Okay, I’ll admit it... I’ve been coveting a new iPhone.

It’s not that I’m looking for new features; I’m still learning what my two year old iPhone4 can do. But the buttons are getting a little sticky, and I now have to press the bottom one several times to switch modes. Could it be all those wet-fingered “just-off-the-water, be-home-soon” texts that shortened its life? If only I’d protected it with an Otterbox Armor when it was new...

Otterbox armor iphone 4

The Otterbox Armor case for the iPhone 4 is easy to use and also easy to remove.

Ever since I added the LifeProof case to my iPad mini (read Better LifeProof than Naked: iPad Mini Case Stands Up to the Elements), I’ve been hankering for the same protection for my iPhone. Sweat, spray from a random wave while taking a photo, and of course those salty fingers—it all seemed so avoidable, once I discovered that waterproof doesn’t have to mean unswipeable. So when the chance came to test the Otterbox Armor for my aging and ailing iPhone 4, I leapt at it. Here's what I found from my testing.

The case is a bit bulkier than the LifeProof version, though still compact and light enough for everyday use. And it’s easier to open and close—no tools or coins are needed to operate the two metal clips that lock the back piece onto its rubber O-ring.

Otterbox Armor latch

Two latches on the side of the Otterbox Armor are easy to open, and securely low profile when engaged.

Water and Shock Test

When I tested the LifeProof, I didn’t have the nerve to drop it in the water or on the ground with my iPad inside. (Reviewer Doug Logan did, though: read LifeProof iPad Case Passes Winter Water Test.)

But in this case, I figured I was a winner either way; if the case protected my phone, great. If not, I’d have the perfect excuse to upgrade.

The Otterbox passed both tests with flying colors; even the suspiciously easy-to-unplug top and bottom seals (for charging and earbuds) didn’t leak a drop. Water did seep under the plug tops and had to be wiped away separately, but not a drop found its way inside the case to bother the phone.

It also passed a minor shock test, when I purposely raised my arm and dropped it onto hard pavement. I couldn’t even tell which rubber-bumpered corner had taken the hit.

The one surprise was the ringer button, at the top of the left side; at first I thought it didn't work. Then I realized that I had to push it up to turn off the ringer, and down to turn it back on again—the opposite of how the switch works without the case.

Otterbox ringer switch

The ringer switch works well, but in the reverse direction of what I expected.

Unobtrusive Protection

Like the LifeProof, the Otterbox cover does not interfere at all with basic use; it is just as sensitive to finger swiping and tapping. I simply forgot about it when texting, checking mail, or making a call. (Though sadly, it did not improve the performance of the sticky buttons on my phone.) Even when fully sealed, the microphone works fine. Which means the case can be used ashore as well as afloat, eliminating the need to find a towel before sending that “just back on shore” text message.

According to the Otterbox website, “The Armor Series waterproof iPhone 4/4S case has been tested to be submersed underwater at 6.6 feet for 30 minutes, withstand a 10 foot drop, allow zero entry of dust or debris and sustain 2 tons of crushing force all while maintaining full functionality of your iPhone.”

I can’t personally attest to the truth of those claims, but I can be sure of one thing: If I’d protected my two year old phone with the Otterbox when it was new, those sticky buttons would be working a lot better now. Fortunately, Otterbox makes a case for the iPhone 5, too, so maybe I’ll be smarter with my next smartphone.

Read our other stories about waterproofing your electronics:

For more info, visit Otterbox.