OtterBox for Apple iPhone Defender Series
If protection is your racket, you'll have a hard time finding better armor for your iPhone than the products that come out of OtterBox. The company has been making cases for sensitive equipment for years, specializing in products that are rugged and resilient, and the OtterBox for Apple iPhone Defender Series is no exception. A robust combination hardshell/silicone skin, the Defender is an excellent case for the iPhone--perhaps the best I've seen to date.
The protection in the Defender comes in layers: a rigid-plastic internal case is covered by an outer "skin" of rubberized silicone that fits like a wetsuit. The silicone exterior provide shock absorbency; you can drop the case on the ground and it will bounce, not shatter. The interior hardshell affords solid protection from bumps, drops, and crushing, meaning that your iPhone never gets so much as a dent or a ding.
Unlike OtterBox's Armor series (also reviewed here), the Defender is not waterproof--you can't submerge it, for example--but it will hold up just fine if you have to use the iPhone in light inclement weather.
Getting the iPhone into the case is a somewhat involved, if straightforward, process. First you have to peel the silicone from the hardshell. Then you loosen several of the Defender's locking clasps, a maneuver greatly expedited by having long fingernails, but possible even for those, like me, without them. Then you place your iPhone in the front half of the case, making sure to orient it in the correct direction, and snap the back of the case on. (Remember to remove the protective film from the inside of both the screen shield and the logo/camera window; I didn't realize the latter was there until my pictures started coming out fuzzy.) The two halves of the case fit together solidly, but you have to get the tabs at the bottom of the back piece of the case into their respective slots on the front. You'll get a series of satisfying clicks as you secure the two halves of the case together. Then you once again wrap the case in its silicone sheath.
Even with all of the protection the Defender has to offer, you'll still be able to use almost all of the iPhone's features. Silicone flaps cover the dock-connector port and headphone jack, but both openings are easy to get to. Likewise, while the earpiece, microphone, and speaker are all covered by a thin, protective mesh, they continue to work fine through the case. And using the volume and Sleep/Wake buttons is easy, since the silicone skin features slight nubs to help you find them. Similarly, the area of the skin covering the Home button has a tactile indentation that makes it simple to use.
On the other hand, you won't find any way to access the Ring/Silent switch without taking the entire case off, so if you frequently need to do that, the Defender is probably a non-starter for you.
Among my favorite features of the Defender is that, unlike many other iPhone cases, it actually protects the iPhone's screen while leaving it usable. A thin sheet of transparent plastic not only leaves the entire screen visible, but you can use the multi-touch interface through it as well. I did notice that this plastic protector does scratch more easily than the iPhone's glass screen, however, and dust seemed to find its way into the case anyway, which was somewhat annoying, even if it doesn't particularly affect the operation of the phone.
On the back of the case you'll find a small window for the iPhone's camera to see through, as well as a larger one to show off the iPhone's Apple logo. The camera works fine through the plastic (presuming, as I mentioned above, you remember to peel off the protective film first). The Defender also includes a sturdy belt-clip holster into which the case fits comfortably in pretty much any direction you desire, although, as with some other holsters, I found that I would often accidentally hit the iPhone's volume buttons when trying to pull out the phone to answer a call, silencing the phone's ringing--not necessarily a problem, given that you're answering the phone anyway.
Of course, all of those layers on the Defender do add up to one downside: it's much bulkier than many other cases we've tested. However, even with all the added thickness, I was still able to slip the whole thing into a pants pocket without too much trouble.
Certainly, if a slim profile is your priority, the Defender won't fit the bill, and the lack of access to the iPhone's Ring/Silent switch may be a deal-breaker for some. But if you're willing to sacrifice a bit for keeping the iPhone protected at all times, you'll definitely want to give the Defender a look.--Dan Moren
OtterBox for Apple iPhone Defender Series