Had you asked me if Lifeproof was better than Otterbox for the iPhone 6, I probably would have told you Lifeproof hands-down, simply because it’s waterproof. But with a solid level of water resistance (IP67) built into the iPhone 7 and 7 Plus, the Lifeproof vs Otterbox debate becomes a lot less clear. Specifically, we’ll review the Otterbox Defender vs the Lifeproof Fre, arguably the most popular cases from each brand.
We all know that a good protective case can make the difference between a dead iPhone and an iPhone that serves you well for its lifetime. So if you drop your iPhone in the tub or crack its screen on the asphalt, then you’re looking at a significant setback, both in terms of time and money (even if you regularly back up your device). Otterbox has a reputation for being the best drop-proof protective iPhone cases, whether we’re talking the iPhone 7 or an older model. Meanwhile, Lifeproof has a reputation for being the best all-around rugged case, boasting water, drop, dust, and snow protection. But is Lifeproof better than Otterbox? We’ll dig, test, and review to find out.
Otterbox vs Lifeproof: What’s the Best Case for Your iPhone 7?
We have ten categories with the potential for ten points in each category, which means each case will get an overall score out of 100. In the debate over Otterbox vs Lifeproof, we’ll evaluate and score:
- Meet or exceed military-grade standards
- Slim Profile
- Water protection
- Dirt protection
- Impact protection
- Ease of assembly
- Touch screen protector
- Custom color choices
The Otterbox Defender is a paragon in the protective case industry. For many years, Otterbox has specialized in making some of the best cases available for the iPhone, and the Defender is one of its most rugged and popular.
The Otterbox Defender's features include a clear, built-in protective touchscreen cover, as well as a protective, Touch ID-responsive rubber cover over the Home button. It has a solidly reinforced polycarbonate shell with a dense rubber exterior. This dense exterior goes a long way toward increasing the strength of the seals that cover the ports and the Ring/Silent switch. With the ports and buttons securely plugged, the Otterbox Defender prevents debris like dust or sand from getting in. That said, the Otterbox Defender does leave a significant portion of your iPhone exposed to the elements. It’s not made to be a waterproof iPhone case, which may or may not be a deal breaker for you, especially since the iPhone 7 has an IP67 rating (which we’ll discuss in more detail when reviewing the Lifeproof Fre.)
Otterbox doesn’t explicitly state how far you can drop the Defender, but multiple daring Youtubers (like TechSmartt below) have dropped their iPhones protected by this Otterbox case off multiple-story buildings. The video below shows it surviving, case and iPhone 6 intact, after a three-story drop, which is nothing short of impressive. It’s slightly bulkier than the Lifeproof Fre, but that bulk is put to good use in protection. Like the Lifeproof, the Otterbox Defender also has built-in screen protection to defend against scratches and scrapes.
- Has streamlined design. Considering the level of protection it offers, it’s not excessively bulky.
- Slips in and out of your pockets with ease while remaining easy to grip, even with wet hands.
- Highly shock- and impact-resistant.
- Great audio quality. If anything, the protective shell enhances sound quality by creating channels that amplify the audio.
- Available in a wide selection of customizable color combinations.
- While the ports and buttons are all securely plugged, the Otterbox leaves an awful lot of the iPhone exposed. Both rear and front cameras are left relatively unprotected.
- Possibly the most significant issue that I have with the Defender is the touchscreen protector, which does not sit completely flush with the iPhone's glass screen. Granted, the iPhone’s curved edges present more of a challenge when it comes to designing a good, built-in screen protector; but I know it's possible, as I've seen it properly executed in other rugged cases. I’ve found it slows my interaction with the user interface. It reduces typing speed and overall responsiveness.
More at iPhoneLife.com
For a protective case that’s waterproof, Lifeproof Fre is quite slim. Lifeproof has worked to make sure there’s no extra bulk in the Fre case. However, if we’re explicitly talking drop protection, the Otterbox Defender still comes out ahead. But if you lead an active lifestyle, often outdoors, the Lifeproof Fre will protect your phone from the elements. It’s snow-proof, dirt-proof, drop-proof, and waterproof. Now, this is where you have to decide how important water protection is for your iPhone 7 or 7 Plus. With a 40 dollar difference between the Otterbox Defender and Lifeproof Fre, it’s not as easy to justify the extra cost when the iPhone 7 has its own water protection built-in. But just how water resistant is the iPhone 7, particularly when compared to an iPhone 7 with the Lifeproof Fre case? Let’s break it down.
The iPhone 7 has an IP67 waterproof rating, which means it’s certified waterproof in up to one meter of water for thirty minutes. It’s also fully protected from dust. The Lifeproof Fre has an IP68 waterproof rating, which (in this case) means it can withstand up to two meters of water for one hour.
Are you planning on taking your iPhone swimming? If not, the iPhone 7 will handle regular drops in water or spills from wine just fine with or without a waterproof case. And that’s why the question of which is better, Otterbox or Lifeproof, isn’t so cut and dry. It’s going to come down to the scores in this showdown.
The Lifeproof Fre, like the Otterbox Defender, has a built-in screen protector. It also passes military protection standards for drops and shocks. Check out the video below from Youtuber MobileReviewsEh to see someone hands-on with the Lifeproof Fre. The video is of the Lifeproof Fre on an iPhone 6, but it should be comparable to the current model for iPhone 7.
- The iPhone is completely sealed in this case. It’s made for the adventurer.
- Touchscreen protector sits flush against the iPhone's glass screen. It sticks out slightly, so the touch reactivity isn’t perfect, yet doesn’t interfere with your interaction of the phone's touchscreen.
- While Lifeproof is the number one selling protective waterproof iPhone case, Otterbox is number one in drop-proof iPhone cases. The slim profile of the Lifeproof works against it when it comes to higher drops. For some, it holds up. But, like in the video above, there are instances when a rocky drop tears into it, protecting your iPhone while destroying the case.
- Audio quality is more affected when your iPhone is in the Lifeproof as opposed to when using the Otterbox.
The Scores: Otterbox Defender vs Lifeproof Fre
Otterbox Defender Scores:
- Meet or exceed military-grade standards: 7
- Value: 9
- Slim Profile: 9
- Grip: 8
- Water protection: 5
- Dirt protection: 8
- Impact protection: 10
- Ease of assembly: 9
- Touch screen protector: 5
- Custom color choices: 9
Lifeproof Fre Scores:
- Meet or exceed military-grade standards: 8
- Value: 7
- Slim Profile: 9
- Grip: 7
- Water protection: 10
- Dirt protection: 9
- Impact protection: 7
- Ease of assembly: 7
- Touch screen protector: 9
- Custom color choices: 8
Otterbox Defender: 79 / 100
Lifeproof Fre: 81 / 100
I expected the Lifeproof to beat the Otterbox case when I began testing them out. However, after my personal experiences, watching review videos on Youtube, and reading user comments from various websites on their experiences with either case, the Otterbox Defender has gone above and beyond my expectations. And I was also rather surprised to learn that the Lifeproof Fre has some trouble with long, rough drops.
In the end, the Lifeproof Fre won the showdown against the Otterbox Defender for two main reasons: water protection and screen receptivity. For me, screen receptivity is the biggest drawback of the Otterbox Defender. But the Otterbox Defender seems to far outperform the Lifeproof Fre in drop protection, while the Lifeproof Fre focuses heavily on keeping your iPhone 7 safe from water.
Ultimately, in the battle of Otterbox vs Lifeproof, both of the Defender and Fre cases offer exceptional, heavy-duty protection. The Lifeproof Fre is forty dollars more than the Otterbox Defender, so if drop protection is your main concern, I’d choose the Otterbox Defender and save some money. If, however, you’re planning on taking your iPhone scuba-diving or snowboarding, the Lifeproof Fre is more likely to handle your rugged lifestyle.