OtterBox Commuter Series Apple iPhone 4 Case Review

Even though I may have relaxed a bit lately on my slightly obsessive love of protecting my gadgets, I'm still a big fan of busting out the iKlear to make my lovelies shine, and utilizing protective cases whenever I can. The iPhone 4, being (currently) the newest and shiniest of all my gadgets, really deserved some special protection.  I had been using the Apple Bumper case, but since the protection this case offers is woefully inadequate, I dialed up the fine folks at OtterBox to check out the Commuter series case for Apple's iPhone 4.  Is this case right for you?

Unboxing the OtterBox Commuter Series Case for iPhone 4

The packaging for this product is cool, clever, and economical.  On the outside, it seems straightforward enough.

This isn't immediately apparent (at least it wasn't to me) but to remove the case, you must slide the inner case downward.

 You'll find that the case is secured to the slide-out tray by the tab you see above - slide that out and you'll find several items neatly and cleverly tucked away inside the case itself.

A screen wipe, screen protector, applicator, and OtterBox sticker are included along with the two parts of the case.

Installing Your iPhone 4 In The Case

This is incredibly easy - a tutorial video really isn't necessary, but OtterBox does one for you anyway.  You simply slide your iPhone 4 into the silicone wrap, being careful not to tear any thinner parts (this is unlikely, but always good to be careful.)  You'll know everything's lined up correctly when the headphone jack cover and power connector cover insert properly.

Then, all you need to do is then gently snap the silicone-covered iPhone 4 into the hard polycarbonate shell, and you're OtterBox'ed!

So, How Is It?

In a word, fantastic.  Not without its drawbacks, but overall it's the best phone case I have used, for any phone I have ever owned, to date - and that's not hyperbole.  It's not for everyone (see cons section) but I can't see how the majority of folks wouldn't absolutely love this case.

First of all, it looks great.  Fortunately, OtterBox has ditched the H.G. Wells/antique diver helmet look of the previous iPhone 3G/3GS Defender case (which I also loved, by the way, and used every day for a long time) and has chosen a sleeker, edgier, more modern look.  The back and sides of the case are flat, to match the contour of the phone, and that nifty window showing off the Apple logo is, much to my appreciation, still there. (Pictured next to the previous generation Defender case - and YES, I know the Apple logo on my custom sticker isn't perfectly aligned - don't remind me!)

Protection-wise, this case provides a middle ground that I think would be best for everyone.  It's way, WAY better than a Bumper-type case and most of the flimsy mass-market cases, much better than a silicone wrap or plastic case alone, but not quite as much of a tank as the Defender series.  The whole front of the phone is exposed, and you could still cause damage by dropping it on a corner of something (or an otherwise pointy object) but the bezel is high enough that dropping on a flat surface face-down should result in little to no damage.  (For purposes of full disclosure, I didn't test dropping it, sorry.  I love my phone too much.  As such, take that with a grain of salt and common sense.  Just don't drop it!)

The case does not come with a holster, nor was it designed to be used with one.  The silicone is not the non-slip, grippy kind - meaning that it will go easily into pockets, purses, soft cases, etc.  I prefer to keep my phone on my belt, and it fits beautifully (for example - I use this case) into a standard size Case Logic sack with belt clip - but you could use virtually anything you want.

Pros and Cons

I mentioned this case may not be for everyone.  Note that OtterBox currently produces 2 cases for the iPhone 4, with another on the way.  If this one doesn't work for you, check out the super-sturdy Defender or the coming-soon Impact.


So, what's great about this case?  First of all, it's far less bulky than the mighty Defender.  You could say that it has the optimum size-to-protection-to-cost ratio.  See photo above for a thickness comparison between it and the Apple Bumper.

Speaking of cost... sure, you could have your own case forged from pure carbon fibre and tungsten carbide and that would probably provide better protection, but that would cost a lot more than $34.99.  Frankly, the Bumper costs $29, making the OtterBox a pretty awesome value.

Third, it looks really, really sharp - protection does not come at the cost of being ugly in this case.  Now, it's not flashy, but that's perfect for me.

Finally, I love that it slips easily into the case I have.  In fact, I'm finding I prefer that it doesn't have any belt clip nonsense on the back but that I can still have it on my belt in a soft case.  The Bumper case has grippy edges, making it very difficult to take in and out of cases or pockets.


The cons of this case mostly revolve around how you use your phone, and personal preference.  First of all, the case may not be all that bulky (at least in my opinion) but it seems to add a lot of weight.  Again, I don't mind this but some folks are very sensitive to the weight of their gadgets.

Second, there is no included belt clip.  You could always put one on with double sided tape, but it wouldn't be the same (or secure) as having one built-in.  If you absolutely must have a belt clip, the Defender case would be a better choice.

Third, I wouldn't call it fashionable or trendy.  The Commuter definitely puts function over fashion, and it's available in any color... as long as you want black.  I have a feeling that OtterBox may offer some other colors at some point, but right now - this is what you get. (Note that the 3G/3GS cases are available in a variety of colors.  It's probably only a matter of time.)  No fancy designs, no glued-on crystals or stickers, no nothin' - just a nice case - but if you're looking for bling, this ain't it.


Overall, the OtterBox Commuter Series case for the iPhone 4 has it all - a great, sleek appearance and a moderate amount of size and weight with a huge upgrade in protection over most cases in competing price points.  It's also a great value, considering the junk out there that commands prices of $30 or more - everything OtterBox makes simply oozes of quality and attention to detail.  I've seen their whole line of cases, in person, on several occasions and each one is tailored perfectly for the device it's intended for.

I'd rate the Commuter Series case a "must buy" for iPhone 4 users seeking great protection and value in a case.  Based on previous experience with the Defender case, I'd recommend that also if you want the ultimate in protection.

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