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By 'Doctor Dave' Greenbaum
iPhone cases seem to come in two different varieties: fashionable lightweights that look nice but provide poor protection and larger cases that add protection along with bulk. Personally, I prefer
function over form, but the Commuter from Otterbox (http://www.otterbox.com) is an excellent compromise that adds style and protection without a great deal of bulk.
Unlike it's beefier sibling, the Commuter's rubber sleeve is is banded by a smooth plastic shell, which allows the Commuter to easily slide in and out of one's pocket. The case is actually two parts, a thin rubber piece which wraps over most of the phone, providing shock protection, and then the aforementioned plastic piece, which slides over the back of the phone vertically as a band, providing further protection. Finally, there is a screen protector, which must be manually applied and is prone to bubbling. All together, these provide three layers of protection.
In daily use, the case provides fine protection against the usual hazards of iPhone ownership, such as pocket junk, random banging against other objects, and sliding across tables, and its dual layer protection is superior to the high fashion cases. Although, I didn't actually test intentionally dropping the phone, based on the construction of the case, I am pretty confident it would survive a short fall onto a hard surface unless you got unlucky enough to have something impact the front glass. I had enough close encounters with my iPhone 3GS and Commuter to trust Otterbox's design.
What are the downsides of the Commuter? Well, just like the Model T, you can have the Commuter in any color you like, as long as it is black. I was disappointed in the lack of any color options, but this may not be a big deal to many people and I'm sure Otterbox will develop more colors later on. Another negative was the slim flap which protects the dock connection; although a good idea in theory, the flap often comes loose and ends up just being annoying. Finally, the areas where the edges of the rubber of the case touched the phone (such as around the screen and the mute switch) seemed to become dust magnets, although to be fair, many rubber cases have the same issue.
Overall, the Commuter is a great balance of protection in a lightweight design that easily slides in and out of your pocket. For my spouse the protection the Commuter offers is "just right" -- more protection than the "free cases" Apple offered, with a minimal amount of bulk. If the Otterbox iPhone 4 case was a car, the Commuter would be the luxury sedan while the Defender is a tank. Not everyone wants to drive a tank to work.
Pros: A perfect balance of form and function and superior 3-layer protection
Cons: Lack of color choices, average manual screen protection
Rating 8 out of 10