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ATPM 16.04
April 2010




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Accessory Review

by Chris Lawson,



Function: Case for iPhone 3G/3GS.

Developer: OtterBox

Price: $35

Requirements: iPhone 3G/3GS.

Trial: None

OtterBox has been building rugged cases for years, so it seems only natural that it would have a variety of options for the iPhone. Probably the most attractive of its several iPhone case offerings is the Commuter, a rubber-and-plastic case that provides better protection than most soft cases while remaining reasonably slender.


OtterBox’s Commuter requires some assembly.

The Commuter case is composed of three pieces: an inner silicone-rubber layer, a hard plastic shell, and a thin clear screen protector. The inner rubber layer is available only in black, but the plastic shell comes in seven different colors (including black). This makes for some amusing combinations—the white shell lets the iPhone do its best imitation of a Gateway product, while the yellow or green would be very much at home on an endcap display next to the DeWalt or Hitachi power tools at a big-box hardware chain. (The green might be equally appealing to hardcore Kawasaki—the motorsport company, not the former Apple evangelist—fans.)


The Commuter looks similar to many other cases fully assembled.

Assembling the case takes a bit of finesse, as the plastic shell isn’t particularly flexible and the thin rubber strip above the dock connector tends to stick out a bit. (You can coax it into place with a fingernail.) Put the silicone liner on first, then slide the bottom of the shell in place before snapping the top on. This way, you’ll likely avoid fingernail gymnastics.


This flexible cover does a great job of keeping gunk out of the dock connector.

Protection against drops and bumps seems quite good. The silicone layer is reasonably thick without being bulky, and it covers almost everything other than the screen, home button, and silent slider. Everything, that is, except a nickel-size area of the back case centered on the Apple logo. OtterBox, like ZoFunk, seems to think that customers who are willing to spend $35 on a protective case to prevent scratches and other damage are also too narcissistic to cover up the Apple logo. Well, news flash, guys: some of us actually care about protecting the phone and don’t give a rat’s nether regions about showing off the logo on the back. Form should follow function.


Hello? McFly? Some of us buy cases to protect our phones, not to show off the Apple logo. I can show that off without a case.

Exposing a lot of sticky silicone rubber on a case can be a recipe for trouble. The ZoFunk Grip Sleeve, to cite one example, is nearly impossible to remove from a jeans pocket without turning the pocket inside out. OtterBox’s own Defender occasionally gets caught on pockets in even loose-fitting jackets, but the Commuter’s design seems to strike a nice balance between tacky and Teflon by covering up much of the rubber with textured plastic. It’s also much slimmer than the bulky Defender.


One of the best aspects of the Commuter is that it adds little bulk to the phone while still providing a great deal of protection.

OtterBox includes a clear screen protector, too, which is a nice touch. You will need to replace it, at a cost of about $10 or so, when the adhesive starts to wear out and dust gets in around the edges, but that goes for pretty much any of the adhesive screen protectors out there, and not everyone includes screen protection with cases that otherwise provide none.


As with the cover over the dock connector, this tight-fitting flap over the headphone jack keeps dust and dirt from fouling up the jack.

Another nice touch is the tight-fitting flaps over the headphone port and dock connector. The latter, in particular, can be kind of tricky to hold out of the way as you’re plugging in a USB cable, but it’s very nice to have protection there. Most other cases either don’t provide any protection at all for the dock connector or block it entirely so you’re left removing the iPhone from its case to sync or charge it.

The truest test of a case, to my mind, is whether I keep coming back to it after using other cases. The Commuter is one of only two I’ve put back on my iPhone after taking it off to test others. If OtterBox would make the back of the case solid, without that silly logo hole, this might be my favorite iPhone case yet. Heck, it might be anyway.

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