Tech on the Trail: Meet the OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G


Welcome to "Tech on The Trail", our new section that will focus on testing our everyday IT products and see how they handle in real world environments. As our technology becomes more advanced it gets more fragile – how to protect the expensive eletronics that cost hundreds of dollars and yet it stops working if you’re unlucky, due to some weather conditions?

OtterBox is a company that is note worthy for its excellent water resistant and repelling products [hence the name OtterBox]. Their product line-up covers a lot of electronic products that need to be clean, dry, and safe. At one point OtterBox even had a water proof [to three feet or about 1 meter] case for the popular iPhone [Original 2G]. However this case was not in keeping with many iPhone users’ standards and unfortunately ended up being discontinued despite great reviews on many camping, kayaking, and hiking sites. While this is sad news OtterBox does have a great case for the iPhone – while not water proof is pretty resistant to water intrusion and also a great case for the camping, hiking, biking… well pretty much anyone into the outdoors and on the go.  This is the OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G; we got our muddy hands on one of these and just had to get it out on the trail to see if it was able to hold up.


The OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G comes in a light plastic clamshell case that does show off the product very nicely. Thankfully you do not have to tear or cut open the case[although some retailers may put staples in to keep the packaging closed] to get at your new toy as the thinness of the plastic could lead to some pretty severe cuts if you did.  OtterBox has included the Defender for iPhone 3G a belt clip and directions for installation.

Pacakging   Packaging
Front and the back, showing off the additional belt clip – Original Defender for iPhone didn’t came with the clip, so this is a welcomed add-on.

On the green side OtterBox went with all cardboard materials inside the plastic packaging so they can all be recycled. The thin outer plastic can also be recycled easily as it does not have any dyes or metal parts in it. Once you are confident with the installation [and use] you can drop it all in the respective recycle bin and keep it out of the landfills.

There is no reusing this packaging.


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Construction and Features


The Defender for iPhone is a hard plastic case with a rubber outer cover to help cushion your phone from impacts.  But the level of protection actually goes much deeper than that; as OtterBox has thrown in a protective screen [including one for the Apple Logo and the Camera], micro- mesh coverings for the ear piece and speakers, and protective rubber covers for the headphones jack, mute switch, and the iPhone adapter plug.  

Rubber Sleeve  Front Piece

Case Back  Case

Belt Clip  Case Back

Dust Flap  Dust Flap

Dust Flap  Oil Slick

A word on the screen protector; I found that it bubbles after you press it for the first time. This makes reading in bright light difficult and is not something you can get around. I tried all of the methods used to smooth out regular screen protectors but none worked.  There is also a small issue with the mute switch; with the current design it is difficult to access. I found that to switch back and forth I had to use my pinky fingernail to flip the switch.

Blet Clip  Belt Clip

The included belt clip has a few nice features as well. Although designed to hold the phone in a vertical position the clip can swivel 360 degrees to allow you to angle the phone for comfort. You can also hold the clip open by pinching it until you hear it click. It will remain in this position until you release it.

Despite all of this, the belt clip is a little bit of a disappointment. Although it is rugged and very sturdy OtterBox put the belt clip at the top. This makes carrying your iPhone in a horizontal position very ungainly as the phone sticks out quite a bit from your belt. The extra weight of the iPhone in the defender also means that the phone will eventually droop back to the vertical position.  The belt clip itself is also uncomfortable if you are wearing it on your belt without a shirt between you and it. I found that it presses into your side and can even pinch it if you are not careful. OtterBox needs to put some more thought and work into this part of the Defender.


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To try out the OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G I took it with me on a camping trip over the Memorial Day weekend. We went out to Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area in Flagler Beach Florida [http://www.floridastateparks.org/gamblerogers/default.cfm]. This camping area is right on the Atlantic Ocean and has some impressive currents, winds, and weather.

This year we had rain almost every day; from sprinkles to downpours and thunderstorms. Normally I would not have my phone on me during this type of weather since I would be concerned that it would be damaged by the water. However with the Defender I did not even think twice. I was out in the rain without concern. I am not saying the Defender is water proof [In fact OtterBox sates on their website[http://www.otterbox.com/iphone-3g/iphone-3g-defender-case/] that it is not designed to protect against any kind of water intrusion], if you drop this in a puddle you are going to be looking for a new phone. It is splash and droplet resistant for the most part. In other words if you get rained on you should be ok, if you drop it in mud you should be ok but if you drop it in water and it becomes submerged… I hope you have insurance.

Dust and sand [Including salt spray] were also not a concern. After the trip I took the phone out and there was no indication that I had spent four days right on the ocean. By contrast everything else I brought was covered in a fine layer of salt/dust and required cleaning including the outer rubber sleeve for the Defender.  But inside the phone was protected.

OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G  No Slat got in

I also found out the hard way that the Defender is nicely shock and impact resistant. I had an incident where I put the Defender into the belt clip and my shirt was caught in it. When I pulled the shirt loose it caused the phone to fly out and to bounce down the board walk stairs and land in the beach sand below. I was holding my breath as I walked down to recover my phone. However there was no damage at all. There were not even scuff marks on the rubber sleeve.  There is one weak link to the impact and shock protection though; that is the screen. Obviously OtterBox had to leave that open so that people would be able to enjoy the multi-touch screen but it does mean that if you drop face down on something sharp you might damage your iPhone.


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The OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G will cost you about $50 if you buy it directly from OtterBox. This seems like a pretty steep price at first but when you consider that I paid $40 for a leather belt case that fell apart after 4 months [and getting wet once] then an extra $20 for a pack of three screen protectors you actually save $10 by getting the Defender and you end up with a much more sturdy case for your expensive toy, I mean smart phone "intended for serious business".


OtterBox provides a one-year warranty on all of their products. This warranty covers defects in manufacturing. If you find a defect you can contact OtterBox for a replacement case. OtterBox will not cover any contents inside the case under this warranty.


If you are into camping, biking, hiking, or are just plain hard on your phone the OtterBox Defender for iPhone 3G is a great choice. It is not the all protective case like the armor was but it does a great job at keeping your iPhone from harm. I found that although OtterBox does not say it is water proof, resistant or designed to protect from water intrusion in any way you could be fairly confident that rain, splashes and most moisture short a prolonged dousing or submersion are not going to destroy your iPhone.

There are some draw backs to the Defender though; OtterBox needs to work on the belt clip and the screen protector. For the screen protector they have to figure out how to remove the bubbles so that they display is easier to read. For belt clip something has to be done about the sharp edges and the placement to allow for easier horizontal carrying.

Even with those issues the price is excellent considering what you actually get and comparing it to your average case plus screen protector.  The Defender for iPhone 3G  will be coming with me on all of my future camping trips for certain.