OtterBox Defender protects your iPad Pro like a tank [Review]

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OtterBox Defender for 2020 iPad Pro review
If you use your tablet outside more than in an office, you really need to consider the OtterBox Defender for 2020 iPad Pro.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

iPad Pros used in the field require hard-core protection, and there’s no better option than the OtterBox Defender. The case wraps the tablet in layer upon layer of plastic to cushion it from serious accidents. There’s even a built-in screen protector.

I encased my 2020 iPad Pro in the latest version of the OtterBox Defender to do some real-world testing. Here’s what I found out.

OtterBox Defender for 2020 iPad Pro review

OtterBox Defender emphasizes protection over portability. It starts with a layer of plastic, then adds a layer of synthetic rubber and then a removable plastic shield. I have never used a case that does more to defend the computer inside than this one — it really lives up to its name.

That said, while OtterBox promises “drop protection,” the company doesn’t make specific claims. The Defender isn’t guaranteed to save your iPad Pro if it falls 20 feet, for example. But it’s going to try very hard.

Shell and slipcover

The Defender’s inner polycarbonate shell surrounds the iPad Pro on every side, edge and corner. A synthetic rubber slipcover wraps around the corners and edges of the shell, adding an extra layer of protection to the areas most likely to be involved in accidents.

The protective case also includes covers for the iPad Pro’s buttons, plus openings for all four speakers, the microphones and even the Apple logo. In the latest version of this case, OtterBox expanded the opening for the rear-facing cameras to make room for the larger camera hump in the 2020 iPad Pro. The built-in screen cover doesn’t mess with using the touchscreen at all.

A synthetic rubber flap protects the Apple Pencil charger on the edge of the tablet. My testing showed it didn’t interfere with recharging this stylus. And it comes with a flap over the USB-C port, too. This leaves a reasonable amount of space around the port, but by its nature the OtterBox Defender allows only cables to be plugged into this port. Don’t expect to use clip-on multi-port hubs, for example.

The purpose of all these flaps and covers is to ensure that dust doesn’t get into the iPad Pro’s ports. Just don’t overestimate what this case can do — it’s not waterproof.

OtterBox Defender for 2020 iPad Pro offers
Use the OtterBox Defender’s shield stand to prop up the iPad Pro when you’re using it.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

Shield stand

A removable polycarbonate shield stand fits over theOtterBox Defender’s inner shell and slipcover. This covers the vulnerable iPad Pro display when you’re carrying the tablet around. It also adds yet another layer of protection to the iPad’s corners.

Pop off the shell, and it becomes a stand that holds the tablet up when you’re using it. In one configuration, it holds up the iPad at a 20-degree angle, just right for typing or drawing on the screen. In another configuration, the tablet sits at an 80-degree angle so you can use it with an external keyboard — though it would be better if it angled back just a bit more.

You also can clip the shell to the back of the Defender so it stays out of the way while adding a layer of protection.

Size and weight

All the OtterBox Defender’s protection comes at the price of additional bulk. The version for the 12.9-inch iPad Pro weighs 1.7 pounds — slightly more the tablet itself. The case measures 12 inches by 9.5 inches by 1 inch. In other words, it’s much bigger than the iPad Pro in every dimension, especially thickness.

In real-world terms, the combination of iPad and Defender case feels noticeably heavy at 3.1 pounds. So think hard about whether you need this much protection if you’re going to be, for example, carrying your tablet around a hospital for 12 hours at a time. Maybe a lighter case might be a better fit for you.

Type on the iPad Pro with the OtterBox Defender
In this configuration, OtterBox Defender lets you type or draw on the iPad Pro.
Photo: Ed Hardy/Cult of Mac

OtterBox Defender for 2020 iPad Pro final thoughts

OtterBox remains the gold standard for tablet and phone protective cases. And the version of the Defender for the 2020 iPad Pro lives up to that legacy. It’s a truly rugged case for people living truly rugged lives.

This case makes a great fit for people who take their tablet onto a job site or on backpacking trips. But don’t limit it to those groups — anyone who frequently drops their iPad should seriously consider one, too.

Even so, think hard about whether the additional weight and thickness is worth it. Every iPad or iPhone case is a balancing act between protection and portability. The OtterBox Defender brings plenty of protection but also plenty of bulk.

Pricing

The version for the just-released fourth-generation 12.9-inch iPad Pro retails for $129.95. A version for the second-gen 11-inch iPad Pro sells for $89.95.

At the time of this writing, though, OtterBox is having a 20% off sale. That brings the prices down to $103.96 and $71.96, respectively.

Comparable iPad Pro cases

The redesigned camera hump in the 2020 iPad Pro prevents Apple’s latest high-end tablet from fitting some cases designed for the 2018 model. But there are still some protective options available.

The UAG Scout was recently updated for the 2020 12.9-inch and 11-inch iPad Pro. This lightweight protective case goes around both the iPad Pro and an Apple Smart Keyboard Folio. It costs $59.95.

Picaso Lab’s iPad Pro leather sleeve does more than protect your valuable tablet. Its designers built in an innovative stand, too. This handmade case goes for $85.

OtterBox provided Cult of Mac with a review unit for this article. See our reviews policy, and check out more in-depth reviews of Apple-related items.