I have used the Otterbox Defender case for iPhone 3G for the past two and a half years. I love it and heartily recommend it to folks who need a very protective case. There might be a more protective case for the iPhone 3G, but I don’t need it. Whenever I open up the case and take out the phone (once every couple months) it’s as clean as can be expected. The phone has withstood being left outside overnight in the rain (twice, face down), dropped in the toilet (don’t ask), and of course countless drops from a variety of heights. When it regularly hits the ground, I never, ever think twice about it. The phone goes with me in my rock climbing bag and is used at the crag which is a dirty, rocky, unforgiving place as well as my mountain biking bag which is less dirty but more prone to hitting the ground (or a tree). I’m adept at using my tongue on the touch screen since as you probably know, iPhones screens don’t respond to gloved fingers. But they don’t work too well with a lot of moisture on the screen so I try not to slobber too much.
The most important feature of the Otterbox Defender for iPhone 3G case (for me) is the dust and dirt protection. When I’m not sitting at the computer, I’m typically doing dirty things – remodeling my 105 year old house, gardening, woodworking projects, the aforementioned climbing and biking, generally being outside. The phone is usually in my pocket which almost always has a layer of dirt in the bottom of the pocket. This month, I handed-down the iPhone and case to my almost seven year old daughter and she promises to keep up the abuse of the case and phone. She has been abusing it alongside me ever since I bought it so knows what the case is capable of protecting against (basically everything).
I loved the old Otterbox Defender case so much that I’ve actually purchased three of them over the years. I’m so hard on cases that I wear them out. But I’ve been happy to pay for a new Otterbox case about every year.
All this Otterbox love changed for the worse (worst?) when I got my new iPhone 4 (Verizon) and bought the new Otterbox Defender for Verizon iPhone 4 case for it during checkout from the Verizon store online. I was so convinced of the miraculous powers of the Otterbox case that I bought it sight-unseen without reading any reviews. I should have. In short, it sucks.
The rubber outer is not tight, even out of the box. Pulling the phone out of my pocket requires me to reseat the rubber every time. The tabs that cover the power port, mute switch and headphone jack do not seal well and come open at every opportunity, as if they were spring-mounted. Mysteriously, Otterbox chose to leave some actual holes in the case so dirt slips right in. In the Otterbox Defender for iPhone 3G case, the top/face and bottom speaker and microphone ports were covered with cloth-like material so dust couldn’t get in but sound still permeates. Now they’re right open to the air and thus the dirt, along with the top “ambient noise microphone”. On my iPhone 4, the little silver speaker and microphone grills on the bottom are chock full of dust. The same deficiencies exist with the front and back cameras and proximity sensor. There is exactly zero protection over them.
To be fair, the camera on the old Otterbox Defender for iPhone 3G case made crappy pictures with a plastic-y haze to them because, well, it was covered by hazy plastic. But that’s a price I was happy to pay. And the hard plastic guard around the proximity sensor collected dirt so my iPhone 3G generally didn’t do automatic brightness adjustment.
The new case is so different than the old one that I don’t feel they’re comparable. Today I opened up the case to investigate the results of a roll-around in the dirt that occurred while re-plumbing a friend’s house on Sunday. The phone is more covered in dirt and the ports more full of crap than in the two and a half years I had the old case. (We were in the crawlspace when I heard my phone ringing. I couldn’t find it in my pockets so assumed it was directly above us in the bathroom, but my friend found it completely buried in fluffy dirt. It was an “oops” moment, but not uncommon for me.)
There are a ton of isolated Otterbox Defender reviews for each version of the iPhone along with comparisons of similar cases but there aren’t enough Otterbox fans complaining loudly enough about the massive downgrade from the Defender case for 3G to 4. If you like the Otterbox Defender case for iPhone 3G, do yourself a favor and do not buy the same case for iPhone 4. If you want an iPhone 4 case as truly protective as the 3G case, you need something better. (Griffin Survivor? LifeProof?) If you felt like the Defender for 3G was a little too much protection, then get something slimmer and cheaper.
I wish it weren’t true, but the Defender for iPhone 4 fits no category of case protection and should fully satisfy no one.