Otterbox Defender vs. Lifeproof Fre: Which is the Ultimate Phone Case?

Otterbox has established a name for itself over the years as the supreme brand of protective iPhone and Android cases. Even mainstream smartphone owners know that if you throw your phone into an Otterbox, you’re likely to avoid damage. This specifically applies to the Defender, the most popular of Otterbox cases.

Which rugged phone case is the ultimate in protection?

While it’s true that the Otterbox Defender provides awesome protection, a new competitor has emerged in recent years: the Lifeproof Fre. Sure enough, I’ve seen many clumsy folks within my social sphere sporting the Fre due to its cleaner design and promise of ultimate protection. If that’s what you’re looking for, which one should you choose? Let’s compare the Otterbox Defender and Lifeproof Fre to find out.

Design and Dimensions

The looks of a case probably isn’t a major concern when you want something rugged. Let’s be honest, pretty much every rugged case is a little bit ugly in one way or another. For our sake here, let’s try to figure out which of these two cases is the least ugly.

Photo: Otterbox

The Otterbox Defender has always been pretty ugly. I’m sure some people do prefer that rugged look, but there is no denying it adds considerable amount of weight and thickness to the phone. The case measures 6.18 inches by 3.39 inches by 1.32 inches according to Amazon. This does not include the holster that comes with every Defender — an added layer of protection with belt clip and kickstand functionality.

The Lifeproof Fre measures 5.9 inches by 3.1 inches by 0.53 inches. It is significantly less bulky than the Defender. Note especially the difference in thickness too — the Fre is only 0.53 inches thick (10 mm) which makes the Defender about 2.5x the thickness.

Photo: Lifeproof

Both cases come in an assortment of colors and color patterns. The Defender does have far more color options though. In fact for an additional charge, you can build a custom Defender on Otterbox’s website complete with your own color combination.

That said, it would seem the Lifeproof Fre is the overall better-looking case. It won’t take up as much space in a pocket or purse. However, does its more lightweight design mean poor protection?

Rugged Promises

Both the Otterbox Defender and Lifeproof Fre offer similar promises in terms of protection. They claim to offer protection against drops, dirt and dust, scratches and the like. Lifeproof’s case does have one major advantage over the Defender though: protection against weather.

It claims to be both waterproof and snowproof — you can submerge a Fre in up to two meters of water for up to one hour. The Defender makes no such claims to protect against water damage.

Photo: Lifeproof

This very well may be a deal breaker for some so consider how often you plan on getting your phone significantly wet. However, it might not be as big of an issue if you have a newer phone like the iPhone 7 that already touts some water resistance. That plus the added layer from either the Defender or Fre should be able to lock most water out of your phone.

You can submerge a Lifeproof Fre in up to two meters of water for up to one hour.

The Defender and Fre also promise to keep your phone 100 percent sealed, yet while still allowing access to all the necessary ports and buttons. Even the front side of the phones get a layer of protection around the sides of the display. Plus a built-in screen protector covers the screen too.  The camera and flash are fully exposed on both cases.

Photo: Otterbox

There are several drop tests on YouTube that tried to examine how the Defender and Fre handle impact, but none are scientific enough to come to a sure verdict.

In EverythingApplePro’s video the Lifeproof Fre survived a 50-foot fall while the Otterbox Defender did not. Yet two videos from MobileReviewsEh show the Defender surviving a 40-foot throw while the Lifeproof cracking after just a six-feet drop. While these are highly protective cases, keep in mind that there are a lot of environmental factors that determine if a phone inside them survives or not.

Pricing

The Otterbox Defender has the added perk of coming with a belt clip cover for extra protection and support.

The Otterbox Defender retails for $49.95 for the iPhone 7, $49.95 for Galaxy S7, and prices vary slightly for additional Samsung, LG, Motorola, and Google phones. That said, you can find it on Amazon for as low as $27. The Lifeproof Fre retails for $89 for iPhone 7 and is similarly priced for certain Android phones, but it’s as cheap as $48 on Amazon.

Either way, the Fre is around double the cost. The Otterbox Defender has the added perk of coming with a belt clip cover for extra protection and support. Fre has one available for an additional $29.99. Both cases come with a one-year limited warranty. Contrary to popular belief, Lifeproof does not appear to offer lifetime replacements.

Verdict: Otterbox Defender Wins

Photo: Otterbox

The Otterbox Defender is still the reigning champion after all these years. While it’s true Lifeproof Fre has a slimmer design and is waterproof, the Defender outshines in just about every other aspect. Plus the value is outstanding. It’s hard to find this level of protection elsewhere for under 30 bucks if you buy the case on Amazon.

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