Archive Reviews

Review: Otterbox Defender & Commuter Cases for iPhone 4

Otterbox cases are synonymous with protection. Ask anybody in the know what case to get to protect their expensive phone and it's likely they will reply with "Otterbox". They sent me their Commuter and Defender cases for the iPhone 4, and I've had a few weeks to use them both.

Otterbox iPhone 4 Commuter

The Commuter is the smaller of the two cases. It's made to offer protection, yet do it in a case that is slender as possible, yet still offering the protection that Otterbox is famous for. 

It offers three layers of protection: screen protector, silicone shell, and a hard polycarbonate outer shell.  

Some people prefer not to use a screen protector, and I am one of them. Although, I am quickly becoming a convert, as I've recently found two scratches on the front glass of my iPhone 4. I quickly went searching for the screen protector that came in the Otterbox case and applied it. Pretty simple, clean the screen with the enclosed soft cloth, line up the protector, peel and stick, and smooth out any bubbles.  

Typically, I am not a fan of silicone shells by themselves. They are difficult to get in and out of jeans, and usually they are lint magnets. I spend more time cleaning off the phone than using it. The good news with the Otterbox is the polycarbonate hard shell that goes over the silicone shell, which eliminates almost all of the problems. It offers a solid feel and gives the phone the extra distance needed from the iPhone 4's antenna, so you won't suffer from the weakened signal when you 'hold it wrong'.  

The Commuter goes a long way to keep your iPhone 4 protected. The headphone and dock connectors are fully covered and you have to pull them out of the ports to use them. This is an important feature since two places Apple looks for water damage is inside the headphone jack and the dock connector. When either of these gets wet, it turns red/pink, and that is the first thing Apple looks at when you take it into the Apple Store for repair-- water damage isn't covered. 

The thing that I love the most quickly became the thing that irritated me the most. Opening the dock connector port was extremely difficult.  Just to charge or sync my phone you need access to it,  and routinely it would take me numerous tries. It wasn't just me either. I had a few people try this and it was the same result all the way around. Perhaps as your do this more and more they will become easier, but during my testing period, this wasn't the case.

The Otterbox Commuter adds a bit of heft (dim 4.73 in x 2.50 in x 0.55in) , which is a small price to pay for this amount of protection. The size isn't too noticeable after you start using it. However, when you pull the iPhone out of the case and hold it in your hand, you quickly notice the difference. I like a sleek case, and this didn't deter me at all. If you have a propensity for dropping your phone, you will quickly come to appreciate having that extra layer of protection.

Conclusion

Otterbox has thrown another touchdown for the the Commuter series. We loved this case even more than the one for the previous gen of iPhones. It feels more solid and has an overall good feel in the hand, while offering the best protection for a case in it's style. Highly recommended.

Product: Otterbox iPhone 4 Commuter

Price: $34.95 USD

Colors: Black

 


Otterbox iPhone 4 Defender

This case if big. Big on protection, big on size, and well… it's just BIG. If you are looking for a sleek petite case, move on, this isn't what you are looking for. Do you work for a construction company or out in the elements? This might be your best investment to go along with the iPhone.

This case is like a big onion - it's full of layers. 

To put your phone in the case, it's a multi-step process. First you take the inside shell apart and slip your phone into it. The rear of the shell has a felt lining, so no worries about scratching the glass on the rear of your iPhone.  The front of the shell features a built-in membrane screen protector. With this in place, no need for an extra screen stick-on protector. Snap the front and back together and then you have your inner layer of protection. This inner layer shell is almost on par with the size of the whole Commuter case!

Next take your hard shell and slip it into the textured silicone exterior. It takes a minute to get the tabs fitted just right so they are coving the ports correctly. There are port covers for the headphone jack, dock, and ringer switch. This particular case didn't suffer from the same problem where I had difficulty opening the dock port for access.  In fact, it was almost the opposite. When I closed it up, I had to play around to get it to fit just right. Not a huge deal, but it's something to be aware of since you are relying on it for the best protection out there. 

This assembly alone makes your iPhone 4 go from sleek to feeling like you are carrying around phone from the late 1990's.  To bring all of this home, stick it in it's accompanying holster. This holster is rough, rugged, and BIG. Stick the phone inside of it and nobody will even think you are carrying an iPhone. The holster can do a face-in or face-out direction, which will give you a little flexibility. It also doubles as a stand if you want to watch a movie on your desk. However, as a stand, it's one fixed angle, and I didn't find it to be conducive for watching anything over a few minutes.

The Defender line is known for being the biggest and the baddest (bad in a good way) for protection. It doesn't fall short with the latest iteration of this case. With that said, this case is not for everyone. Otterbox likes to say it is, but trust me on this one, it's not. If you want the best protection with a trade off of the biggest case/holster combo out there, this is your baby. 

Conclusion

It's big. Very big. Big on protection and size. Not for the person that wants a sleek membrane like case. Definitely for the rough and rugged type that needs protection from a rough environment. Recommended for people that need this much protection and don't mind making your iPhone 4 large.

Product: Otterbox iPhone 4 Defender

Price: $49.95

Colors: Black, Red, Ziron Blue

Review: LoopBag Transit Notebook Bag

Sturdy and stylish come to mind as good adjectives for the ‘Transit notebook bag’ from Loop Bags. I had the opportunity to test out the 15” notebook bag for the last month and overall it’s been a quite good experience.

The initial external impression of this bag is an attractive color and styling that looks and feels quite large.  The fabric is an ‘Airgaurd’ waterproof nylon fabric that feels strong and rugged. The detachable shoulder strap has a solid feel and enough neoprene padding to keep the bag comfortable on your shoulder for typical transport times. The strap is adjustable and has a solid metal strap adjuster that should last the life of the bag.

There are external pockets on either side of the bag that can hold odds and end but there are no internal pockets or storage areas, just one full opening. On my test bag, I actually found the zippers attractive, as they are large and metal, but have an easy to handle rubber grip with the ‘Loop’ logo on them.  On the outer pockets, I found opening them difficult and they never seemed to quite loosen up. Frequently they would snag and that kind of left me cold.

The two main internal compartments had no such issues with the zippers, and were quite roomy inside. The main compartment where you store your notebook was functional and had plenty of room for a 15” notebook with a little more room to move. Connected to the same compartment is a place for folders, documents, magazines, etc. which featured more than enough room for my needs. On the outside of this sleeve was some sewn in fabric that you could store some other things such as pens, erasers, etc. However, there were no zippers to keep items from falling out, and the pockets are fairly shallow. Frequently when I would load these area up, I’d end up fishing things out of the bottom of the bag, so I ultimately ended up not using the accessory pockets in the main compartment.

Inside this compartment opposite the notebook sleeve is one zippered mesh compartment, which is shallow, but the construction of this compartment is much better than the others.


The other inside compartment features a deep zippered compartment that has plenty of room to store odds and ends with ease.  It also features a  very large area with compression straps to snug down items. For example, if you need to take a change of clothes, no problem, just pack them in, snug them down with the compression straps and you are all set.


Compliments

I received a number of compliments on the fresh look of this bag. Typically you see black leather looking laptop bags, but this one looked so good I had at least three people approach me and ask about it.  With it's handsome brown color and the brushed metal zippers & adjusters, it makes people stop and look.

Final Thoughts

Overall, I really like this bag. Externally, it is definitely on par with some of the other high end bags we have tested. However, it did fall short with the shallow  compartments for accessories. I almost would have preferred they left these out or  included the pen/pencil areas in a more solidly constructed area. For the high price of this bag, I expected more. With that said, if they just fixed up a couple of small details, I could take this review from a 3.75 to a 4.5 easily. 

Product: Transit Notebook Bag from LoopBags

Price:$142 USD

 

Pros

- Attractive and rugged styling

- High quality metal zippers and adjusters

- Waterproof Airguard Nylon exterior 

Cons

- Internal sewn in pockets are too shallow

- Both outside pockets are difficult to open

Review: iFrogz MyFrogz Custom Luxe Case

iFrogz has started a new line of iPhone cases that let you customize the colors to suit your taste. Essentially it's their Luxe case, but now it's customizable.  Here is how it works. You head out to your local retailer and you purchase an Activation kit (a.k.a. a clear case and a redeemable code). They provide you with a clear case to give you something tangible to use and protect your phone until your new custom case arrives.  Once you are home and  you have your code handy you can either use the iPhone app (MyFrogz) or go to the iFrogz website and customize your case.  iFrogz sent me a redeemable code to review it, so I didn't have the opportunity to get the full experience with the clear case. 

I used the iPhone app to make my customizations and it was extremely easy.  There are two sections to the case - a top and a bottom, and you can flip through the available colors to get that perfect look for you. There were 25 colors (solid & semi-transparent) available on top and 18 solid colors on the bottom.  If you want a case  to be uniform, simply select the same color for both top and bottom.  I chose a two tone to get close to my favorite Maroon & Orange team, but they didn't offer a Maroon, so I went with Cherry Red and it was acceptable for me. If you want to be able to see your Apple logo on the rear of the phone, choose one of the semi-transparent frost colors. 

Once you have selected your colors, simply click the 'Order Now' button, confirm you delivery information and redeemable code and click confirm. My case case within 3 days via USPS mail, and I was very pleased when it arrived so quickly.

First impressions are great. The packaging looks great and even shows your name on the front, reinforcing this case was customized by YOU.

The case looked great and was extremely smooth, almost like velvet,  and felt great in the hand. Even the inside of the case has a nice touch, offering some smooth material to help prevent iPhone scratching when you slide the case on and off. 

 

You simply slide the iPhone into the top and bottom of the case and it locks right in place. It's a very slim form factor and doesn't feel bulky like some of the competitor cases. All of the connector areas are accessible and don't hinder you from using your 3rd party accessories. If you want to use a dock, you can simply slip off the bottom of the case. I found this not to be a big issue with the devices I tested it with, but depending on the form factor of your dock, your mileage will vary.

The Problem

I was loving this case for the first week or so, but then I started to notice small chips in the paint. I typically carry my iPhone in my pocket, and yes, occasionally there might be some coins in there, but never any car keys or other large items. I can only guess that is what was doing it. I dropped the phone once, and that made a large nick near the camera, but I did drop it.

Most of the paint chips are faintly noticeable unless you are looking for them. The camera picked them up pretty well, but unless you are looking for them in person, you don't notice the little chips as much.   

 

At the same time, for a case with a price on the upper end, I do expect it to perform a little better than that. I can't say for sure, but speaking with a few other people,  I think the semi-transparent frost cases might not have as much of a problem. The iFrogz folks offered a replacement, but I didn't think it was necessary, as this case is still performing fine, albeit a few cosmetic problems. 

The good news is that iFrogz will exchange the case for you. In fact, even if you don't have a problem, and you just don't like your color combo, you can exchange that for up to 10 days. You have to send it back to them, but it's a pretty easy process. 

Final Thoughts

The whole experience is really fun, especially getting the free iPhone MyFrogz app and flicking thorough the colors to make your combination. It's a really neat solution for someone that wants a unique case. Unless you are like me and chose your favorite team colors, it's likely you won't see any two-tone cases out in the wild with the exact same combinations as yours. The chipping problem is annoying, but it isn't so bad that I can't recommend this case. In fact, I recommend you download the free Myfrogz app and play around with it and see if you find a color combo that you like. 

Pros: 

- Unique custom case

- Lots of color combos to make it unique

- Good warranty & exchange policy

Cons:

- Price on upper range of cases

- Small paint chips started appearing on my review unit

Product: iFrogz MyFrogz Custom Luxe Case

Price: $39.95

Colors: 25 colors that can be used in nearly any combination

Review: OtterBox Commuter & Commuter TL iPhone Cases

After almost losing my iPhone to pouring rain at a football game, I decided it was time to look for a case that provided full coverage. 'Full' meaning all of the open holes to the case are covered. The OtterBox Commuter and Commuter TL series accomplish this very well.

The Commuter TL:

This case is the thickest of the two, offering a 3 layer system.  First you attach the typical screen film, then slide on the silicone skin around your device, and finally attach the outer polycarbonate shield that goes the top, rear, and bottom of the case. 

 The quality of the screen film was better than most that you typically receive with iPhone cases. However, even after following all of the instructions, I still wasn't able to completely remove the bubbles from the screen. I tried and tried, but to no avail. This is pretty typical of these films and not a big issue when the screen is on. However, when the screen is off, it makes the iPhone look less than beautiful. On the plus side, these particular films actually stayed on, as opposed to the last ones I tested by another vendor.

Applying the polycarbonate shell was a little tricky, as the area where the dock connector is kept sliding when I was getting that final piece attached. After playing with it for a couple of minutes it was fine.  My initial impression of the section at the bottom of the phone had me concerned, as it seemed very slim and fragile and I thought it would break. So far so good though, and I've taken the phone in and out of the case at least half a dozen times. Once you get it in there, it seems to stay put, even after pulling in and out of my pocket hundreds of times. I was impressed.

 


 

My favorite part of both cases is that the OtterBox's silicone is molded to fit right into the dock and earphone connector. That is exactly what I was looking for after attending the football game in the pouring rain. I couldn't resist snapping some pictures, but I was very afraid that water was going to get into the headphone jack. This feature will protect against  hazards like that. The Commuter TL unit also fully covers the rear as the polycarbonate portion leaves a transparent window to show your Apple logo off and to allow you to announce to everyone you have an iPhone. Make no mistake about it. 

There were only a few cons to this case. This isn't the case for someone that pulls there phone out of the case to make it fit into a dock, GPS holder, or other peripheral device. It's too much of a hassle to get it back in. This is a case you will put it in once and not take it back out until it's time to change the film. 

Secondly, as with any silicone based case, it picks up lint and hair and anything else you have in your pocket. Thankfully the polycarbonate shell covers almost the entire back, so there is not that much of it to deal with. Other than those two little things, I love this case.

 

The Commuter:

The slimmest of the two, and also the more expensive, this case tested just as well as the Commuter TL.  It offers similar features of the Commuter TL; screen film, silicone case, and polycarbonate shell.  The Commuter differs by offering a more streamlined design and selection of 7 colors to choose from. Side by side, the silicone skin feels slightly thinner than the Commuter TL skin. The polycarbonate shell is larger and encompasses the top, bottom, rear, and half of each side, leaving the silicone exposed in the necessary places to allow for volume control. 

Assembling the case is also similar. You have to fidget with it to get the silicone to sit properly in place around the bottom of the screen, but once you have it in there, it works great.  Since it has a slender profile and there is more polycarbonate, it feels much slimmer and lighter weight than the Commuter TL case. That nice slim feel in the hand makes it easy to use the iPhone comfortably.  

As does it's sister case, it offers full coverage for the earphone and dock connectors. However, for some reason I can't figure out, there is no polycarbonate covering the hole where the Apple logo is. Perhaps it's not economical in the design to cover the hole, but I tend to hold OtterBox (who is known for coverage and safety) to a higher standard. Seems like a huge oversight to me.

Once again, this is not a case for someone who needs to pull their phone in and out of a case to connect up to a peripheral, dock, car mount, etc.  

Conclusion:

The Commuter and Commuter TL each offer some unique features. I feel more protected in the Commuter TL case, but I like the thinner feel of the Commuter case.  Both of them were dropped multiple times during testing over the last couple of weeks and both iPhones are still working fine. Suffice it to say, they can withstand drops. 

Either one will serve you well for protecting your valuable device. Both are a fine choice and if you are looking for a selection of colors, the Commuter TL is the only one of the two that offers 7 color choices.  

Highly Recommended!

OtterBox Commuter TL - $29.95 USD 

 

OtterBox Commuter - $34.95 USD

 

Review: MusicSkins - Stylish Protection

Protection and personalization are the two things that many people want when looking to add some flare to their electronic devices. Everywhere I go I see laptops, cell phones, and iPods covered with stickers. It's not just young folks either. It's everybody. Some look cool, some look cheap, but the ones I tested for MusicSkins were exactly what I was looking for. 

You go to the website, choose an image you like (favorite band, rapper, models, etc.), select the device you want it for (mp3 player, laptop, cell phone, game device), and order it. 

Once it arrives, you simply affix the 3M vinyl sticker to your device. Everything is pre-cut for your specific device, so it fits perfectly. The 3M vinyl doesn't leave any bubbles or residue when you remove it. It's really great stuff -- and very durable. I've been using one on my Razr phone for a couple of years and it's held up incredibly well. I found that applying the sticker is quick and easy, and if you do get it off center or something, it peels off and easily reapplies and the adhesive holds just like it did the first time. 

The folks at MusicSkins offer a pretty large selection of images and art work that almost ensure you find something that will look good on your device. To add that extra touch, they even offer matching wallpaper for your device to really complement the skin if you want to do that. 

If by some chance you didn't find anything that appeals to you on their site, you can do a custom skin from your own images or artwork. How cool would it be to have your website logo or a picture of your kid skinned to your laptop or iPod? Pretty cool stuff. I didn't get to try the custom images, as they only sent me some pre-printed items, but the print quality on my samples is excellent.

Most of the skins are $15 for small devices (mp3 players and such), and $20-$30 for Netbooks and Laptops respectively. You will have to look and see if your specific device is supported. Most of the popular ones are on their list, so it's probably a non-issue.

Conclusion:
You can't go wrong with the 3M technology that MusicSkins uses. It looks great, it's easy to apply, and is extremely durable. You will probably get tired of the skin before it wears out. They offer a wide selection of music artists and other artwork as well. If you want to protect your device from scratches and give it a little bit of personalization, they are a must. 

MusicSkins
$15-$30 USD (depending on device)