Review: OtterBox Commuter Series cases for iPhone 3G & 3GS

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OtterBox has always been one of my favorite case manufacturers.  I use their Defender Series case for my iPhone 3GS religiously.  My review of it was the very first article I wrote for Gear Diary.  There’s no denying the Defender Series is a bulky case.  While it provides an unparalleled level of protection for your device it also increases the overall size of your phone substantially.

I realize the Defender series isn’t for everyone and OtterBox does as well.  For this reason the company has just recently released two new cases, under their new Commuter line.  The cases, the Commuter and the Commuter TL, provide the sort of protection you’d expect from an OtterBox case in a much slimmer profile.

OtterBox was kind enough to send both Dan and myself review-keeper samples of each case. In this review we’ll both give our comments.

The Commuter


The Commuter case provides the iPhone 3GS with three levels of protection.  First is the crystal clear screen shield OtterBox includes, along with a cleaning cloth and installation card.


Second, is the thin silicone which wraps around the entire device.  It includes a built in dock connector cover, headset port cover, covered sleep/awake button and volume rocker and cut out for the vibrate switch.


Finally, there’s the one-piece polycarbonate shell which you place over the silicone skin.


Once all three layers are installed you’re left with a decent amount of protection for your device.  The silicone corners are left opened which serves to draw impact away from your device in the event of a fall.


The silicone layer of the Commuter case is available in only black and the case comes with one black polycarbonate shell.  However you can accessorize your Commuter case with the addition of color packs.  Each pack includes three different colored shells which work with the black silicone skin.

Pack one includes burgundy, navy blue and gray.

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Pack 2 contains green, white and yellow.

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There is a generous cutout for the camera lens on the back of the case and an even bigger one for the Apple logo as well.  Unfortunately this leaves the Apple logo completely exposed.  It would have been nice if OtterBox included a circular screen protector to place over the Apple logo.


M.S.R.P. – $34.95

Larry: I had some issues with the Commuter case causing my screen protector to bubble up.  This is usually only an issue with slider style case but I believe it was due to the pressure of the polycarbonate skin pressing on the sides of the screen.

I really like the feel of the case though.  It reminds me a lot of the Defender series, just in a smaller package.  Maybe the Commuter is the little brother of the Defender.  The triple layer protection provides a decent amount of shock and impact protection without turning the iPhone into a brick in your pocket.

I’d love to see two things added to the case.  First, either a plastic insert to protect the Apple logo (the Commuter TL has one as you’ll read below, not sure why they chose not to include in in the Commuter) and a holster for carrying.

Dan: I also found that the screen protector bubbled a bit when I put the case on. Fortunately Otterbox includes a screen protector with the case so I just applied the new one.  Having recently reviewed the Commuter Case for the Blackberry Bold I was familiar with the look, feel and fit of the case. I like the balanced protection it offers. The top, bottom, back and half the sides are protected with the hard plastic of the outer layer while the corners and the upper portion of the sides have the great bump protection of the silicone skin.

I really like the feel of the case in the hand and the fact that it offers a nice balance between maintaining the feel of the iPhone and providing some serious protection.

Personally I am not a huge fan of the Apple logo cutout at all and would be perfectly happy if the back were solid.

I should note that getting the silicone skin on the iPhone and then the hard shell over it takes some time to get “just right”. It isn’t difficult but this is not the kind of case you put on and take off in a second.

The Commuter TL


The Commuter TL is available in 7 colors.  You can choose from Black, Purple, Green, White, Red, Pink, and Yellow.

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Like the Commuter case the TL provides three layers of protection the first once again being the crystal clear screen shield.


Next is another silicon skin which wraps around your phone.  The skin included with the TL has textured sides for added grip.


And finally a clear, polycarbonate shell which runs down the middle of the back of the phone, from top to bottom.  The shell isn’t as wide as the shell included with the Commuter but this gives way to the textured sides of the silicone skin.


There is another cutout for your Apple logo but this time the logo is protected by a built in crystal clear polycarbonate shield.  This allows your Apple logo to shine through and you can do so without having to worry about it being scratched.


The TL features the same port coverings as the Commuter including the built in dock connector cover, headset port cover, covered sleep/awake button and volume rocker and open vibrate switch.


The camera lens is cutout so that you’re free to take pictures with the phone in the case.

M.S.R.P. – $29.95

Larry: I personally prefer the TL over the Commuter.  The case seemed to fit just a little better and I had no issues with my screen shield while using the case.  I found myself again wishing for a holster to carry the case though.

The TL reminds me a lot of the Incipio Silicrylic V3 case.  The difference is, the TL is nice.  It’s a little more expensive than the Incipio but with added cost comes better ingredients.  It feels stronger and fits better.

When I first heard about the Commuter series cases from OtterBox my first thought was that perhaps they were making a mistake by getting away from what they did best.  Their cases had always been about providing the maximum amount of protection.

I was wrong.

These slimmer cases hold the same quality as the rest of the OtterBox portfolio does.  There’s no denying they won’t provide the iron curtain type shield that the Defender does, but not everyone needs that level.  The Commuter series cases are the perfect way for everyone to experience what OtterBox is all about.  If you shied away from the Defender because of its size now you can experience the quality and functionality of an OtterBox case without the extra bulk sometimes associated with it.

Dan: I like the TL a whole lot too but I’m not sure I would pick it over its sibling. Honestly I like both. I agree that it is easier to put on and take off, but I also had an issue with my screen protector bubbling a bit. A quick check revealed why- the screen protector I was using was just slightly wider than the one Otterbox includes. Swapping out the screen protector made things better.

I really like the feel of this case. The silicone skin has a nice textured feel that is a pleasure to hold. The polycarbonate shell gives a rigidity to the system that makes me feel like the iPhone is well protected while inside.

The TL definitely feels lighter and more “low key” while, once again, striking a good balance between bulk and protection. Again, I could do without the vanity cutout on the back but since it is there I am glad it was covered rather than exposed.

I could not agree more with Larry. Otterbox is doing a great job of evolving from a company that made case that could withstand almost anything to a company that offers such heavy-duty cases AND sleeker, more stylish offerings that also provide good protection. I was a fan of their cases before. I still am.

Both cases are in stock now at the OtterBox web site.

Categories: Reviews


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