capsule review

OtterBox for Apple iPhone Armor Series

At a Glance
  • OtterBox for Apple iPhone Armor Series

I'm a klutz with...well, everything. If I can drop it, I will drop it, no matter what it is. I've destroyed several laptops--including my beloved 12-inch PowerBook G4--and multiple iPods because of unpreventable clumsiness, and I've come to accept the fact that I'll often have to buy a product several times because I'm incapable of keeping the first unit intact. Even my iPhone is banged-up and dented from multiple forehead-slapping collisions with concrete--including an accidental drop down a garbage shoot--and I've developed a thick skin when it comes to cosmetic flaws on my gadgets.

OtterBox was obviously thinking of people like me--as well as people who do things like hike and climb mountains and other dangerous outdoors-y activities--when they developed the wicked Armor Series case for the iPhone. The company's been around for a while, creating tank-like protection for portable gadgets, and the Armor case for the iPhone gives me hope that perhaps I won't need to buy multiple iPhones in the future because of my butter-covered, klutz-stricken fingers.

The Armor case ($70) comes in black and yellow/black, and is shock-proof, water-proof, and, thankfully, Dan-proof. The iPhone's screen is covered with a solid, scratch-resistant plastic shield that protects the screen's glass surface but still allows touchscreen use. There's a hole in the back of the case for the iPhone's camera that's also covered in clear plastic, making the camera usable even with the case on. At the top of the Armor is a waterproof headphone jack that interfaces with the iPhone through a connector on the inside of the case--you plug the case's interior headphone plug into your iPhone's headphone jack; the signal is passed through to the case's headphone jack.

But this headphone-jack design is a mixed blessing: Good because you can use the iPhone's headphones to take calls even when the phone is inside the case; and good because the Armor's headphone jack isn't recessed like the iPhone's, so you can use standard headphones to listen to music without needing an adapter. But bad because the headphone plug on the inside of the case is a headset plug, which means it mutes the phone's audio, preventing you from using the iPhone as a regular handset. In other words, you can't put the phone up to your ear and talk normally; you need to use either the built-in speakerphone or an iPhone-compatible headset. (The iPhone's built-in speaker and microphone are protected by a thin membrane that keeps water and detritus out but lets audio pass through relatively unaffected.) This design is a pain for call-hooked businessmen on outdoor trips, although it may not be an issue for folks looking for ultimate protection and are willing to spend the extra few seconds to remove the phone from the case to make a regular ol' phone call.

Another downside is that the Armor is the bulkiest iPhone case I've seen, and the thick plastic and waterproofing makes it difficult to access the iPhone's Hold button on top and the volume buttons on the side; each are accessible, but require extra pressure (and perhaps some tough fingernails) to trigger them. And as with the Armor's less-protective sibling, the Defender, the Ring/Silent switch is completely inaccessible. Finally, as you'd expect, you can't access the iPhone's dock-connector port without taking the phone out of the case.

To give you a sense of the case's protectiveness, throughout January's Macworld Expo I threw my Armor-encased iPhone at the floor, tossed it in the air, poured water on it, and even jumped and stomped on it like a madman. The case held up remarkably well, garnering only some dust and footprints on the front plastic screen (the inside was dust- and moisture-free). My iPhone withstood the beating, too, although it did emerge with a minor dent on the back, apparently from my heel jamming into the back of the case while it was on the floor. (Remember, I was trying to crush the phone with the heel of my shoe--I'm lucky the phone survived at all.)

Aside from the the issues noted above, the Armor Series iPhone case gets the job done beautifully, protecting the iPhone from concrete, water, and people like me who seem to drop stuff out of biological necessity. Although pricey at $70, the Armor is worth it if you're a daredevil adventurer and need top-notch protection for your pricey portable.--Dan Pourhadi

At a Glance
  • OtterBox for Apple iPhone Armor Series

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