Otterbox Defender and Commuter Series iPhone 4 Cases Review

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Earlier this year, I reviewed the Otterbox Commuter and Commuter TL cases from Otterbox for another website. And interestingly, I came to the realization that I liked the less expensive Commuter TL case over the regular Commuter case.

Well, spring forward in time and we have a totally new iPhone, and I have two totally new Otterbox cases to “protect and defend” my precious gadget made of glass.

Only this time there is no Commuter TL case for the iPhone 4, only the Commuter case. But now, I am also lucky enough to have Otterbox’s big daddy of iPhone protection, the Defender case. So which case will win out this time, eh? The mighty Defender or the less expensive Commuter? Maybe this review will help you figure out which one might fit your needs.




I’ll start with the Defender. Once you figure out how to put together this brute of a case, you soon realize that while there may be a sexy, sleek iPhone 4 inside, you’ll never see it – or feel it. It reminds me of those thick-necked bodyguards you see around celebrities. Beauty surrounded by lots of beefy protection.


Just about the whole iPhone is protected against the elements, including the touch screen window. Each button is either covered or hidden behind a silicone flap for weather protection, as are the headphone and USB ports. There’s almost no way for dirt or water to get at your phone when its surrounded by all this plastic and silicone. Do keep in mind though, that although there is a lot of rain protection, the Defender case is NOT waterproof.

The only parts not covered are the camera and flash lens on the back of the iPhone and the speaker and mic on the bottom. Even the Apple logo showing through a hole in the case is protected by clear plastic. The headphone port flap is large, so that any sized mini plug housing should fit easily.



You could probably drop the Defender off a roof and your iPhone would be none the worse for wear. I say probably, because I haven’t – and I won’t. I’m not stupid. But fumbling around for your iPhone in a parking lot in the rain with slippery hands helps you appreciate why you covered it with the Defender in the first place. And living in Florida’s wet climate, I do a lot of fumbling in the rain.


One thing I did notice is that the silicone outer case does get a bit stretchy over time. So the fit is not quite as snug as when brand new. Still, if anything comes loose, I can easily move it back into its correct position. The polycarbonate inner shell is a sturdy skeleton for the silicon outer shell to latch onto. The Defender also comes with a snap-in holster and belt clip that also acts as a stand. Truth be told, I don’t use or trust holsters, but it’s available if you want it and Otterbox says that it’s been redesigned for a stronger hold. I’ll take their word for it. The polycarbonate inner back piece is lined with felt to minimize scratching. It’s a dirty little secret that some cases can actually cause scratches rather than prevent them. I have seen no scratching caused by this Defender case. My iPhone still looks brand new with the case off.

The Defender’s plastic touch screen window has a coating that minimizes fingerprints. It really helps. There is also an invisible texturing on the inside of the touch screen which Otterbox says will prevent bubbles or that “oil-slick appearance”. I didn’t appreciate this until I saw a competitor’s case on a friend’s iPhone. Wow, what a difference. Every time she pressed down on her touchscreen, that slick would appear. It became so distracting, she returned her case and ordered a Defender.


But what if you don’t want total protection at the expense of good looks? Then the Otterbox Commuter might be a better choice. This case will not protect like the Defender (it’s not really designed to), but it will give you plenty of security against those butter-finger moments.


The Commuter case is the opposite of the Defender, in that it has a silicone inner shell and a polycarbonate outer shell. Like the Defender, it also uses flaps to protect ports, but there is no plastic touch screen window or Apple logo protection on the back. The Commuter does come with a self adhering front screen protector. I don’t like or use those thin protectors, so I can’t say how well they might work. When I used the Commuter, my glass touch screen was not covered. The Commuter outer shell can be tricky to put on since the silicone inner shell keeps moving around. It takes practice but it can be done. Patience is required here. Also note that the headphone port flap is smaller that the Defender’s, so make sure that your mini plug will fit if the housing is larger than normal or “L” shaped..


The Commuter is quite a bit less expensive that the Defender but it is much more elegant looking (anything compared to the Defender would seem more elegant). But as good as a case as the Commuter might be, it can’t hold a candle to the protection offered by the Defender.

So, if you want to protect that expensive toy made of glass, both the Commuter and the Defender will do the trick. Which means you have a choice to make: Go for the looks or go for the armor. As for me, I’ll take the armor, every time.


Product Information

Price:$49.95 US – Defender $34.95 US – Commuter
  • Very good protection from the Commuter.
  • Outstanding protection from the Defender.
  • Silicone can stretch with age

8 thoughts on “Otterbox Defender and Commuter Series iPhone 4 Cases Review”

  1. Gadgeteer Comment Policy - Please read before commenting
  2. I love my otterbox defender case the only things I changed was i had to take the clip off & remove the plastic protecting the screen as they where both annoying me but other than that for my line of work (I’m a trainee chef in a busy restrauant kitchen) I give the defender a 2 thumbs up!!!

  3. Can you please put up a Side by Side comparative picture of Defender with Commuter? from all sides/ angles to see thickness difference?

  4. I’d say that the defender’s white black colour is quite good-looking to. I especially like the white ring around the apple logo at the back. The whole case gives it a futuristic look. I would say that the main difference is the layers. If you are an outdoors’ person, go for the defender. However, if you are just using your Iphone regularly, the commuter would do great. You may ask why. Simple. The defenders’ outer silicon casing causes difficulty in taking your phone out of the pocket. Your whole pocket will be flipped inside-out. The commuters’ outer plastic casing makes it smoother and easier to take out from your pocket. But trust me. You’ll become an expert after a while in the art of drawing your phone from your pocket. If you’re just lazy, stick to the cheaper defender.

  5. The Commuter Otter Box is a very cheaply made product. I’ve had two break one when a sharp edge caught my shirt pocket. My shirt was fine but the Commuter Box destroyed. Don’t bother buying the Commuter

  6. Ok, I had read your article way back when, and bought the Commuter TL for my 3GS, and it was spot on as you reviewed. It still offers good protection (after 2 parking lot drops). The slim profile and ease of drawing out of your pockets (compared to Defender) made it the ideal choice for me! I will likely buy the 4S iPhone soon and thus the Commuter for it. Thanks for the info!

  7. Hi:) i just would like to say u can build your own defender.(colorwise) i love the defender i have on my phone.

  8. I have always kept an Otterbox defender on my iPhones . I use to have the 4 and now I have the 5. It has always kept my phone in good shape and protected!! I will Not have an iPhone ever without a defender on it!! Well worth the money!!

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