by Al Sacco

OtterBox Commuter Cases for BlackBerry: Durability Meets Style

Nov 30, 2009
Computers and PeripheralsData CenterMobile

BlackBerry users searching for smartphone cases that offer both a high level of protection and unique style will find a friend in OtterBox's Commuter cases--though they're not for everyone. The rigid, rubber-and-plastic cases prove to be quite durable, but they significantly alter the look and feel of your device.

Just last weekend, computer- and gadget-case maker OtterBox unveiled its latest offering for BlackBerry smartphones: The OtterBox Commuter series case for the BlackBerry Bold 9700. The company’s “Commuter” line of smartphone cases–they’re available for additional devices other than BlackBerrys, including the iPhone–combine flexible-rubber inner “skins” with hard-plastic outer “shells” to make handsome cases that not only look good, but can take a beating.

BlackBerry Curve 8520 and Tour 9630 in OtterBox Commuter Cases
BlackBerry Curve 8520 and Tour 9630 in OtterBox Commuter Cases

In addition to its Commuter cases, OtterBox also makes two more case-styles for BlackBerry devices: the OtterBox Defender, which is the company’s most durable case; and the OtterBox Impact case, a fortified rubber skin that’s focused more on style than durability. The Commuter lineup is a combination of the Defender and Impact series, with both a rubber skin and hard-plastic shell.

Defender cases typically sell for around $50; Commuters go for roughly $35; and OtterBox Impact skins usually cost about $20. And every OtterBox case for BlackBerry also comes with a sticky-plastic screen protector, though I opted to leave my BlackBerry screens “naked.”

OtterBox was nice enough to send along a selection of its Commuter cases for BlackBerry, and though I’ve yet to get my hands on the new Bold 9700 Commuter, I’ve spent plenty of time with the Commuters for the BlackBerry Tour 9630, Bold 9000 and the BlackBerry Curve 8520. (I’ve also used a variety of OtterBox Defender and Impact cases for BlackBerry and iPhone. And I named OtterBox one of the ten best products at Research In Motion’s (RIM) 2009 Wireless Enterprise Symposium [WES].)

What follows are some general impressions of the Commuters case, as well as an idea of their ideal users.

OtterBox Commuter for BlackBerry: BlackBerry-Thumbs Up

OtterBox’s Commuter Series cases for BlackBerry smartphones are the best looking BlackBerry cases OtterBox has ever produced. Period.

In the past, OtterBox focused much more on offering durable products that could stand up to even the most abusive BlackBerry user than making stylish cases. This strategy made sense, as most BlackBerry users were corporate-types until fairly recently, and some of those business-users employed their BlackBerrys in demanding environments. For a long time, OtterBox was one of, if not the only, BlackBerry-case-maker that offered high-quality products made for use “in the field,” and the company gained a loyal following as such.

BlackBerry Curve 8520 and Tour 9630 (Rear) in OtterBox Commuter Cases
BlackBerry Curve 8520 and Tour 9630 (Rear) in OtterBox Commuter Cases

OtterBox has been sending me smartphone cases for review for years, but I never really took to any of the Defender cases, because they were just too bulky for me and I didn’t really need the extra level of device protection they offered. I told the company repeatedly that I would welcome a slimmed-down, more “consumer-oriented” version of the Defender cases, and early last year, OtterBox released its Impact series cases for select devices–a sleeker, fortified skin that was much less bulky than past OtterBox cases. (Read my review of the OtterBox Impact series skin for the BlackBerry Bold 9000.)

The OtterBox Commuter series is honestly the only OtterBox case that remained on one of my BlackBerrys after I reviewed it–my Curve 8520 is still “wearing” its Commuter case. That’s because it’s not too obtrusive, and though it changes the way my device looks and feels, it doesn’t really affect performance…too much. (More on this subject in the next section.)

The OtterBox Commuter series cases I used are easy to remove and replace–this cannot be said about the majority of OtterBox’s Defender cases. But they still offer near-total protection–they cover almost all your BlackBerry’s surfaces, expect for your keyboard.

And at roughly $35, the Commuter cases are reasonably priced. (Hint hint: has OtterBox cases for significantly less than that MSRP.)

And on to the not-so-good stuff…

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OtterBox Commuter for BlackBerry: BlackBerry-Thumbs Down The OtterBox Commuter cases for BlackBerry aren’t perfect; I do have a few gripes, though my main complaint relates to a specific case model: The OtterBox Commuter for BlackBerry Tour 9630. OtterBox Commuter Case for BlackBerry Tour 9630 I like the overall feel of the Commuter for Tour, but unfortunately it doesn’t seem to fit the BlackBerry 9630 as well as the other Commuter cases fit my additional BlackBerry devices. Specifically, the case’s opening for my Tour’s microUSB charging port is just slightly off, making it quite difficult to charge the device while it’s in its case. As is, my Tour comes unplugged a minute or two after connecting my microUSB cord, because the Commuter case puts undue pressure on the cord and forces it loose from its port. That’s a deal breaker for me, as I don’t have the time or patience to remove my BlackBerry’s case every time I want to charge or sync it. Again, this problem was specific to the Tour 9630 Commuter case–I didn’t have the same problem with my Commuter for Bold 9000 or Curve 8520. But I would have been frustrated, to say the least, if I had purchased the Tour case, and I would have likely returned it. The Commuter cases, like all OtterBox cases, are unique in appearance, and as such, they’re going to significantly change the way your device looks. That’s not necessarily a bad thing; the cases aren’t ugly by any means, just make sure you’re okay with the look. The problem is that that cases also alter the feel or your device, which can hinder your device performance. For example, all of the OtterBox Commuter BlackBerry cases I employed lift slightly on the sides of my BlackBerry keyboards. In fact, the Commuter cases have edges along the keyboard-sides that are upraised above the keyboards themselves, making it somewhat awkward to click the outer-most keys on each side, until you get used to the case. This can impede typing, especially for folks with larger fingers. OtterBox Commuter for BlackBerry Curve 8520 (Side View) Finally, all of the OtterBox Commuter cases for BlackBerry have tiny rubber “tabs” that are attached to the skin-portion of the case. The tabs slide into your device’s headset and USB ports to protect them from dirt and other grit. And they work quite well; they fit tightly and mostly stay put. But the rubber tabs are attached to the skin by a very thin piece of material, and I know from experience using other OtterBox products with similar tabs that they tear off easily, leaving your ports exposed. This in itself isn’t exactly a big deal, but the tabs can leave ugly torn-rubber edges, and that’s just plain frustrating. Overall, I’m impressed with OtterBox’s Commuter cases, and they’re the only OtterBox product that I’d actually use on my own BlackBerry. (I have nothing against older OtterBox cases, they’re just too bulky and awkward for me.) I’d suggest Tour owners beware of the Commuter case for the above mentioned reason, however, but I still recommend the other models to folks who want a high-level of protection without sacrificing style.

Get more information on OtterBox and/or purchase products including the Commuter for BlackBerry on the company’s website.