We’ve tested the OtterBox Defender Series protective cases for the Apple iPad Air and iPad Mini 2 tablet computers.
In one sentence: OtterBox cases cost more than any other mobile device case that we’ve encountered, but they’re of the highest overall quality as well. Though OtterBoxes, we feel, are excessively priced, since they’re made of simple hard and soft plastics, they nonetheless perform as well as described on their packaging and advertisements. No bait-and-switch here. They completely surround the iPad on both sides and all edges, softening abrupt shocks and dings from accidental drops. They keep dirt, dust, and hand oils out, and clean up easily while still providing access to all iPad controls, earphone, and lightning ports. Though no case is perfect (what ever is), we really like the Otterbox Defender, and admit to feeling much more secure taking our iPads out and about when they’re wearing the Otterbox. Most high tech retailers sell OtterBox products.
Advantages, Pros, Benefits, and Useful Features
Rugged. The polycarbonate shell case features thick plastic and silicone pieces as pictured below, for a virtually unbreakable case. In fact, the device inside might well break before this case does. Tongue-in-cheek here.
Complete enclosure. When completely installed, with the shell stand covering the screen, the iPad is virtually completely covered and protected.
Multi layer encasement. You get three layers of protection at the corners and edges of your iPad, and two layers on each of the flat sides when the shell-stand piece covers the screen.
Scratch resistant clear screen window. An integrated clear plastic window covers the glass surface of the iPads. This protects it from dirt and oils on your hands from smearing the glass screen face, and seals out the soapy water you might use to clean the window exterior.
Built in tablet stand. The hard shell cover piece can also act as a stand that can be pulled up, and upon which the iPad can rest, at two different support angles. The lower angle supports rapid data entry, as it angles the iPad screen at roughly the same degree that an ergonomic keyboard sits. The greater angle promotes comfort while watching videos or reading long text passages onscreen.
Anti skid feet. On the back side of the shell stand cover, there are four anti skid rubbery feet that reduce slippage of the iPad off tables, and keep it still while touch typing with the onscreen keyboard.
Numerous color combinations available. You can choose from several colors (black, blue, green, raspberry, et al) for your Otterbox. Plus, you can combine colors in the same case. For instance, you could order a blue shell stand, but pick a raspberry rimmed screen protector.
Replaceable case parts. The Defender Series case breaks down into four parts; each of which may be ordered separately. Handy if you scratch the screen protector window. You need not buy the whole case, as you can simply order just the damaged or worn parts that you need.
Closable port and button holes. The Otterbox has holes in it that line up over the headphone and lightning connector ports. These holes features attached plugs (little flaps) that can be snapped shut when the ports are not in use.
No tools needed for installation. This case snaps together around your iPad by squeezing the parts until they engage each other. However, you may need a flat head screw driver to remove the case, given how tightly the parts mesh with one another.
One year limited warranty. This warranty covers the Otterbox itself, but not the iPad device upon which it is installed.
Decent customer support. Obtaining replacement parts for your case, as well as assistance with its assembly, is a snap. Just call Otter customer service at
Found at most larger stores and electronics shops.
Disadvantages, Cons, Problems, Limitations, and Concerns
iPad version is Heavy. The fully installed Otterbox Defender adds several ounces of weight to the iPad Air, which can promote rapid wrist fatigue; particularly if you hold your iPad for several hours per day, as we do when writing these posts.
Expensive. The Defender for the iPad currently costs around $90; cheaper than a typical three year warranty service plan extension but still a bit steep for our tastes. That for the iPad mini currently sells for $69, although we found ours at Best Buy on sale for $55. So look for those bargains! The silver lining about pricey items, is that you often can find the biggest price reductions on them.
Overly device specific design. You may have to buy a new OtterBox if you upgrade your iPad Air to the iPad Air 2 or 3, or want to switch to a completely different brand of mobile device. Seems that if the device is the same size as the old one, a case should still fit it with minor modifications if any. But this is not always the case with the Otterbox. We suggest a more generalized and modular case design, that would feature removable panels, inlays, and inserts for relocating port and button openings when a different tablet is purchased.
Hard to remove shield stand. In travel mode, the “back” of the case, the shield stand, snaps over the tablet touch screen face to provide additional protection of the delicate glass from scrapes, punctures, and cracks. To use the tablet once you get where you’re going, you must remove this piece from the tablet face, and if not using the stand feature, snap it onto the back of the tablet. Since the plastic from which this part of the shell is made is quite stiff, removing it can require some real effort; particularly with new Otterboxes. Keeping the box warm helps alleviate this problem, but perhaps they would consider softening the shell, or at least its corners, just a little, to facilitate easier releasing.
No camera window on back. If we want to take pictures with our iPads, we must snap off the shield stand. Why? Because with this back piece in place, it completely covers the high resolution camera at the rear of the tablet. This makes virtually impossible, catching those spontaneous shots, like a bird flying overhead or a cicada singing at your window. The struggle to remove the back often scares these critters away if they see you.
Rainbow look on screen cover. We saw this on our iPad Mini Otterbox screen window. At first, we thought oil from our fingers was causing this “oil on water puddle” color shimmer effect. But the “oil slick” effect remained after thorough cleaning with soap and water. Perhaps if they thickened the screen window material just a little, this distraction would disappear. We’ve never seen this on other tablet screen protector windows.
Screen remains lit when cover is snapped on. Some tablet-case combinations can lock the screen automatically when the screen is covered, saving battery life. We’ve observed this on the larger Samsung Galaxy tablets. However, this does not occur with the Otterbox-iPad Air combo. So, though covered, your screen may remain lit for up to fifteen minutes.
Screen protector window may degrade image quality. Slightly dimmer and slightly fuzzy, the screen appears on the other side of the clear plastic window. This is normally not of much concern, but may rise to a major concern as the window begins to show signs of wear (little scratches, abrasions, and nicks). Fortunately however, the screen window can be replaced if needed.
Not indestructible. Though this case adds significant jolt and shock reduction to the edges of your iPad, as well as substantial rigidity to its flat sides, do not thrash it around with reckless abandon or sit on it. The Otterbox equipped tablets can still break, as reported by several consumers. So our advice is to keep your iPad encased, but continue to treat it as the delicate instrument that it is. Though the case will probably save your unit from destruction from small falls, don’t assume that it will. Your best bet is to treat your iPad as carefully with this case, as you would without it.
No protected equipment warranty. The warranty accompanying the Defender Otterboxes only covers the case itself, but not the equipment the consumer houses in it. Given the premium price of this case, this lack of contained equipment coverage seems a bit chintzy. Many surge protectors for example, offer full reimbursement coverage for any equipment plugged into them that is destroyed by a power surge. The top-dollar cost of the Otterbox, in our view, would be well justified if they also offered full replacement costs for iPads damaged while clothed in an Otterbox Defender case.
Quality rings loudly and true when inspecting the OtterBox Defender Series iPad protective cases. Though they add significant weight to the tablet, most users would not find this objectionable, since these cases indeed prevent catastrophic damage to the iPad from occurring when dropped from short distances onto wooden or carpeted floors. As noted earlier, we would not tempt fate by intentionally dropping a so cladded iPad, just to see if it survives. Sometimes, it will not, even when inside an Otterbox. We leave that degree of testing to the folks at Consumer Reports magazine.
Nonetheless, we’ve tried the cheaper “folio” cases; many of which do not seal in the iPad except for at the corners. Nor do they offer covers for the data or audio ports. The Otterbox however, appears to be a well thought out unit; providing seals for all iPad buttons and holes. The iPad Air version even covers the Home button with a flexible material so that you can still press the button with the case attached. The only serious gripe we have with this “insurance policy” case, is its high price. With so many iPads out there now, and so many more on the way to market in the near future, we expected Otterbox to price this product a lot cheaper. Nonetheless, though expensive, this is a top notch case; the Cadillac, and so we’d rate it at 96 out of 100.
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- OtterBox Official Web Site
- Product Description Page at Amazon
- Where to buy the OtterBox Defender Series iPad Case
- Where to buy iPad Protective Cases
- 2015-10-18: Added appropriate tags.
- 2015-08-24: Published originally.