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ATPM 18.04
April 2012




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Accessory Review

by Chris Lawson,

OtterBox Commuter and Reflex



Function: iPhone 4/4S case.

Developer: OtterBox.

Price: $35.

Requirements: iPhone 4 or 4S.

Trial: None.



Function: iPhone 4/4S case.

Developer: OtterBox.

Price: $35.

Requirements: iPhone 4 or 4S.

Trial: None.

Every time Apple changes the size and shape of an iPhone, case and other accessory manufacturers have to decide if their products should be updated for the new device. OtterBox not only updated their Commuter case (reviewed in ATPM 16.04 ), but it also added to the line with the Reflex, a tough plastic “slider” case with silicone grip strips on the back.


The Commuter (left) and Reflex (right) both consist of two pieces.

Both the Commuter and the Reflex come in a variety of colors and claim to fit all iPhone 4 and 4S models. Testing on a Verizon iPhone 4 and an AT&T 4S supports this claim, as both cases work well on both phones.


The entire interior of the Commuter is silicone; the interior of the Reflex is mostly plastic with some fabric along the back.

The Reflex looks like an OtterBox version of the bare-bones Zoe Case, but it addresses many of the shortcomings of that case. For instance, OtterBox was smart enough to put most of the mold lines inside the case.


The Reflex from the front…


…and the Reflex sliding together.

However, OtterBox’s Reflex case doesn’t stay together as securely as the Zoe Case did. If you need to take the phone out of its case often, this probably isn’t a big deal—and indeed, the Reflex is much easier to install on the phone than the Commuter is.

There’s very little silicone on the Reflex, and its plastic is hard, making it likely to slide around on a flat surface (like, say, the center console of your car). It also makes the Reflex feel cheap.


The Reflex has a fairly small headphone jack cutout.

Got a set of headphones with a big plug? Good luck plugging them into your iPhone while it’s in the Reflex case. The headphone jack cutout is fairly small. The silicone button covers are also stiff, making the volume and power buttons difficult to actuate with one hand. Finally, the Reflex has virtually no protection for the Dock connector other than a raised rim around the connector and speaker/mic area.


The joint holding the two halves of the Reflex together isn’t terribly secure.

The good news, though, is that the Reflex covers the entire back of the iPhone, with the exception of the cutout around the camera and flash. The Commuter for the 3G didn’t, and I complained about it two years ago. No one at OtterBox was listening, as the new Commuter has the same problem—there’s a giant circular cutout in the back whose sole purpose is showing off the chrome Apple logo.


The Commuter from the front…


…and from the back. Why does this case insist on showing off the Apple logo at the expense of protection?

The new Commuter’s silicone liner is nice and supple, making the buttons easy to actuate. It also provides a flap for the Dock connector and headphone jack. (In case you were wondering, that giant hole in the headphone jack flap is there to allow the noise-cancellation microphone to work.) The headphone jack cutout is somewhat larger than on the Reflex, but headphones with very large plugs may still be incompatible with it.


The silicone dust flap does a great job of keeping gunk out of the Dock connector.

The silicone and textured plastic on the Commuter feel much nicer than the Reflex, although the back is solid plastic and thus tends to slide around on a flat surface much as the Reflex does. The silicone also catches a little bit on a jeans pocket, but it’s fine in the breast pocket of a dress shirt.


With the flap flipped up, the Commuter has more room for a large headphone plug than the Reflex does. The hole is for the noise-cancelling microphone.

While the new Commuter is easy enough to remove from the phone, as with the older model, it takes some finger gymnastics to get an iPhone installed. In fact, the Commuter seems to be more difficult to install on an iPhone 4 or 4S than it was on a 3G. It took at least five tries before I was able to get my phone installed in the Commuter in one smooth motion. The squared-off edges of the 4 and 4S seem to be responsible, but it does feel like a definite step backwards from the older model.


A Verizon iPhone 4 disappears into the Commuter case. Installation is more difficult than it was with the 3G version, and it’s substantially more difficult than it is with the Reflex.

What isn’t a step backwards, though, is durability. After almost two years of everyday use on my iPhone 3G, the old-model Commuter’s plastic had two major cracks in it, one through each “flap” at the top and bottom of the case. The new model appears to be beefier in these areas, so hopefully these are no longer weak spots.

Both cases come with screen protectors. Apple officially recommends against them now, and I don’t see any real need to install them on an iPhone 4 or 4S unless you’re really hard on your phone. It’s nice to have, I suppose, but I don’t have a need for it, and I don’t think most iPhone users would, either.

The Reflex provides a reasonable level of protection but just feels cheap, not a great attribute for a $35 case to have. I’m not crazy about how easy it is to accidentally pull it off the phone—more than once, I felt like the case was coming apart and the phone was headed to the ground as I was left holding half of the case in my hand—but once I get my phone in a case, I prefer leaving it there. For that reason, the Commuter is still my favorite OtterBox case, despite its minor shortcomings. I just wish they’d make the back solid.

Reader Comments (1)

David Johnson · April 4, 2012 - 17:46 EST #1
I have an Otterbox for the iPhone 4s. I was photographing a waterfall last recently. I guess I got up against a rock enough to twist the phone out of the belt carrier. It went into about 1 foot of water and stayed there a couple of minutes or more before I realized it was there. The phone came on once I retrieved it and after removing it from the Box. it wasn't wet.

Gotta love the Otterbox case

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