When it comes to smartphone cases that can stand up to almost anything, OtterBox pretty much defined the market. Starting with the multi-layer Defender Series and then moving on to the more sleek Commuter Series, Colorado-based OtterBox has always made iPhone cases that can stand up to a lot of abuse. However, for some iPhone owners the rather bulky design of the previous cases left a lot to be desired.
OtterBox industrial designer Adam Wibby took his inspiration for the new Reflex Series (US$44.95) from the world of automobile design, where a "crush zone" is sacrificed to reduce the impact on the passengers within a vehicle. Taking this idea through design and testing, Wibby and the OtterBox team found that they could build very thin hardshell cases with a shock-absorbing "reflex zone" made of a more flexible silicone material.
As the design was fine-tuned, the team did a Finite Element Analysis to test the shock-absorbing properties. The analysis showed about a threefold reduction in the shock of a drop, and Wibby notes in the video accompanying this post that an iPhone in a Reflex case will actually bounce.
The Reflex case adds very little weight; my electronic postal scale showed that it weighed in at 0.9 oz (about 26 grams), which brings the total weight of iPhone 4 and Reflex case up to about 5.8 oz (about 164 grams).
The case design matches the basic lines of the iPhone 4. The ringer mute switch, microphone, dock connector and speakers are left open to the elements, while the sleep/wake switch and volume rocker are protected. OtterBox includes a peel 'n stick screen protector with each Reflex case to keep the screen scratch-free, and there's a very small lip around the screen, so the screen shouldn't shatter when the phone is dropped flat on the ground.
To make docking easier, the case splits into an upper and lower piece. An ingenious locking mechanism keeps the case from falling apart during normal use, but readily snaps open when you want to take the bottom of the case off.
The black case is rather plain looking, but two-tone pink and black, khaki and black, and blue and black cases are available. A Reflex Series case for the fourth-generation iPod touch will be launching soon. Be sure to watch the video below for insight into how an industrial designer goes through the process of making a case that's both light and protective.