This is a review of the two cases Otterbox has made available for the iPad: first, the Defender, which has the most protection, and then the Commuter, which has less.
First, however, let's step back and see how the rationale for theOtterbox cases have evolved with popular devices becoming available over the past few years.
Blackberry: The Blackberry is a relatively sturdy device with arelatively good battery life, so it need relatively little protection and most people also don't need an improved battery life. For thisreason, I've tended to recommend most users go with Otterbox's most basic rubber case, called the Impact Series, which sells for $20 or less. There are also other good similar cases in the market offered by companies such as iFrogz.
iPhone: The iPhone is a bit more fragile than a Blackberry, and in most cases the battery life isn't so good.
For this reason, it needs more protection, and it could also benefit from an extra battery. I have found that Otterbox's Defender Series is an absolutely superb choice for the iPhone, but of course it doesn't do anything for the battery life.
The most popular choice right now for something thatdoes both, is the Mophie Juice Pack, which became available for the iPhone 4 just a few days ago.
iPad: The iPad is extremely slippery and heavy, so no sane person would use it without a case. It also has a great battery life. Apple actually offers its own case, which I have found to be nothing short of stellar. It simply makes the device! For this reason, the hurdle for another case, such as the Otterbox Defender and the Commuter, is very high.
With this in mind, what about the Otterbox Defender? This isbasically the "UPS truck grade" case, with the maximum protection.You could drop this thing from 4 feet and not feel too worried.
The fit is very tight, and it's easy to install. In terms of upsidesurprise, the stand which allows you to use it in, say, a bar -- issimply outstanding. The viewing angle becomes as good as it can get, and it's very sturdy. It's a tremendous pleasure to use this way.
The only question in the back of my mind is: Do I want to see my UPS delivery person enjoying his or her time at the cafe so much?
The Defender iPad case does have a few serious draw-backs. First, the screen cover isn't conducive for the instant "meter maid" operation of whipping up the device with one hand and start typing with the other -- all while walking. It's a five-second procedure. Basically, it makes the device into much less of a Blackberry competitor.
Second, the cover made it impossible to fit my car connector. There is a hole there, but the connector simply doesn't fit. Obviously this is a huge draw-back. You also must remove the part at the bottom, when you synchronize with your PC/laptop.
Finally, the Defender iPad case is heavy. That said, as a "UPS grade" device, the weight goes with the territory. I give it somewhere between a 3 and a 4 on a scale of 5, for its intended use.
In my opinion, I don't think that most people need this product, when Apple's own case is so superb, and gives "just enough" protection for what most people need, when considered in relation to the other compromises that otherwise need to be made. The Defender iPad case is mostly for professional/commercial use.
What about the lighter Commuter case for the iPad? I have to give this one a grade of F, for Fail. What? Yes, this case doesn't even get off the ground.
Why? For starters, I can't even get it "on" the iPad. It's like attempting to review a car when the car is too small for you to make it into the driver's seat.
Perhaps it would have been a good car if you had been able to sit in it -- and presumably drive it -- but you'll never get to find out, because you can't make it in the door.
Just to make sure I wasn't going nuts, I gave the Commutercase for iPad to a couple of other people, who tried to get it to work. They all failed. None of them could get it to fit. Grade: F.
Bottom line: If you are really worried about dropping your iPad inthe ground, the Otterbox Defender case is the best I've seen. You can use your iPad as a frisbee and not cause you to lose too much sleep.
For those of you, it's worth the $90 price. That said, my personal preference -- and probably that of a majority of people -- is to enjoy Apple's own standard $39 case.
Otterbox's "middle way" of the Commuter Series for the iPad should be avoided at any price ($65 in this case) unless someone can prove to me that it actually fits the iPad. That's sad, because I've found the Commuter cases for several Blackberry models to be an excellent "middle of the road" choice between the lighter protection and the "ultimate" Defender series.
At the time of publication, Wahlman was long Apple, Research In Motion Anton Wahlman was a sell-side equity research analyst covering the communications technology industries from 1996 to 2008: UBS 1996-2002, Needham & Company 2002-2006, and ThinkEquity 2006-2008.