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printed October 20, 2017
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Review: Otterbox Cases for Samsung Galaxy Note8

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Oct 3, 2017, 6:00 AM   by Eric M. Zeman   @phonescooper

Otterbox makes hardcore smartphone cases that deliver the ultimate in protection. The Commuter and Defender series cases from Otterbox for the Galaxy Note8 help ensure your expensive smartphone is safe from most pitfalls. Here is Phone Scoop's review.

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Background

Otterbox delivers some of the most rugged smartphone cases available in the market. The company sells three basic cases for the Note8: Symmetry, Commuter, Defender, each with an increasing level of protection. Where the Symmetry relies on a classic one-piece design, the Commuter jumps to two pieces, and the Defender is made of three pieces. Otterbox sent us the Commuter and Defender for the Note8 and we took them for a spin.

OtterBox Commuter

The Commuter Series is available for a wide range of smartphones, including iPhones, Galaxy S handsets, and more. It consists of a thick rubber membrane that stretches around the outer edges of the phone, and a hard plastic shell that fits over the rubber. The thick, cushiony rubber protects against drops and shock, while the plastic shell provides an added layer of rigidity to deflect blows and help safeguard the glass front and back.

The rubber piece is easy to stretch around the Note8. I actually wish it fit just a bit tighter. The inside edges of the rubber membrane have thick cushions to keep the delicate sides of the Note8 safe. There are a number of hatches and cut-outs in the rubber to accommodate the Note8's various ports and controls. Two rubber flaps on the bottom cover the headphone jack and USB-C port. The sides of the rubber membrane have thick ridges that fit over the volume toggle and Bixby button on the left and screen lock button on the right.

Commuter  

Snapping the plastic shell on top of the rubber membrane is annoying and requires some prying. The issue is aligning it with the rubber flaps. I've experienced this same issue with other Otterbox Commuter cases. Since the fit of the plastic shell is so snug against the rubber, you have to hook the top of the shell on the top edge first and force it around the bottom edge. You then have to wiggle the flaps through the openings in the plastic shell.

I didn't notice any issues impacting usability of the phone. All the Note8's buttons are easy to find and use with the case on, and the case actually helps you locate the fingerprint reader on the back. The flaps are easy enough to pry loose when you need to charge your phone, and the large gap along the bottom right edge ensures the S Pen is always at the ready.

The Commuter is an incredibly protective case. Otterbox claims the Commuter survived 24 specific tests and 238 hours of abuse in its lab. It also tests the case in purses, pockets, high/low temperatures, and other abrasive environments. Competing cases claim protection from “drops of up to 10 feet”, for example. Otterbox only offers "Otterbox Certified Drop+ Protection", whatever that is. (The Note8 is waterproof on its own.)

I dropped the Note8 on the stone steps of the Great Wall of China, and it tumbled down a few steps before coming to a rest. The phone didn't break. I also dropped it onto concrete, wood floors, ceramic tile, and carpet. There's not a scratch on the Note8.

There are some drawbacks, primarily size and weight. The Note8 is a huge phone to begin with and the Commuter increases every dimension. It's ungainly enough that fitting the Note8 into jeans pockets with the case on is difficult and uncomfortable. Moreover, the rubber material often catches the lining of your pockets, making it difficult to retrieve in a hurry.

I wouldn't call the OtterBox Commuter attractive by any means. The plastics and materials of the case are certainly tough. The case comes in black, deep blue, or pink. The blue and pink cases are two-toned for some visual variety. The black case is uniform in its blackness.

Commuter With Note8  

The Commuter costs $50 for the Note8, which is a lot for a case, but it buys you excellent protection for your smartphone. The Note8 costs a whopping $930, so $50 isn't all that much if it saves the phone from significant damage even once.

Otterbox Defender

The Defender takes the basic principle of the Commuter and turns it inside out. Where the Commuter has a rubber inner layer and plastic outer shell, the Defender has a plastic inner case and a rubber membrane embracing it on the outside. It's the most hardcore case Otterbox makes for the Note8.

I'm not entirely sold on the design. The Defender is made from three pieces. First, a polycarbonate back plate, then a thin plastic front frame, and finally the rubber slipcover. A thin, shock-absorbent material is glued to the inner surface of the back plate. This material is easily scratched or damaged with a fingernail, but it does offer some cushioning for the Note8's glass rear.

Defender  

To assemble the Defender, place the Note8 on the rear shell, and then affix the front frame. It's a bit of a pain to snap the front into place thanks to the fussy clasps. Last, stretch the rubber cover over the entire assembly. You have to work the rubber into some grooves in the plastic frame. It isn't as easy to install as the Commuter and it's certainly more of a pain to remove.

The inner polycarbonate shell feels flimsy on its own; I'd say it can't be used without the outer rubber covering.

The exterior rubber has a coarse finish that gives the phone some grip. The side edges have a ridged texture that I found appealing and confidence-inspiring.

The side buttons are a snap to find and use thanks to the over-sized rubber coverings. Travel and feedback of the buttons is quite good.

The rubber flaps that cover the USB-C port and headphone jack are fussy. I found I needed to really dig my fingernails in to pry them loose. The opening for the USB-C port is large enough to accommodate any charging cable, but the cavity surrounding the headphone jack doesn't work with all headphones. For example, headphones that have a straight plug should work, but those that have a 90-degree (right angle) plug simply won't fit. That means my favorite wired headphones are a no-go with the Note8 when it is wrapped up in the Defender. The cutout in the lower portion of the case for the S Pen is ridiculous. It almost looks like Otterbox forgot to fill in part of the case. The stylus is easy to remove and use.

Otterbox kept the opening for the cameras as small as possible, but it's really deep.

It's worth noting that the Defender series previously included protection for phone displays through a built-in screen cover. The Defender series for the Note8 does not include a screen protector.

I can't say the Defender feels any more protective than the Commuter. It's absolutely thicker and heavier, but Otterbox doesn't give us any indication that the Defender is able to handle drops from greater heights. The company says the Defender is subject to the same abuse tests as the Commuter, and that's about it. There's no doubt the case works. I dropped the Note8 onto a range of surfaces while it was protected by the Defender and the phone came away unscathed.

It's ridiculously huge. The case contributes nearly 2 ounces in weight, while it adds about a half inch each to the length and width of the Note8, and nearly doubles the thickness. It didn't fit in some pairs of pants, and was a tight fit in most others. The grippy rubber material almost always got stuck in my pocket liners. The Defender gets in the way of portability more so than the Commuter does. It makes one of the biggest phones almost unusably big.

Perhaps this is why the Defender comes with a massive holster. The holster is made of solid plastic and includes a clip so you can attach the phone to your belt. The encased phone snaps into the holster easily enough, but it looks preposterous when attached to your belt.

The case comes in black, purple, and aquamarine. The latter two have two-tone designs that are somewhat appealing, while the black model is black through and through.

The Otterbox Defender costs $60, which is a lot for a case. It is thicker and heavier than the Commuter, but I can't say it delivers $10 more protection. Maybe the three-piece design makes you feel more confident, or the holster appeals to you. If they do, then go ahead with the Defender.

Defender With Note8  

I think the Commuter does just as well for a bit less.

Our Ratings

4
Overall
 

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