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TUAW review and giveaway: OtterBox Defender / Commuter for iPad

Right off the bat, let me get the record straight -- I am a huge fan of OtterBox cases. I've used them on my last two iPhones and had used them pre-iPhone on a number of handheld devices. If you're into leather or style, then you probably won't be excited about the design of OtterBox products. But if you're the type of person who wants to protect an investment in an expensive device, then OtterBox is for you.

The Colorado-based company has turned its attention to Apple's latest success story, the iPad, with two new cases to protect your device from dents and dings. As with the iPhone line, the cases come in two flavors -- the Defender and the Commuter. The Defender series is the Fort Knox of iPad cases, made for situations where you know that you could drop your iPad or otherwise expose it to conditions where it would probably break without protection. The Commuter, on the other hand, is much sleeker while still providing a level of protection that most other iPad cases won't give you.

OtterBox was kind enough to send TUAW an early production model of one of each model to try out and then give away to our readers. Read on for the review, and how to enter our giveaway for one of these rugged iPad cases.


As I mentioned, the Defender (US$89.95) is the tough member of the OtterBox family. Weighing in at a hefty 12 oz (340 g), the Defender consists of three layers of protection. The first layer is a clear film that protects the iPad's screen from scratches and smudges. The second layer is what gives all OtterBox products a turtle-like hard exterior -- a high-impact polycarbonate shell. Over that goes a third layer of silicone skin to absorb shocks. The third layer also includes plugs for all buttons and ports, keeping the iPad from accidental liquid splashes (although OtterBox warns that their products are not waterproof).

Since these two cases are going to be in the hands of TUAW readers soon, I didn't put the clear films on the iPad screen. However, I was able to try both of the OtterBox cases on my iPad to test the ease of installation and the feel of the case once it's surrounding the device.

To make the Defender useful in hands-off situations and to give extra protection to the screen while the iPad is being transported, there's a clip-on shield with a built-in folding stand. The Defender has a removable dock door and will work with Apple's iPad Dock.

Putting on the armor plate is pretty easy with the Defender series. The polycarbonate shell splits in the middle for easy installation on either end of the iPad. Over that, you slip on the silicone layer, making sure to put the small silicone tabs into their appropriate receptacles on the polycarbonate shell. The final layer, the polycarbonate clip-on shield / stand, can be snapped over the screen for ultimate protection. If I were, for example, a construction engineer and needed to protect an iPad in the field or in my truck, the Defender would be the perfect solution.

Protection comes at the price of slenderness, however. If you're used to the slim lines of your unprotected iPad, you'll be surprised at the almost 1" thick shell you're picking up. The built-in stand in the clip-on shield works well to hold the iPad up in landscape orientation, although it is not adjustable for various angles. I was also able to use it in portrait mode despite that not being a recommended way of using the stand. When the clip-on stand is on the back of the Defender case, four small silicone "feet" keep it the case from sliding on smooth surfaces.

Should the thickness of the Defender turn you off, there's always the OtterBox Commuter ($64.95). This is about half the weight (6.5 oz /183.7 g) and almost a quarter inch less thick than the Defender, yet it supplies the same three-layer design of most OtterBox products. In this case, the silicone layer is put on the iPad first, creating a soft shock "bumper" around the iPad. The outer layer is the touch polycarbonate shell. As with the Defender, buttons and ports are protected with silicone plugs, and there is a removable dock door.

I found the Commuter a bit harder to put on. The silicone mid-layer slips right onto the iPad since it is fairly stretchy, but putting the polycarbonate shell over that was a struggle. Once it was on, I found that the Commuter really doesn't take away from the slim lines of the iPad all that much, but it certainly adds a lot of protection to the device.

So which should you choose if you're looking for hard-core protection of your iPad? If you are in rough, rugged conditions where the iPad could very well get dropped or slammed into something, I'd choose the Defender hands-down. There is no other case on the market that is going to provide the level of protection that you'll get with an OtterBox Defender. If you're looking for something for more day-to-day protection, keeping your iPad safe while commuting around the city, then the OtterBox Commuter will provide an outstanding shield while keeping the weight and thickness down.

Be sure to check out the gallery of photos for shots of the Defender and Commuter being installed on my lucky iPad (it gets to try on a lot of different cases). If you have an iPhone 4 or you're planning on getting one, please note that OtterBox will soon deliver the Defender and Commuter cases for that Apple device (no, they're probably not covered by the Apple iPhone 4 case program...).

Now, let's get on with the giveaway. As usual, this giveaway is only available to TUAW readers in the U.S.A. and most of Canada. To enter, just leave a comment with your choice of OtterBox iPad case you'd like to win. We can't guarantee that if you'll get your first choice if you're a winner, but either case will be a wonderful accessory. Here are the details:
  • Open to legal US residents of the 50 United States, the District of Columbia, and Canada (excluding Quebec) who are 18 and older.
  • To enter, leave a comment with your choice of either the OtterBox Defender or OtterBox Commuter.
  • The comment must be left before midnight on Friday, July 23rd, 2010, 11:59PM Eastern Daylight Time.
  • You may enter only once.
  • Two winners will be selected. One will receive an OtterBox Defender iPad case valued at $89.95, while the other will receive an OtterBox Commuter iPad case valued at $64.95.
  • Click Here for complete Official Rules.
Good luck!

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