The Blackberry 8800 in Otterbox Defender series case.

The Blackberry 8800 in Otterbox Defender series case.

I dropped my new Blackberry Bold a couple days ago and was grateful the battery didn't go flying. That reminded me it was time to invest in some protection for the unit. Last year, before I changed jobs, I had a Blackberry 8800, and with it I put an Otterbox Defender series case to a long-term test.

I'd been dropping the 8800 a couple times a month at home, in the parking lot, even on the dock once (no, it didn't go swimming!). Once I fitted it into the Defender's two-piece hard plastic case and secured it with its rubber (neoprene?) sleeve, I never dropped it again except a couple of times to show off how well the Otterbox protected it. The neoprene sleeve made it much easier to grip, or stickier. And even in a pants, jacket, or sweatshirt pocket, it seemed less likely to slip out.

Was it bulkier? Well, sure it was...quite a bit. But it still fit in my front pants pocket just fine, and the plastic box still let me reach all of the buttons easily. And the charger plugged in no problem. Plus, I always remembered it was there, so I was less likely to leave home without it, and less likely to put it away before sailing.

No, the Defender box by no means makes it waterproof. The face is open for easy use of the keys, although the hard shell means the keys are recessed, and once I learned how to set the left-side button to lock the keys (you can set this button to do any number of functions) my phone stopped inadvertently calling my friend Jay when I was overseas. When I went on the water, I would put the whole unit in a larger waterproof Otterbox that I've had for years. I think it's roughly equivalent to the current Otterbox 2000. I had it out again on a recent trip to Florida to protect  my new Blackberry Bold, so I took this picture of it.

The Blackberry Bold in a waterproof Otterbox case that would fit iPods and other electronic devices for safekeeping while on the water.

The Blackberry Bold in a waterproof Otterbox case that would fit iPods and other electronic devices for safekeeping while on the water.

Otterbox makes cases that fit iPhones, too, and two of my sailing buddies tested those last summer. Pete, who works up on the bow of our 30-foot Shields Class sailboat, tested the ruggedized, non-waterproof version, which he always placed in his waterproof sailing gear bag when we got underway. Reed, my co-skipper, tested a waterproof Armor Series version and happily took photos through the clear plastic cover all season long. (As I write, I've just learned that the Armor Series iPhone box has been discontinued; the link above is to a retailer who apparently still has some in stock. A company rep told me that customer feedback they got was down on the fact that you had to use the speakerphone feature or a Bluetooth device to make call...definitely a consideration when you buy a protection for your iPhone.)

Pete (a.k.a. "the dentist") waxed eloquent in his review of the Defender series iPhone case, which was somewhat like my case except it had a plastic membrane to cover the touchscreen. Here's what he wrote:
Obviously an entire cottage industry has grown around protecting that slippery glass brick known as the iPhone. The Otter case provides a significant level of protection over conventional screen shields and body covers. Prior to the Otter I had been using an INCASE cover and disposable screen shields... great for keeping the iPhone from slipping out of a pants pockets and only minor drops. By comparison, the Otter case consists of two plastic shell halves that snap securely around the body of the phone; the face half has a clear protective screen built in. A grippy rubberized sheath covers both sections and slides into a heavy plastic belt clip holster.

The case allows all iPhone controls to be operated with the exception of the "sound off" switch (a minor inconvenience). I could power on/off, change volume, photograph, and activate the Home button deliberately but effectively. Most importantly, I could text, email and operate applications just as effectively as I had with the disposable screen protectors. The case does a good job of protecting the phone. My iPhone has now survived numerous heart-stopping drops to all kinds of hard and harsh surfaces. Although protective it does feel much bulkier in your pocket. I found it did have a tendency to pop out of the belt holster. That may be due to a dust cover flap that is part of the rubber sheath that does not like to stay in place The case also prevents use in most docking/charging devices so the power cord that comes with your phone will have to be used to charge/sync your phone. The case also prevents some types of plugs for ear buds to connect. You may want to try plugging in a pair first to see if they work with the case before you buy them.

As for the sailing environment, I think the case is very effective with the exception of water protection. It will protect the phone only in the lightest of spray or drizzle. It can't handle a heavy downpour, as I found out during a nasty night at a Patriots game. The case protects, but will marinade your phone in water if you get drenched. This will force you to get to a dry spot quickly, disassemble the case, and dry off the phone before it's ruined. Not easy on a pitching/ rolling boat in bad conditions.

The only other problem with the case is the built-in screen protector, which is permanent and can't be replaced. So, over time (in my case nearly a year) the screen protector will get scratched enough to warrant replacement....of the entire case.

Overall, I've been happy with the  protective functionality of the Otter case. In fact this review has been written entirely on an Otter-encased iPhone.... No small feat even without a protective case. [Eds note: there were only half a dozen spelling mistakes, but we can't necessarily attribute them to the case.]

Hans and his daughter, Rosemarijn, clown around. On another day, Rose wished she'd had an Otterbox-type case; her iTouch didn't like too much contact with Narragansett Bay.

Hans and his daughter, Rosemarijn, clown around for a photo taken with Reed's iPhone. On another day, Rose wished she'd had an Otterbox-type case; her iTouch didn't like too much contact with Narragansett Bay.

Reed (a.k.a. "the minister") writes sermons for a living so he kept his review short and instead offered several photos he took during the test. Here's what he had to say:
Although I did not test the watertightness of the my waterproof Otterbox PDA case, due to the impressive seals and two locking clamps, I had full confidence that my phone would be protected from splashes and occasional brief dunkings and therefore didn't didn't give it the extra protection of a larger, waterproof bag or case. It's construction was rugged, and I could place the phone in my duffle bag, confident that it could take a bang or two.

Action photo with Otterbox-encased iPhone allowed us to alert our sailmaker to between-race sail improvements.

Action photo of Pete taken on Reed's Otterbox-encased iPhone, which allowed us to alert our sailmaker to need for between-race sail improvements.

Best of all, the fact that it was waterproof allowed me to pull out the iPhone and take pictures with ease and without concern for an accidental dousing. The photos had no noticeable degradation in quality, although as iPhone users know, the camera is really only handy for  close-up shots.

Reed called me the other day from his car (not the was below freezing outside) and after a minute asked me how the reception quality was. He was talking through the waterproof cover on speaker phone and instead of playing a game of  "Can you hear me now?" there was only a small bit of degradation to what I would call "normal" speakerphone sound quality. Then again, the pastor may have had a better connection then most; I hope so, because he also offered a small prayer to warmer spring weather. I'm ready!

P.S. While we tested several Otterbox cases, you might also look at Pelican cases, especially for larger waterproof boxes, and DryPodsOnline.

My Otterbox reviewers find a testing ground almost as tough as the water environment.

My Otterbox reviewers find a test ground at the Razor...almost as tough as the water environment. The photo taken with an iPhone through plastic case.