iPhone Cases – OtterBox vs OnTrion iBatteryCase vs Thrift

September 3, 2012

Phone protection these days is of paramount importance. We have so much data on our mobile devices that losing or damaging a phone could result in lost hours recompiling information on contacts, conversations and content.

Further, the ubiquitous nature of these mobile devices often necessitates additional power so we can stay in touch all the time. And there’s the rub.

Do we try and protect our phone against all hazards or do we take a more balanced approach and choose lesser protection with the benefit of battery back-up?

For me, I’ve been a protection-first kind of guy. Every time OtterBox comes out with a new mega iPhone case, I’m first in line to get a review sample and put it through its paces. I’ve had their Defender Series cases since I owned the iPhone 3 and hardly looked back…until now. And the reason isn’t because the case is bad, it’s because it’s a bit more bulky than I need and because I’m starting to think about efficiency and power.

So, here’s what I’ve done…

I threw out my two-year-old Defender Case

I bought a $6 case at a thrift store (savings of $40+ over the OtterBox Defender)

I requested that the kind folks at OnTrion send me their latest iBatteryCase

I put all three through their paces

1 – The OtterBox is a proven entity. You can toss it across a tile bathroom floor and not worry about scratching, cracking or otherwise injuring your iPhone. It’s bombproof. In some instances the inside plastic case will crack (mine did after about 14 months) and the rubber/silicone flap at the bottom will tear off if you’re constantly charging, syncing and using the bottom port. But overall, the Defender served me well and I’d get another…with a caveat or two. I’d like a slightly better design (and word has it that OtterBox has something up its sleeve for this year’s CES show in Las Vegas). And I’d love an OtterBox with a battery. It’s already bulky enough that it seems like it’s a battery case, why not put one in it?

2 – Thrift-store model. Seriously, $6 for a solid iPhone case is a steal. I got this case in a discount rack at a Wegman’s Supermarket in Dewitt, NY. They had a bunch of cases that were affordable and protective, but most were just silicone sleeves. This case – no brand name – is harder plastic and has a flexible clip integrated into the case so you can hold $$, credit cards, IDs or just clip it to your pocket. For the first time in my iPhone-owning days, I’ve been carrying my iPhone in my front pants pocket. No way I could do that with the bulky Defender case. Only drawback is that the case would likely NOT protect against the flinging across tile floors or dropping from any significant height. Otherwise, it’s $6 well-spent.

*One thing to note, so many iPhone repair shops are popping up that the cost to replace the front glass has dropped dramatically. Now, it’s about $30-$50 to replace a shattered iPhone display. That’s less than the cost of a Defender case. If you’re careful with your stuff, you’ve saved some $$ to spend on other accessories.

3 – OnTrion iBatteryCase. This thing arrived at the house the other day, so I haven’t figured out how well the battery responds to multiple charges and discharges yet, but at first blush it works great. It charges up quickly and adds about five hours to my iPhone use time. In effect, the iBatteryCase is like doubling the iPhone’s battery capacity in a slim-design case. The indicators on the back let you know what you have left for charge, and you can use it just to charge up your depleted phone, as a case/charger or a mix of the two. There’s an on-off switch so you can control whether you’re using the iPhone battery or the iBatteryCase to run your phone.

Drawbacks on this…a couple. It’s not a full case. As you can see from the second photo, it is more like a sleeve that leaves the top and front exposed. This is a much better design than the Mophie Juice Pack (which breaks your nails off every time you try to remove it). But it does leave your iPhone a bit more exposed to the world than a full, wrap-around case. My biggest fear is the the top 1/4 of the iPhone is really exposed and I don’t know if I can be careful enough all the time.


If you’re working construction or going mountain biking, get the OtterBox Defender.

If you’re just living your life and don’t like to go ‘naked’ or the Mike Langford minimalist route with just a bumper on your iPhone, go get a thrift-store case and save up to replace the front glass if you ever play fast and loose with your iPhone. *MANY iPhones get shattered at events like SXSW and NMX.

And if you’re looking for a power-back-up solution that’s affordable and won’t hold your phone hostage like the Mophie, then go with the iBatteryCase from OnTrion for $40.

What’s your experience been with iPhone cases and repairs – if you’ve been unfortunate enough to need them?