The Motorola XOOM, the world's first Honeycomb tablet, costs a pretty penny - between $600 and $800, depending on the variant. If you picked up a XOOM in the last few months, you've probably asked yourself whether you should get some sort of protection, and, if so, which option you should go with.
Motorola has released a few official cases, such as the $40 PORTFOLIO, but most aftermarket case manufacturers, such as Otterbox, Amzer, Trident, and others, haven't put out many options. The PORTFOLIO case, while decently priced, has too many faults, and I simply can't recommend it unless it is reworked from the ground up: it appears to scratch the XOOM, has no charging port, USB, or HDMI cutouts (really, Motorola? Really??), and looks and feels kind of cheap.
So when I first heard that Otterbox, one of the most respected case manufacturers, would be releasing a Defender series shell for the XOOM, I jumped on the opportunity to review it, hoping I wouldn't need to search for the perfect solution any further. At $10 short of a cool $100, it has to be the best possible solution for the XOOM, right? Right?
The Otterbox Defender is quite a behemoth
- Great all-around protection, with the silicone / polycarbonate shell for the body and a hard polycarbonate shield for the screen
- The screen-protecting shield can act as a 2-position kickstand (one angle convenient for typing and the other perfect for watching movies)
- All the necessary port cutouts, including the charging port (you hear that, Motorola?)
- Dock-compatible - there is an even larger flap than the one immediately around the charging/USB/HDMI ports, providing enough breathing room for a dock
- Doesn't seem to scratch the device, unlike the aforementioned PORTFOLIO case
- 2-piece design (more on that later)
- Very, very, very thick (did I mention it's thick?). Putting both pieces of the Defender armor on the XOOM will literally triple its thickness, and using just the main shell will almost double it (exact numbers down below)
- Heavy, even without the screen-protecting piece (exact numbers below). Almost 2.5lb with both top and bottom shells on - get out of town!
- Cumbersome to apply/remove
- The rubber squares leave smudges on the XOOM's back (see pic below)
- The silicone bits of the shell attract a lot of dust, making the XOOM into essentially a dust magnet
- Expensive ($90)
Thickness And Weight Details
To add some substance to my earlier claims of thickness and weight, I roughly measured the bare XOOM, then put on the main shell that wraps around it and leaves the screen unprotected, and finally added the 2nd shell (shield) that covers the screen. Here are my measurements.
|Bare XOOM||With main shell||With both shells|
|13mm (1/2")||22.5mm (7/8") (+73% thicker than bare)||38mm (1.5") with both pieces (+192% thicker than bare)|
|Bare XOOM||With main shell||With both shells|
|730g||967g (+32% heavier than bare)||1165g (+60% heavier than bare)|
In A Sentence: As you can see from "The Good" and "The Bad" bullet points above, the Otterbox Defender case provides excellent protection and was clearly designed with attachable peripherals in mind. However, it protects the tablet at the expense of comfort and elegance, adding significant weight and thickness to an already chunky device.
You Should Buy It If: You care about protecting your baby XOOM so much that you're willing to give up a lot of the comfort related to its weight and size (which should probably both be somewhere at the top of the list of reasons to own a tablet in the first place).
When I first opened up the Otterbox Defender, I was kind of taken aback by its size. I must tell you that I am not a fan of bulky cases in the first place, as I think putting a thick case on a phone is similar to using Android exclusively for making phone calls - in both cases you're giving up one of the main advantages of an advanced portable device, be it its size or functionality.
Putting the XOOM into the case is no small feat, and I was pretty much dumbfounded until I read the instructions (I like to figure out things without manuals as much as possible). You have to go through peeling the rubber off the sides, snapping off the rim - which can get frustratingly hard and even painful - putting the XOOM into the shell, and finally snapping everything back and aligning all the edges.
The Second Shell (Screen Protecting Shield)
Once the main shell is on, putting on the screen-protecting shield is easy - it covers the screen and snaps in at the 4 corners or wraps around the main shell underneath the tablet. Alternatively, since it's a separate, completely disconnected piece, you can just throw it off to the side and get rid of the extra weight and thickness that it adds until you actually need to use it.
This shield also serves as a 2-position kickstand - one for typing and one for reading and watching movies. Opening the kickstand is easy - just flip it up and position the XOOM on either side, depending on the angle you want.
Sounds great, right? Not so much - here is my main problem with the shield and the 2-piece approach in general: once you introduce a piece that is not permanently attached to the main device, it's much too easy to leave it somewhere and forget about it, or lose it altogether. Because it is not needed when operating the tablet and adds a considerable amount of bulk (even more than the main shell), my guess is that most people will never use it and instead keep it somewhere until they need to transport the tablet in a crammed bag.
Another issue is that when the shield is installed on top of the screen, i.e. transportation mode, it creates a considerable gap between itself and the display. I realize it has been done to avoid scratching the screen because it flexes, but leaving such a large gap literally triples the overall thickness and lets in dust, dirt, liquids, etc. Considering that all the ports are protected using pieces of rubber, the amount of surface left exposed by the screen shield is pretty disappointing. Let's just say the protection the screen shield provides isn't nearly as good as that of the case in general.
But enough about the screen shield.
The Overall Build
As with all Otterbox products, the quality of the case, the level of detail, and the amount of work that went into designing the Defender is pretty high. The main shell is made from a combination of soft and durable silicone and hard, yet flexible, polycarbonate. The screen shield has no rubbery bits; it just uses polycarbonate.
The case has protected cutouts for all the jacks you may need to access - USB, HDMI, power, MicroSD, and headset. The power and volume buttons are not exposed, either - you will find protective silicone on both the shell and the screen shield, allowing for the power button to be pressed even when both shells are stacked underneath each other. The camera is protected with a clear piece of plastic, so don't worry about scratching the precious lens.
Dock users will be glad to know that the Defender has a larger flap around the important ports, which can open up and allow for charging and full dock use. Excellent.
If you're worried about safety, the Otterbox Defender offers serious all-around protection without compromising the convenience of easy access. I can't stay just as positive about the bulk, but I think you've already gotten the idea.
One thing I want to point out is that those rubbery rectangles seen above leave a lot of smudges and traces of themselves on the XOOM's body. When, after only an hour of use, I took the XOOM out of its shell, I could almost play chess on its back (see above).
The Otterbox Defender retails for $90 (though it's slightly cheaper on Amazon right now), which is a heck of a lot of money to pay for any protective accessory. Because of this, you're going to have to think long and hard before pulling the trigger, because in all honesty, I would probably only use this case during serious traveling.
The Bottom Line
The Otterbox Defender offers good all-around protection and access to all the ports you need, but it does so at the expense of adding so much bulk that it is guaranteed to turn off the majority of those looking for a case. And with a $90 price tag, I'm struggling to find reasons to recommend this case to anyone but the most hardcore travelers.
The amount of bulk really gets in your way and always sits in the back of your mind; for example, my wife immediately dismissed it in favor of this cheap $5 Kensington reversible netbook sleeve that we've been using ever since we got the XOOM. It's light and it's simple - sure, it doesn't offer the same level of protection or a kickstand, but it's good enough 99% of the time. For the other 1%, we'll have to find a new case or just grab a portable stand for another $5.
The one part of a tablet that really needs protection is the screen, and while the Defender does achieve that, the 2-piece disconnected design it uses to accomplish it is less than optimal. There's a reason the magnetic Smart Covers for the iPad 2 are so popular, and while I found them silly at first, I'm starting to gain a whole new level of appreciation for them. Screen protection - check; light and thin - check; built-in kickstand - check.
In my opinion, the perfect case lies somewhere in the middle - it would offer kickstand capabilities and screen protection without adding much thickness or weight. Maybe it wouldn't do it in the same way as Apple's cases for the iPad 2, but in a way that is actually convenient and pleasant to use on a daily basis.
That should about wrap this review up. I hope you enjoyed reading it and found it useful in your decision process. If you have any questions, don't hesitate to ask them down below, and I'll try to get them answered to the best of my ability.