Review: OtterBox Commuter TL Case for iPhone 3G and 3GS

OtterBox is known for making big and rugged cases, which will protect your phone but also give you lumpy pockets. The OtterBox Commuter TL Case ($20) is a far sleeker shield, offering still substantial protection, but without the mammoth bulk.

The case comes in three parts: a silicone under-layer, a hardened plastic strip, and a screen protector. The screen protector is just like any other you’ll find almost anywhere (and have recently been banned from Apple stores), so we won’t focus on that. Instead, lets look at the two primary layers: the silicone and plastic. The hard shell covers most of the rear of the phone, leaving the softer under-material exposed only on the edges. This way it adds rigidity and protection, but the exposed areas are easy to grip when pulling it from your pocket — a feature boosted by the texturized silicone surface.

The silent switch, speakers and camera are the only uncovered areas on the body of the iPhone, the volume switch and sleep button are both decked in silicone caps. While some cases that use this sort of protection for buttons can lead to imprecise controls and accidental presses, with the OtterBox it feels accurate. The headphone and dock port covers are both semi-detachable, so you can move them out of the way when needed.

The dock port was just about the only problem we had with the cover. Because putting it on is a two stage operation — first the silicone under layer, then the plastic — you have to make sure everything lines up properly.  The small flap of silicone that usually covers the docking port was a bit tricky to get in the right place, and took a few attempts before it wouldn’t catch on the hard plastic outer edge.

Strength-wise, the OtterBox Commuter TL Case seems respectable. The hardened plastic layer provides a core of strength, and while the edges are less protected, they still feel robustly enough guarded that they can take a bit of a beating.

The aesthetics of the case are fantastic. It’s sleek, while still offering protection, and the visual accent of hardened plastic is easy on the eyes. There are plenty of nice little design nods, like the clear area in the case for the Apple logo, or the extra texturing around the sides of the case. The OtterBox Commuter TL comes in black, blue, green, red, white, and yellow, so you can easily pick one that matches your purse.


Overall, the OtterBox Commuter TL is well made, offers great protection, doesn’t add much bulk, and looks pretty damn slick. The downsides are minor: a few fiddly bits of silicone, and the screen protector is nothing to write home about. Overall, we think it’s a great case, we give it an 8.5 out of 10 and recommend it.