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OtterBox: The smartphone case for me

It's the best of both worlds--a little gel to soak up the shocks, a hard shell so it's easy to take out of a pocket.

A Nexus One in the Otterbox Commuter case.
A Nexus One in the Otterbox Commuter case. Stephen Shankland/CNET

I'd like to say that all my fretting about dropping a $500 smartphone was baseless. But it wasn't--various Androids and iPhones under my stewardship have taken the plunge over the years as I fumbled them while walking, bumped them off the dresser, or let them slip out of a shirt pocket as a bent down.

This is why I'm a fan of phone cases.

I like those sleek phone designs, but not as much as I like the phones continuing to function. Indeed, about a month ago, I somehow cracked the transparent cover over the camera of the Nexus One I'm using, a big annoyance for taking snapshots and videos, scanning QR codes and business cards, and periodically renewing my frustration with the Google Goggles visual search app.

Alas, though, I'd been dissatisfied with the cases I'd tried--until now. The OtterBox Commuter series is just for me.

I like the rubbery cases for their shock absorption and for the friction that keeps them from falling out of pockets. But I like the hard-shell polycarbonate plastic cases that don't require me to turn my pockets inside-out to retrieve the phone. The OtterBox Commuter combines both approaches, with a rubbery wraparound case and a plastic sheath that snaps on the outside.

A close-up view of the Otterbox Commuter.
A close-up view of the Otterbox Commuter. Stephen Shankland/CNET

The sheath doesn't cover the end caps, which are the most likely to bear the brunt of a drop onto a hard floor--an approach I suspect is most likely to cushion the phone against the sidewalk. Having the rubbery bits on the end also provides a reasonable amount of friction for keeping the phone in the pocket, mostly, but not making it difficult to remove when you need it.

On the phone I've been using the OtterBox on, the external controls work fine despite the covers, and the case--as befits OtterBox's heritage as a maker of waterproof containers--seals fairly tightly over the charging port and headphone jack to keep the grit at bay.

My only complaints are that it now takes a bit more dexterity to pull the flap aside when plugging in the charger, and that occasionally the left-hand edge of the case is uncomfortably close to the touch screen. It's usually not a problem, but sometimes I have trouble with the selection boxes in Gmail or the far-left column of the grid in the Bimaru battleship-hunting game.

I can live with those problems, though. Props to Otterbox for a smart design. Too bad I didn't have it before I cracked the camera cover.

The Otterbox Commuter case next to the Nexus One.
The Otterbox Commuter case next to the Nexus One. Stephen Shankland/CNET