Review: Otterbox Symmetry, Commuter and Defender Cases for the Samsung Galaxy Note9
Otterbox has refreshed its Symmetry, Commuter, and Defender cases for Samsung's Galaxy Note9. If you need the ultimate in protection against the pitfalls of the modern world, these cases have you covered and then some. Here is Phone Scoop's review.
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Otterbox takes a one, two, three approach to its cases for the Note9. The Symmetry is formed by a single piece of plastic, while the Commuter relies on two pieces, and the Defender is formed by three pieces. Each of these three cases has pros and cons. Which one will work best for you? We're here to give you the knowledge.
The Symmetry features the simplest design of the three cases and is the easiest to use. The case itself may be one cohesive unit, but Otterbox is actually relying on two different materials to protect your pricey Note9.
The rear panel is made from a hard plastic shell. The shell covers about half of the side, top, and bottom edges, including three of the four corners. It's scratch resistant and has a somewhat rough texture. A tough rubber inner liner is what accommodates the Note's top and bottom edges, and provides some cushioning in the event of an impact.
Installing the case is a breeze. The flexible rubber liner stretches just enough so the big Note9 can squeeze in. Once it's in place, the Symmetry hugs the phone tightly. It's also easy to remove the case when you're in the mood for a change.
All of the Note9's buttons and ports are available when the case is installed. The nubs that cover the buttons are easy to find and use, and travel and feedback is pretty good. The bottom edge features holes for the phone's 3.5mm headphone jack, USB-C port, speaker, and S Pen stylus.
The case may get in the way of some right-angle headphone plugs, but all the vertical plugs I have worked fine. No issues at all with the USB-C and speaker openings. Otterbox has taken pains to design an opening for the S Pen. It cut a small wedge out of the lower corner of the case, making it easy to retrieve the stylus whenever needed while still providing some protection. A large cutout on the rear ensures your finger can find and use the fingerprint reader. The SIM/memory card tray is inaccessible while the case is on the phone.
I like that the rubber liner forms two ridges in front of the phone, one along the top edge of the phone and one along the bottom. These help protect the front glass and display.
The case does add bulk, but not overmuch. The Note9 is already a huge device and, yes, slapping on a case makes it even bigger. The Symmetry keeps the dimensions in check. I was able to cram the phone into the pockets of shorts and jeans without too much trouble, but if your pants are tight it might get tricky.
The case doesn't impeded wireless charging, but it is much trickier to align on some charging pads. (Same goes for the other two cases.)
Does it protect the phone? Sure thing. I dropped the Note9 onto concrete and stone while it was wearing the Otterbox Symmetry and it came away none the worse for wear.
The Symmetry comes in black, green, purple, "love triangle," gradient, and clear. It costs $50. This is a well-balanced option if you're looking to protect your Note9. It does a fine job keeping the phone safe with minimal impact to size and usability.
The Commuter Series relies on two layers of protection: a thick rubber membrane that stretches around the outer edges of the phone, and a hard plastic shell that fits over the rubber. The cushion-y rubber absorbs energy during drops, while the plastic shell deflects impacts and safeguards the Note9.
It's a breeze to stretch the rubber membrane around the Note9. It sits just a hair loose on the phone. The inside edges of the rubber membrane have a combination of ridges and cushions to protect the side edges. The membrane has a number of hatches and cut-outs to accommodate the Note9's ports and controls. Two rubber flaps on the bottom hide the headphone jack and USB-C port.
Otterbox has improved the fit of the plastic shell, which goes over the rubber membrane, compared to this same case for last year's Note8. It does take a second or two to align it with the rubber flaps, but it didn't present any challenges the way it has on older versions of this case. It has a rough, scratch-resistant texture.
Usability is mostly good. The Note9's buttons are easy to find and use with the case on. Travel and feedback isn't the best, but is serviceable. The flaps are easy enough to pry loose when you need to charge your phone, but they don't bend back quite far enough. The wedge along the bottom right edge ensures the S Pen is only a click away. It takes only a little bit of effort to pry loose and remove.
The case works very well at protecting the phone. I dropped the Note9 on concrete and tile, allowing it to tumble a bit. The phone didn't break. The Commuter also has the raised edges at the top and bottom to keep the glass from impacting the ground. There's not a scratch on the phone.
Believe it or not, the size of the Commuter is more or less identical to that of the Symmetry. The Commuter stands about 2mm taller, but has the same width and thickness. Moreover, the Commuter is about 0.05 ounces lighter than the Commuter (not that you can feel that small degree of difference.) All this means the experience of holding the phone with the case on and putting it in your pockets is comparable to that of the simpler Symmetry.
The Commuter costs $50 for the Note9 and it buys you excellent protection for your smartphone. The case comes in black or a marine-like blue. Why buy this over the Symmetry? The flaps keep dust and dirt out of the headphone jack and USB-C port. Other than that, I'd say they are basically equivalent.
If you want hardcore protection, you go with the Defender from Otterbox. This case is a beast that puts three different components to work in order to keep the dual glass panels of the Note9 from shattering into a million pieces. This case is the inverse of the Commuter. It includes a foam pad, a plastic shell that snaps onto the phone, and a rubber outer layer that holds it all together.
Installing this case is a bit of a pain. First you have to place the Note9 in the rear half of the plastic shell, up against the foam pad. Then snap the front half of the plastic shell into place. This is rather grating due to the large number of plastic clasps involved. Last, stretch the outer rubber layer around the whole enclosure. The rubber fits oddly and has to be pressed into a groove that runs around the front of the plastic shell. You can't use any of these pieces solo; it all has to be assembled together.
The exterior finish gives the phone plenty of grip. The side edges have a diagonally-ridged texture that really helps you hold onto the phone, even when the case is wet.
Functionality of the ports and buttons is decent, considering the size of this case. Distinct rubber nubs cover the volume, Bixby, and power buttons on the side edges. I had no trouble finding and using them, and travel and feedback was pretty good for pressing through two layers of material.
The bottom flaps are easy enough to interact with. They have more travel than the flaps on the Commuter. You'll need a narrow headphone plug, as thicker or right-angle plugs just can't reach deep enough into the cavity.
The stylus is easy to remove and use when the case is on. It's a pretty deep reach for the fingerprint reader.
Otterbox hasn't specified if the Defender is able to handle higher drops than its other cases; it's just sort of implied. It works really well at protecting the Note9, of that there's no doubt. I let the Note9 plonk down onto a number of surfaces/materials while wearing the Defender and the phone came away in one piece.
The Defender is absolutely gigantic. It's taller, wider, thicker, and heavier than the other two cases. It was a tight fit in some pairs of jeans, and didn't fit at all in some other pockets. The rough rubber material clung to my pocket liners as if for dear life. The Defender makes one of the biggest phones in the market almost unusably huge.
The Defender comes with a massive holster. The holster is made of solid plastic and includes a clip so you can attach the phone to your belt. The encased phone snaps into the holster easily enough — though it looks like you have a movie screen on your hip.
The case comes in black, purple, and dark blue. The latter two have two-tone designs.
The Otterbox Defender costs $60. It is thicker and heavier than anything else in Otterbox's stable, and yet I can't say with authority that it delivers measurably more protection. If you simply want the chunkiest case you can get with a holster, the Defender is your only option.
Of these three cases, the Symmetry is my favorite by far.
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