped off a book I was carrying it on onto a would floor. Different phone also new. Glass cracked and I had it repaired at a local store for $80.00. It was okay for awhile, but the glass loosened up after awhile but I was able to trade the phone in for the next model. Since then I have used Otterbox and as I said I try not to drop it, but it just happens. The other day it fell out onto my driveway.. still didn’t crack.. maybe it’s just luck but I am not going to take that chance.

    • I too have bubbles on my otter box screen. Not bubbles exactly but a whole area of air that shows up. It is only on the top screen that comes with the Otterbox, but it only is visible when there is a lot of light shining on the phone or when the phone is off and it is black. The screen protector on my phone (under the otter box screen) directly is great. I got it At Radio Shack when I got my last iPhone (the one I have now 4G) about 3 years ago. It was a screen that you have to put some kind of liquid on first then attach the screen cover on it. I had the radio shack employee do it for me. But then the Otterbox plastic screen kind of negates that, but I’ll tell you the otter box has has saved this phone screen from cracking on many occasions. It is heavy to carry around, but worth it. I’m sure if the phone dropped in just the right way (as a diamond would) it could crack. But I’m hoping it will hold off until the new G5 comes out.

  4. My husband and I both have the iPhone 3gs. We bought the otterbox for both. we love it. The bubbles were there. I was cleaning the inside of the box trying to get rid of the bubbles, my husband came in and we had to leave so I just put it back together.I did not wipe the screen off. There were no bubbles. It had to be from the oils on my skin. Best case ever.

  5. I bought a brand new IPhone 3g and a otterbox with the clip to protect it last week. After 2 days, I just hit lightly the clip and it went off my hip and the Iphone felt down. Now I have a broken screen. I was not very impress about the solidity of the clip and I have to fix the Iphone.

    Not very happy

  6. Thanks for contacting the company to get the suggestion of getting air bubbles reduced. They’ve been driving me nuts since I bought the box but it’s much better now!

    Thanks again!

  7. Ok, 15 months after my review on this for a 3gs, now have had the otterbox defender on my iPhone 4 since i upgraded a month and a half ago, and i love it!
    Redesigned holster has a very positive hold on case, and did not have to put powder, oil, or another screen protector to avoid bubbles.

    The redesign for the iPhone4 also means previous problems for synch cables has been pretty much totally eliminated.

    Same great protection, and improvements on previous problems, well done Otterbox!

    And please realize people, i’m glad you got your case for $30, but that was approx a year after i bought mine for $80, so i hope the price went down on a 3g/3gs case….. 😉

  8. I like the otterbox for the peace of mind, you never know when you are going to drop it, but I do wish that they made an extender/cradle for my Sony alarm dock clock radio, so that I did not have to keep removing all the armour every time I want to charge and listen to music, other than that I have been very happy with the case

    • Hi Luciana,

      They do make dock extenders so you would not have to remove your case everytime you want to dock your iphone. I have seen 2 varieties: 1 type just sits directly on your dock & raises it up an inch or so. It plugs onto the dock port directly & then has an apple connector on top for you iphone. The other type is like an extension cord that you plug onto your dock with the apple connectors on both ends. Hope this helps. I have seen them on Amazon & Ebay.


  9. I found an easy fix for the bubbles. Take a tiny pinch of cornstarch and dust it onto your screen being careful not to get any into the speaker. With a microfiber cloth take off the excess starch. The cornstarch is ultrafine so it won’t scratch. Then put your Otterbox on…absolutely no bubbles. I love my Otterbox I have two and swap out parts to mix the colors.

  10. I think it’s a great product, yes the air bubble is a pain in the butt, but the remedy of rubbing your fingers over the phones face really helped, there are hardly any bubbles on the screen, but all in all this case will protect my phone from all kinds of punishment, whether it’s getting caught in the mosh at that Iron Maiden show, too much rough housing at that party where someone spills their beer on my phone or when I am on that extended 6 day trek in the back country, i can be sure my phone will be protected, well worth the $80 CDN.

  11. I mentioned I like my defender for the g4 that I just received. I was waiting for one in Red, because it is easier to find my phone if it sticks out. I lose things very quickly when I put them down.

  12. I love my otter box…I have a 2 year old and 7 year old and I do not worry at all while either is using the phone!

  13. I just cracked my phone last night after accidentally dropping it on my way out to my car from work. The screen is cracked to hell and back /: I’m gonna go to apple today, get it replaced & buy the defender.

  14. I deeply regret not getting the otterbox case, I kept calling it the “Hummer” of the iPhone cases.. After my 45 dollar candy shell case did nothing to protect my screen from busting.. I’ll get the “hummer” case when I get enough money to buy a new phone.. Eh.

  15. I use this case and have stopes my phone many time including a couple of bails longboarding and my phone has survived up until the last time but then again I kinda got clipped by a car longboarding the other day and ate some major road and that’s when my iPhone screen finally gave in so all In all it’s an excellent case

  16. I have the otterbox case and dropped my phone recently…I’m here to tell you it doesn’t protect against everything. My screen is cracked under the glass now. It’s generally a good case but by no means invincible.

    • The same exact thing happened to me. I dropped it now I got these huge black lines in the inside…now I’m so angry I don’t know what to do…can I go to applemac and get it fixed free?

  17. “I have an otterbox defender on my iphone. Dropped my Iphone flat on its back from armchair level and the glass broke from side to side. looks like this is one false sense of security.”
    – I mean, my glass cracked from side to side. Iphone still usable.

  18. I have an otterbox defender on my iphone. Dropped my Iphone flat on its back from armchair level and the glass broke from side to side. looks like this is one false sense of security.

  19. I have 1 and it failed and my screen cracked my phone fell about 1ft and landed face done. Cracked my screen bottom right corner…seems the box needs a gasket around the plastic to protect the phone ????? so i just se t in my phone well see what happens sad its a new phone too my foot is what the saleman said at AT&T

  20. I have the Otter Box version thats completly black so if you’re worried about the “construction worker” look then there is hope. I still have the same problem with the air bubbles but i just squeze the sides together which pushes the screen protecter away from the screen itself and that fixes the problem for a little bit.

  21. The phone case is awesome!! the holster sucks, phone keeps falling out. they need to design the holster like the blackberry’s then the whole package would be excellent.

  22. instead of rubbing yourself with your otter box, just get ANTI GLARE SCREEN PROTECTORS from at&t or apple and put it on the phone,put the phone in the otter box and live 100% BUBBLE FREE. this is a tried and true fix, you must get ANTI GLARE screen protectors though.($15.00 FOR 3 FROM AT&T, OR $15.00 FOR 2 FROM APPLE) and honestly the ones from at&t are better and apply easier

    • a much more simple fix for the air bubbles underneath the screen protector is to sprinkle baby powder on the back side of the screen protector and then blow it off, its simple and stops air bubbles from forming

  23. I recently bought an IPhone and also bought the Otterbox Defender case at the same time. I have loved the case since I bought it other than the air bubbles.
    I was searching for a solution and came upon this forum which suggested rubbing the back face of the screen of the Otterbox Defender case on my cheek or hand. I was skeptical but tried it anyway. It worked!!!

  24. just a little baby powder on a very clean, dry, screen then brush it off (not too thoroughly) put case back on, no bubbles. works great. anybody know of a radio/clock radio that works with the otter box defender?

  25. I have used the white otterbox for a month now. I work construction so protection is a top priority. The thickness makes it a little awkward while typing at the sides of the keyboard, but by using the landscape mode to type does eliminate this issue. The outer covering is very slip resistant, so it stays in my shirt pocket even if I bend over and it will not slide on my leather seats in my truck. It is a little tough to open up the inner case halves, and the only reason that I need to do that is if I want to listen to my music through my truck radio via my ipod connection. It works great, but I need to take the case apart and remove it because the ipod plug is too big. It is square in shape not oval like the apple sync/charge cord. It is really my only issue with this case. I have thought about cutting the bottom lip off to allow me to plug the ipod cord in, but then the protective flap would not lock into position to keep out dust/dirt/etc. One other thing is that I actually like the bulk since I find it easier to hold the phone and I am not worried about it dropping/slipping from my hand.

    • you can buy a cord called a dock extender that will fit through your otter box so you can still use it with docking radios, A/V cords, or anything else that you cant fit the 30 pin usb through your otter box. you can get them from, i recomend the white ones. there are 2 downsides though, sometimes when you use the cord the phone will say its not an apple accessory, just un plug and retrying fixes this, and 2, when my buddy got his it was still a hair to big to fit through the otter box, i solved that problem with my girls nail file

  26. I have the WHITE otterbox, and it is far more elegant than the black and yellow, I tried both and to me the white just looks like an extension of the 3GS back of my phone, which is white! It’s definately NOT as bulky as I thought!

    Thanks a MILLION for the oils tip, I just got rid of 100% of my air bubbles!
    All gone!! Literally! 🙂

    Otter box is WELL worth it, seriously! (And I’m more The Hills than Construction Site! LOL) Although I do work in a very outdoors alot job, so needed it, but it’s really not as bulky as I thought, and the white one is very sheek! 🙂

  27. Working with the Navy and Law Enforcement can be REALLY hard on a phone, so when I upgraded to a iPhone, i quickly bought the Otterbox Defender, i love it.

    And so do others i work with who also have iPhones, 2 out of the 3 have also bought Otterbox Defenders.

    Great product for the work enviroment, not so chic for downtime/casual use, but oh well, a new iPhone is a VERY expen$ive piece of kit……

  28. Both my husband and I have an otterbox and love the protection it gives. He was somehow able to get rid off ALL his air bubbles not sure if his oils are better then mine lol but the same trick didn’t work with mine. I also do wish they had more of a color selection I was stuck getting a pink case because he got the black, white gets dirty too fast and well black and yellow wasn’t me…not that pink is either but oh well at least my phone is safe!

  29. I don’t have an iphone, but I do have a Blackberry Curve with an Otterbox on it. Agreed, it is VERY bulky, but so far I’ve washed my phone without damage, drop it several times a day, and even drove over it with an AMBULANCE-no damage.

  30. Been rolling around with mine for awhile and I really like the otterbox. It really protects the phone well but I can’t get the damn plastic case to open. I’ve been struggling with this thing for about 10 minutes now. Coins do not work, and I am about to resort to two sets of pliers.

  31. Is this available to test? I don’t think it is that ugly, but it would be better with other colors… not yellow and black. Red would be better, Blue, anything else.


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