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OtterBox Commuter and Defender Cases for Samsung Galaxy Nexus Review

OtterBox Commuter and Defender Cases

OtterBox Commuter and Defender Cases


  • Product Name: Commuter and Defender Cases
  • Manufacturer: OtterBox
  • Review Date: March 07, 2012 08:10
  • MSRP: $34.95 (Commuter) $49.95 (Defender)
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

OtterBox Commuter for Samsung Galaxy Nexus


  • Access to all buttons and features
  • Silicone plugs provide coverage for ports
  • Includes a self-adhering protective film


  • Self-adhering clear screen protector
  • Durable silicone skin
  • High-quality polycarbonate outer shell
  • WEIGHT: 1.24 oz
  • DIMENSIONS: 5.53 in x 2.98 in x 0.65 in

OtterBox Defender for Samsung Galaxy Nexus


  • Three layers of protection
  • Complete interaction of the device's functions
  • Ratcheting belt clip holster included


  • Clear protective membrane on touch screen
  • High-quality polycarbonate shell
  • Durable silicone skin
  • WEIGHT: 4.46 oz (with belt clip) 2.125 (case only)
  • DIMENSIONS: 5.67 in x 3.07 in x 0.77 in

OB_boxIf you have a smartphone and you haven't heard of OtterBox, we welcome you out of your hole and out into the world of light and fast food. OtterBox cases are everywhere, and there is a reason for it - they make quality products. They provide cases for all the latest devices (we received a press release weeks ago saying they were going to have a case for the iPad 3 as soon as it comes out) and there is nary a device that needs protection that they don't have a case for. So, whenever we get a new device, we check their website to see what they have.

There are two main series in most of the OtterBox protective case offerings: Commuter and Defender. As you might expect, the Commuter series is designed to protect the phone but not bulk it up too much. It is also the cheaper of the two lines. The Defender is designed with ultimate protection in mind. None of their cases are waterproof but falls, shocks, and most dust egress will be covered. When I got a new Samsung Galaxy Nexus phone, I immediately called OtterBox and set up a review... I mean, why not?

General Comments

As a whole, I like how the openings for the camera and flash on the back are so large. This is indicative of the newest OtterBox cases for the iPhone and iPod and I think it is an important addition. The older cases had openings that hugged the camera very closely. While this provides the illusion of extra protection, what it really did is make the openings near impossible to clean when they, inevitably, got gunked up. This larger opening means you won't have to worry about needing to grab a q-tip or remove the case for cleaning. The hem of your shirt and a thumb will do just fine. On the other hand, the Samsung and Google logos on the back are covered. While the iDevices all have a plastic window for the Apple apple on the back, us Google lovers get nothing but an etched OtterBox name. If they had included the Google text, I'd have felt a little better about it. But they didn't.

The only systemic problem I can see with these cases is the lack of side access. On the right side of the phone there are three little dots that, I'm assured, are to be used for future add-ons. When (if) these products are released, the OtterBox case will have to be removed for access. There isn't, as far as we know, a dedicated Samsung Galaxy Nexus dock yet so we have no idea if the cases will allow docking (most iPhone users will tell you that they don't). Now, on to the specifics of the Commuter series.

Editor's Note: The day an as-yet-not-announced docking accessory comes out before the phone is replaced by a newer model, I'll eat my shirt with a side of green jelly.

Commuter Series for Galaxy Nexus

OtterBox-Nexus - commuter-frontAs I mentioned, the Commuter series is designed to provide protection without adding too much weight or cost. The Commuter case for the Galaxy Nexus costs $34.95 (a full $15 cheaper than the Defender) and comes in three parts - a film screen protector, a silicone skin, and a polycarbonate outer shell. The minute you remove the case from the box, you'll see the instructions printed on the inside. It's a fairly ingenious method of making sure you have the directions on hand without having to flip through tiny pages of an instruction manual. Likely, however, you won't need them as the OtterBox cases are fairly self explanatory...except for applying the film screen protector.

If you've never applied one of these, it is one of the more stressful experiences you will undergo with your phone other than deciding to text while leaning over the railing of a cruise ship. Any little mite of dust that gets under the film will create a bubble or a spot that you just can't get out. OtterBox provides a tiny (two inch square) cleaning cloth, but, more than likely, you're going to run into issues. I've done the whole screen protection film thing with my iPad and it is nearly impossible to get it right without lots of practice, a device straight out of the box, and a cleanroom (you know, the types you see on TV where everyone has to wear protective clothing and respirators?). I've said it before to OtterBox, and I'll say it again - TWO protective films. If two are included, you can use the first to experiment or, more likely, to get all the dust you can't see off your screen and the second for actual protection.

One criticism of the Commuter case has been that the film only covers the touchscreen area. I agree that it is annoying but it isn't a deal-breaker. This does give you a bit of a lip to deal with as you run your finger over the face so you might, if this bugs you, decide on an aftermarket film. My phone came with one so that's what I used (it covers the entire screen except for the speaker and camera).


OtterBox-Nexus - commuter-backThe case proper comes in two parts - the silicone sleeve and hard case. The silicone sleeve fits on easily and provides all the buttons. The hard case hooks over these buttons and over all four of the sides. It doesn't, by design, cover the corners. The hard case has a brushed finish which gives it a bit of a texture but it is still slippery even with dry hands. This does, however, make for easier sliding in and out of pockets (where I keep my phone). The lack of polycarbonate protection at the corners might, at first glance, appear baffling, however Otterbox contends that softening the corners, rather than hardening them actually yields greater protection during impact. The silicone at the corners do tend to catch a bit on fabric as you are sliding the phone in and out of your pocket, but it isn't too bad.

The case, as a whole, is very attractive (if hard to photograph since neither of these cases comes in anything other than black). I like the hard shell on the outside. I also like how they kept the overall shape of the phone with the bump on the bottom back. The buttons work well if requiring a bit more pressure. The power button works but you can hardly feel it depress. It is more of a 'put pressure on it and hope' situation. The ports on the bottom are covered by silicone that locks not into the port, but into the case. This is very preferable to some of the other cases we've experienced. The power port/mini-usb port is easily accessible as is the headphone port. The port covers are recessed which makes them a little harder to access but they have never slipped open at any time. These are some of my favorite port covers of any case I've used. The headphone port is almost big enough to accept the larger connection of my Denon AH-D1000 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50S headphones. Unfortunately, you can't even grind them wider without risking damage to the closing mechanism of the port cover.

OtterBox-Nexus - commuter-port

The big advantages of the Commuter case are the full access to the screen and the weight. The silicone sleeve has a lip that hooks around the front of the phone and will easily arrest any face-down fall (provided there isn't a something protruding). But you have all the rest of the screen free and uncovered. At only 1.24 ounces, you'll most likely not even notice that the case is on until you touch it.

Defender Series for Galaxy Nexus

OtterBox-Nexus - defender-frontAs you might expect, the Defender case is much more robust. It comes in three (four if you count the belt clip) parts. There is a two part polycarbonate shell which snaps closed over the phone. Inside the back half of the case, where it makes the most contact with the phone, is a thin film of of what feels like a padded rubber. This is a great addition and gives the impression that OtterBox cares about whether or not their case scratches even the back of your phone.

The front half of the shell has a clear, protective membrane so you won't have to deal with applying a film. Over the back and hooking around the front (the two polycarbonate cases snap securely together) you place a silicone skin which covers the back and sides. While the silicone with the Commuter case is the primary protection for the corners, with the Defender, you've got two layers with the silicone over the top of the hard case. The font of the Defender completely covers the phone with a large, oval opening for the speaker and camera and a small hole under the screen for the notification LED.

The silicone cover is both a boon and a curse. While the Commuter series is a bit on the slippery side, the Defender positively sticks to everything. Which is great if you have butterfingers. Not so good if you keep your phone in your purse or pocket or you have a thing about lint. The silicone picks up everything it encounters. I believe that once OtterBox releases different colors, this will be less of an issue than the black silicone, but, for now, it should be mentioned. Also, if you are someone that likes to put your phone in your pocket, you're going to find that getting the phone in and out can be a bit of a chore as it really does grab on to everything. I believe that different readers with different needs will interpret this paragraph as either, "Awesome!" or "Sucks!". Me, I think it is a bit awesome as I have kids that love to find daddy's phone when he's in the other room.


The front of the case is raised and the clear membrane that protects the screen is slightly larger than the touch area. While there may be enough play for many fingers, I found that I had a harder time with some of the commands than I did with the Commuter case (which gave the same experience as no case at all). While I didn't have a problem moving apps from one screen to another by pushing them to the side, rewinding a song to the beginning (or a book to the first page) via a slider, often left me a few seconds (or pages) short. I ended up figuring out how to do it (by rolling my finger as I reached the end of the case), but it was an early annoyance. Unfortunately, there is little OtterBox can do about this since the edge of the Defender case looks about as small as it could reasonably be made.

defender-empty     OtterBox-Nexus - defender-back

One of the things I liked about the Commuter case was lost with the Defender. While the iPhone has a distinctive shape (and logo which gets its own window on OtterBox cases), the Defender case no longer follows the contours of the phone. Technically, the hard case does but you can't feel it through the silicone sleeve. So, essentially, you are left with a large, black brick. Protected? Yes. But indistinct. When users of an OtterBox encased iPhone pull out their phone, no one asks them which phone they are using. They can tell by looking at it. That distinctiveness is lost (partially because the Galaxy Nexus' design) with both of these cases but the Defender in particular. 

The last part of the Defender case is the belt clip. The belt clip has some good and bad points. The good is that it clips securely onto a belt (I had to put one on to try it - hey, I work from home, what do I need a belt for?). The clip rotates so that you can orientate the phone so that it is as out of the way as possible (the Galaxy Nexus is huge, I can't imagine what this would look like on a belt in the wild). Lastly, the phone locks in very securely. You won't have a problem with hitting the phone with your elbow and knocking it out of the clip (and even if you did, it'd likely be fine).

The belt clip doubles as a stand which, believe it or not, is the only reason I didn't throw the clip into the "junk I'll never use" box. It holds the phone fairly vertical (I'd have preferred more of an angle for easier viewing when standing and it is on a kitchen counter) which looks like it would be perfect for watching movies on a plane. This is a nice feature that shows that OtterBox thinks not only about protection but also about how their customers will use the case.

The clip, however, has a serious flaw - it completely blocks the audio port. How this got through testing, I'll never know. So, now I have a case that I can use with a clip-stand to watch a movie on a plane but I can't use my headphones? Sure, if you have Bluetooth headphones, you'll be fine but I don't, and probably neither do you. So the stand ends up being sort of a non-starter unless there another work-around (grabbing my Dremel now).

OtterBox-Nexus - defender-port

OtterBox-Nexus - defender-winSpeaking of the ports, let me tell you the reason why the Defender case will probably be for you. The Defender case is one of the only cases from any manufacturer that I've used that allows access to the audio port with a full-sized headphone terminal. In the past, with my OtterBox cases for iPod, iPad, and other cases (don't come to my house with a case on your phone because I'm going to try my headphones on it), I've either had to modify the case or been forced to remove it to use normal-sized headphone terminals. Like most audioholics, I took the earbuds that came with my iDevices (and every other included headphone for that matter) and tossed them. To say they are horrible is an insult to horrible things all over the world. So, when I found I could use my beloved  Denon AH-D1000 and Audio-Technica ATH-M50S headphones with the Defender case, I clutched it to my breast and proclaimed, "It is mine! My precious!"

Lastly, the OtterBox website is a bit misleading. They list the weight of the Defender series case as nearly 4.5 ounces. That is with the belt clip (who lists only this weight?). The phone and the case together (I have the international version of the Galaxy Nexus which weighs 4.8 ounces versus Verizon's version which weighs 5.2 ounces) comes in at ~7 ounces. This is exactly the same as the much smaller iPhone 4 (not S) with the Defender case that my neighbor owns. I weighed the case alone without the phone and got 2.13 ounces which is pretty light compared to the amount of protection. If you have been using the phone without a case for a while, however, you will notice the difference as it is nearly half the weight of the phone alone.


If you want to know the definition of nit-pick, you can re-read the above review. I've taken every single flaw, no matter how minor, and listed it. Most of you will realize that many of the gripes I list with the the OtterBox Commuter and Defender cases are more a function of placing an outer case on a phone than any design flaws. If you want protection, some access and performance hits are to be expected. All in all, the OtterBox Commuter and Defender cases for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus are two of the best cases I've used on any phone from any manufacturer. I've been switching between the two for weeks now and honestly can't decide which I like best. No matter which one you get, you're likely to be very satisfied.

If you don't use headphones with a full-sized terminal, don't mind a bit of slip (which is great for getting the phone in and out of your pocket quickly), want unfettered access to the touchscreen, and need moderate protection, the OtterBox Commuter Case for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus will be for you. After you get past putting on the film screen protector, the case is sturdy, attractive, and effective. Honestly, if I could use my headphones with the Commuter case, it'd be my choice. The Defender series is much more bulky but provides a full shell of polycarbonate plus an integrated screen cover and silicone sleeve. The belt clip might have been a bit of a miss-hit but perhaps you'll find the integrated stand useful. For us, we love that we can finally use our high end headphones with our OtterBox Defender case. Basically, no matter what you need or how you use your phone, OtterBox has a case for your Samsung Galaxy Nexus. But, you probably already knew that.

For more information, please visit www.otterbox.com.

To win one of these cases, head over to AV Rant for a chance to win!

Listen to the AV Rant podcast which reviews these two cases as well.

Unless otherwise indicated, this is a preview article for the featured product. A formal review may or may not follow in the future.

About the author:
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As Associate Editor at Audioholics, Tom promises to the best of his ability to give each review the same amount of attention, consideration, and thoughtfulness as possible and keep his writings free from undue bias and preconceptions. Any indication, either internally or from another, that bias has entered into his review will be immediately investigated. Substantiation of mistakes or bias will be immediately corrected regardless of personal stake, feelings, or ego.

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