Otterbox has become known for its rugged, protective iPhone cases, and the Otterbox Commuter for iPhone 4 ($19), a dual-layer case made of silicone and hard plastic, continues the tradition. A superbly designed case and some of the best protection you can get for the iPhone, the Commuter’s only flaws are its bulk and less convenient access to the iPhone’s headphone and docking ports.
The Commuter is a slightly slimmer version of the Otterbox Defender (review), a tank of a case we reviewed recently and found to be the gold standard for protective iPhone cases. The Commuter does away with the Defender’s built-in screen protector, but the overall design is much the same. It’s composed of two separate sections: a soft silicone rubber interior sleeve that you wrap around the iPhone, and a hard-plastic shell you place over it. The case requires some effort to put together and is not ideal for those who frequently take their case off and on. But once together, the case offers impressive protection, much better, even, than similar dual-layer cases.
Most of the case’s protection comes from the thick silicone rubber layer that makes up the bulk of the case. The rubber is exposed at the impact points (the four corners of the iPhone) and offers superb shock absorption for accidental drops. The silicone also supplies a thick rim that sticks up a quarter of an inch around the iPhone’s front screen and protects it should the iPhone land on that side. The outer hard plastic layer is much thinner than the silicone layer and seems mostly there for rigidity and dirt restistance, as hard plastic doesn’t attract dirt and grim the way some silicone materials can.
The case has a few drawbacks in the area of accessibility to its features. Silicone plugs that fit into the iPhone headphone and docking ports make accessing those areas more of a hassle. If you want to use headphones, you must first remove the plug, then replace it when finished. We found this process slightly annoying, but not a dealbreaker. And these plugs do have a purpose: preventing dirt and other potentially harmful substances from entering those sensitive areas.
The case covers the iPhone’s volume and sleep buttons with raised areas of silicone that simulate buttons. We tend to like this approach when the buttons work accurately, which they do with the Commuter. The home button is uncovered, as is the ringer switch, offering normal access.
The Commuter’s main flaw is its bulky size. I could still fit it in my pocket, but those with tighter pockets or smaller hands might not like the increased girth the case adds to the iPhone.
In terms of style, the case has a basic, utilitarian look to it. Lines are visible where the silicone and hard plastic layers meet and add a function-focused design element that we found neither ugly nor attractive. The case is only available in matte black, so anyone looking to match their case with their outfit will have to look elsewhere. The hard plastic back has a slight rough texture to it to help improve grip, and the case generally feels nice to hold—if you can get your hands around it. And there is a porthole on the back to display the iPhone’s Apple logo through, a design touch I’ve never really liked in iPhone cases in general, but some may find it useful to show off their fancy Apple product.
The Otterbox Commuter for iPhone 4 ($19) is a rugged, well-designed dual-layer case that offers superb protection for the iPhone 4. With its only drawback being added bulk, we nevertheless find it one of the best iPhone 4 cases available. We rate it a 9.0 out of 10, highly recommend.