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OtterBox iPad 3 and iPad 2 Defender Series Case Review

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OtterBox iPad 3 and iPad 2 Defender Series Case

OtterBox iPad 3 and iPad 2 Defender Series Case

Summary

  • Product Name: iPad 3 Defender Case
  • Manufacturer: OtterBox
  • Review Date: April 24, 2012 06:30
  • MSRP: $89.95
  • First Impression: Gotta Have It!
  • Buy Now

Compatibility:

  • Apple NEW 3rd Generation iPad (16GB, 32GB, 64GB)
  • Apple iPad 2 (16GB, 32GB, 64GB)
  • NOT COMPATIBLE with the 1st generation iPad 1

Features:

  • Built-in screen protector prevents scratches; smudges and fingerprints easily wash off surface
  • Durable silicone outer layer absorbs bumps and shock
  • Two inner layer polycarbonate pieces snap together to provide solid impact protection
  • Memory foam pads cradle the iPad inside the case provide additional shock absorption
  • Shield Stand supports viewing in portrait or landscape mode and accommodates a natural typing angle
  • Integrated shield stand fits on both front and back of case

Material:

  • Clear protective membrane on touch screen
  • High-quality polycarbonate shell
  • Durable silicone skin

Executive Overview

Like many of you (even you that would never admit in in public), when the new iPad was released, I thought, "Boy, I'd sure love me one of those." Never mind that I had no need for one. Never mind that, in my home already is an iPad 1, a 4th generation iPod Touch, and a Samsung Galaxy Nexus. Oh, and a Kindle. Though that doesn't really count, I suppose. But I wanted one. So I approached my wife. I made my case logically, succinctly, and emphatically. I presented pie charts, graphs, and even a few funny anecdotes. I felt sure that, in the face of my well thought out and presented arguments, she couldn't help but see the rational reasons why we should buy, nay, NEEDED to own, the new iPad.

Yeah, so that didn't work.

So, I ended up at a lunch with some of my friends and one mentioned that he was going to get the new iPad. We struck up a conversation and he asked if I had any recommendations for cases. I suggested that if he lent me his iPad for a few days (weeks) I could do a review and he'd get a case out of the deal. Of course, I'd have a new iPad to show off to the wife further augmenting my case vis a vis the purchase of a new one.

At this point, you should imagine me rubbing my hands together and laughing manically.

First Impressions

OtterBox has long been making cases that have not only been popular, but impressive to reviewers. I have been one of the most vocal in both my support and criticisms of their cases. While I liked a lot about the iPad 1 Defender Case, I definitely had a few issues with it. I was very impressed with what they had done with the Defender Case for the Samsung Galaxy Nexus and was excited to see what they might have in the works for the the iPad.

OBiPad3_Box1     OBiPad3_Box2

The Defender Series for iPad 3 (I know, they call it the "new" iPad but it's confusing when you still have original iPads out there) will also work for the iPad 2 (which is slightly thinner). It will NOT, however, work with the iPad 1 which has a fundamentally different form factor. The Defender Series case has a rubber outer sheath which protects the sides and back and adds more than enough grip for easy operation. Under that is a two pieced plastic case that snaps together. It is neither too easy nor too hard to remove (though it leans toward the aggravating side of 'too hard' which is perfect for keeping kids' hands off it). There is a plastic cover across the front and the back window which displays the Apple logo. There are rubber covers over the charging port, headphone jack, and lock switch. The front and rear cameras, as well as the speaker, are completely uncovered. Needless to say, this is not a watertight case. It is also not light but, honestly, with something as large as an iPad, any sort of external protection is going to add significant weight.

OBiPad3_parts

The last piece of the case is the front cover/stand. Where the original iPad case snapped on around the sides, this one does so from the corners. The cover (and case overall) has a glossier look than the original OtterBox offering though that may be just from age. The case has an integrated stand which can hold the iPad in either landscape or portrait orientation (the original could only do landscape).

OBiPad3_cover     OBiPad3_cover_compare

If you've read any of my case reviews, you can guess that the first thing I checked was the size of the opening for the headphone jack. Grabbing my Denon AH-D1000 headphones, I confirmed, with much celebration on my part (there was a dance), that it allowed for a full-sized headphone connection - something that I think is a "must" on every case. Especially considering the upgrade in the display to the vaunted Retina resolution, having to settle for headphone with small connectors makes no sense. I'm glad to see that OtterBox has heard this complaint and responded.

OBiPad3_headphone1     OBiPad3_headphone2

Use and Usability

OBiPad3_cover_onThe two newer iPads have the magnetic on/off function which allows the device to be put to sleep or activated by closing or opening the case respectively. I've read reports that the Defender Series case for iPad 2/3 has had problems with the polarity of the magnets making this feature unreliable, I didn't have that experience. Placing the cover on shut down the iPad and removing the cover immediately activated the device. 

I had requested a plastic cover (like the one on all the Defender cases from OtterBox for the phones I've tested) in the review for the original iPad case and they came through. One thing I'm always concerned about with plastic screen protectors is usability. It is easy to convince yourself that your device isn't reacting as well because of the protective layer. That wasn't the case with the Defender case. The iPad was just as responsive as any device I've ever used.

In the past, I've also had problem with cases that haven't allowed access to the edges of the screen making some of the controls (like moving icons from one screen to another) more difficult. That certainly wasn't the case with the Defender Series for iPad 2/3. The iPad 3 I had for testing was one of the white ones and you can clearly see that they left a bit of the sides of the baffle accessible. This is a perfect solution in my opinion.

OBiPad3_lip

I'm totally in love with the stand for the iPad 3 case (why yes, I am going to marry it, thanks for asking). There is the ability to lay the iPad down in landscape mode (good if you have the iPad on a table in front of your while you are speaking to a group) but it really shines in the more upright orientation. The new design of the case allow both landscape and portrait mode. Plus, the stand operation is much more refined. The original was a scissor action and, while functional, was often falling while you are setting the iPad on it (it didn't lock very well). That is certainly not the case with the new stand.

OBiPad3_stand_compare1     OBiPad3_stand_compare2

Pros and Cons

I do like how the new Defender Series cover hooks around the edges of the iPad rather than the sides. It makes installing the case an eyes-free operation. It was possible with the old case to install it incorrectly if you weren't paying attention to have it slip of with a strong bump. The new cover, however, doesn't seem as snug as the old one and the iPad can be moved within it when installed, a point of concern. On top of that, the cover is a bit flatter than the old one, making the center less rigid. Does it feel insecure or unprotected? No. But also not as secure or protected as the original case.

OBiPad3_port_buttons

The rubber sheath of the iPad 3 case fits very securely and I love how the port covers fit into the case and not into the device. They are very secure and easy to operate. The opening for the speaker is, in my opinion, overly large but that seems to be more the fault of the iPad design than OtterBox. They certainly couldn't have covered the speaker any more without risking sound quality.

The only problem I had with the case was the main "home" button on the front. While all the other buttons had very good feedback and response without any sort of added resistance, the home button had to be mashed on to get to work. It actually worked better if you used your fingernail in the center rather than the whole of your fingertip. While Apple has pretty much made almost every function of the home button redundant with the cover unlock and multitouch, it is still a convenient button and the OtterBox Defender case made it much more difficult to use. The mute switch is also hard to access as it is small and the case makes using your fingernail a must (this was the same on the last case and, I'm betting, with every iPad case).

OBiPad3_speaker

Lastly comes the issue of the screen protector. I read some online reviews that complained about the rainbow effect of the screen and how it makes the newer Retina display look like standard definition. I immediately discounted these complaints as hokum.

And then I did a quick test.

There is some truth to these complaints. I feel somewhat responsible as I asked for a screen protector with my last review as the plastic film protectors always seem to be little better than carrying a rabbit's foot on a chain. But I think that it is important that OtterBox included the screen protector. First, most people will not notice the rainbow effect (or not care about it) and the claims that it makes the display look like standard definition is just nonsense. More importantly, however, is that the protector can be easily removed by pressing it out of the frame. You can then spend a few dollars on a film protector (or nothing, if that's how you roll) as the screen protector really isn't what is important with the case. The rest of the case is where the majority of the protection lies and it is well constructed. Given the option of OtterBox releasing the Defender Series without the screen protector but with an included film cover (as they did with the original case) or with a full screen cover as they have with the newer case, I'll take the latter every time.

Owner's Reaction

I returned the iPad 3 in its new case to the owner after I had completed my assessment. I did not tell him anything about how I felt about the case or any of my concerns. This is what he had to say:

I have been using the OtterBox case for almost a week. After having used alternatives, I was at first a little disappointed by the increased weight and bulk. After getting used to the OtterBox case, I have found the benefits the case offers, easily outweighs the increased weight (pun intended).

With two small children, I was particularly concerned at how they used (or abused) the iPad. I have found that the case [offers] a very high level of protection, and I now have more concern for the damage that extended iPad use is having on them, than concern for damage they could inflict on the machine. Although I have not dropped the machine from the top of a three-story building onto concrete, or put it through the hot-water cycle, I believe that the case would easily protect against everyday bumps, scratches, drops or spills.

A clear plastic sheet protects the iPad screen (from light scratches and spills). The texture of the plastic sheet is slightly different than of the naked glass. However, after having gotten used to this, I prefer the protection this offers, than the lack of front protection offered by competing covers. I have a slight concern for the longevity of the plastic sheeting, when this inevitably gets scuff marks. I am not aware that OtterBox sells a replacement front cover in this instance, and for an expensive cover, this would be useful.  

There are a few unprotected openings which make the cover essentially non-weatherproof, the largest of which is over the speaker grill. Some means of sealing the iPad from dust and water would be useful, though understandably this was not the intent in the OtterBox case design. 

The OtterBox cover comes with a separate hard plastic lid which covers the front when not in use, and doubles as an iPad stand for portrait/landscape hands-free viewing. The cover would be useful when carrying the iPad around in a bag all day. I mostly use the iPad at home, and have not found occasion to use the front cover. I feel this component adds unnecessary weight, bulk and cost, but understand that this would suit some.

The OtterBox case is proving invaluable. It is good looking, strong and durable, and offers excellent protection for everyday use.

I found it interesting how the owner reacted both to the screen protector (liked it despite the visual distortion) and the cover stand. While I felt the cover stand was a major selling point, he didn't seem to think it was worth much. This just highlights how your use of a device will most affect how you view the quality and usability of any case. I asked the owner what he thought of the home button and he said that the home button wasn't very sensitive but was still usable.

Conclusion

OBiPad3_cameraThe question remains of how I like the new OtterBox Defender Series case for the iPad 2 and 3 versus the older case. I believe that, in almost every way, it is superior. I love the new stand functionality, the screen protector (remove it if you don't agree), and the ability to use full-sized headphones without removing the case. It is rugged, attractive, and functional. The only real knock I have against it is that the home button is much harder to use, something that I'm hoping will improve with use over time. While $90 might seem like a lot for a case, considering the device it is protecting and the amount of technology and thought that went into the case, it seems reasonable.

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

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About the author:

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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