IN-DEPTH REVIEW: Spigen Neo Hybrid vs. UAG vs. Otterbox Commuter vs Otterbox Defender
This is only my second time posting a review like this (first was last year for the Note 2), and would just like to take some time putting together a review that I hope will help some people make a decision if they are undecided between some of the available cases.
After scouring the internet back in December I narrowed my choices down to four potential cases. I wanted to give each a fair shake, so purchased all four and have been trying each one out since then - used each case for a full 7 to 10 days at a time over a 5+ week period.
I will say that I am an individual who values a case that offers more than just minimal protection. Spending $800+ CDN for a phone each year, I want to maximize the likelihood that it will last without needing replacement - even though I am extremely careful.
With that said, I also really like portability and value the aesthetically pleasing appearance of a device with case.
My previous device from last year (Note 2) was fitted with an Otterbox Commuter first, but then I decided to opt for the OEM Samsung snap on case (lightweight, minimal protection) that sold for about $20 CDN.
Before I get into the cases, a bit about the screen protector...
I am a proponent of screen protectors (as long as it does not feel too tacky to the touch) and from day one settled on the Spigen GLAS.tR Slim Tempered Glass protector for the Note 3. Spent a good few hours comparing different options and after purchasing a handful of different protectors prior, was just not wowed by any of them so gave the GLAS.tR from Spigen a go, and wow was it amazing. It may be possible that other companies offer similar (if not identical) glass protectors, but I was happy with this one. It was $39.99 CDN, but I believe there are some of the more cost effective brands that have similar tempered glass protectors as well.
On to the cases...
1. Spigen Neo Hybrid -- $35 CDN
Black back and option of six different colours for the frame - gold, red, white, slate, yellow and silver. Images below show the silver frame.
The case itself comes as two pieces - a thin TPU layer that encases the sides and back of the phone, along with a plastic piece that snaps around the four sides to hold it firm against the phone. The assembly process is quite straightforward and simple to execute. The packaging instructs to slip the TPU around the phone first prior to snapping the plastic outer part, but I have found that you can just as easily leave the two pieces of the case assembled together and simply snap the phone in. Once in, the phone is fit quite snug.
The phone fit with this case is rather slim. It will fit in just about any pocket and slide in/out with ease due to the smooth plastic material.
Port cutouts are all fine. Pen is removed without any problems, and access to both charging and headphone ports may be reached without having to uncover.
Pressing the power and volume rocker buttons are done so on the plastic frame. No issues with how they felt.
In regards to handling, while it feels nice in the hand, it is rather slippery and does not offer any grip whatsoever.
In terms of protection, it does a really good job of encasing the device to ensure there are no exposed edges/surfaces and will protect it well from scratches and light bumps. As for any sort of impact, I would not put much trust in it. The plastic is very thin and the ring around the edges is just that - plastic. A drop from waist-height onto a hard surface would surely scuff up and leave noticeable marks/dents on that polycarbonate piece. If you are not worried about the potential of dropping your phone, this is a very sleek case that offers a visually appealing look. For those wanting a case they can be confident in getting them through normal everyday use and not worrying about at least minor falls, I would recommend looking elsewhere.
2. Urban Armor Gear (UAG) -- $35 CDN
Four colour options to choose from - Aero (blue), Navigator (white), Outland (orange) and Scout (black). Images show Navigator white.
This case is one-piece, although it is apparently designed as a 'fused hard outer with soft impact resistant core' design as per the UAG website product description. The inner layer is not really all that soft though. I would say it is more like a single-layer construction style case. Installation of the case is very simple. The phone snaps right in, and is very snug - even more so than the Spigen Neo Hybrid. So one should not ever worry about the phone inadvertently coming out of the case - I would go so far as to say even upon impact. Something I liked about the design of the back was that the grooves provide for some grip with holding with one hand. Without this, the plastic back would not offer much grip to hold on to.
In terms of size, the case does not add very much bulk to the phone. Yes, it is a bit larger in both width and height compared to the Neo Hybrid, but still not a bulky case whatsoever.
Access to all ports done so with ease. There was an issue with the initial batch of these cases being released without the temperature and humidity sensor hole cutout. UAG offered to replace these for customers who did not have it on theirs, and apparently is no longer a problem with the current cases sold. The pen is removed easily and the camera cutout is adequate.
The buttons press fine, however they do have a somewhat hard 'plastic' feel to them when depressed. It does not pose a problem when pressing, but just a minor comment about the overall feel that felt different from the smoothness of pressing on the two Otterbox cases.
As for protection, this case sure looks pretty rugged from the back. It covers the phone well to prevent scratches and scuffs. I would say that the phone would be fine if dropped from waist-height, but a 'hard' drop may still leave the phone susceptible to some direct impact since the case itself is rather rigid.
Compared to the Spigen Neo Hybrid, the UAG no doubt offers much more protection. This just comes at the cost of it being very slightly thicker, wider and higher in dimension.
3. Otterbox Commuter -- $45 CDN
Comes in Black, Glacier (grey inner rubber, white outer plastic), Surf (dark blue inner, light blue outer), Merlot (purple inner, white-ish outer), Lily (purple inner, teal outer) and Berry (purple inner, red-ish outer). Gracier is shown in images.
This is a two-piece case that has a rubber inner layer around the phone and encased by a hard plastic outer shell that holds the rubber firm. Assembly is simple - once rubber layer is wrapped around the phone, slide either top or bottom edge against the plastic and press the opposite edge down so snaps snug in place. Once done, you may also need to lift open and close the headphone and charging port covers to ensure they are seated properly within the plastic shell.
Compared to the Note 2 Otterbox Commuter this one has a nicer feel to it. The rubber is held together very snug against the phone by the outer plastic, so there is no feeling of flimsy rubber as was the case with previous models. Because the back is plastic, it will slide in/out of a pocket rather well. As a result, it is however somewhat slippery in hand - but nowhere near as slippery as the Neo Hybrid. The rubber inner layer is exposed on the two upper and two bottom outer edges. This helps in adding the grip of the phone. The front facing lip of the rubber layer comes up past the plastic edges and also offers additional grip - this is something that stood out compared to the Neo Hybrid and UAG that I have to say made a big difference.
As mentioned, the headphone and charging ports are covered by a flap from the rubber layer. These are opened/closed easily. Removal of the pen is similar in ease as the UAG - the Neo hybrid was the narrowest of the three in terms of width of opening.
The volume rocker and power button feel very smooth, compared to the harder plastic feel of the UAG.
In terms of protection, this would offer much more impact protection than the UAG, and even more over the Neo Hybrid. I would feel confident in dropping the phone 6-feet in height onto hard surface anticipating only minor scuff damage to the plastic case. The front edge rubber lip comes up much higher above the screen than either of the Neo Hybrid or UAG edges - extra 1.5 to 2mm from the screen vs. those two.
All around, this has the most protection and the 'best feel' of the three so far. Very solid feel in hand.
4. Otterbox Defender -- $60 CDN
Just like the Commuter, this comes in Black, Glacier, Surf, Merlot, Lily and Berry colour combinations, as well as Blaze (black inner with orange and realtree graphic on back). Images show Glacier.
This is also a two-piece case, but compared to the Commuter (rubber inner & plastic outer) the Defender has a hard plastic inner with soft rubber outer layer. Assembly of this one is straightforward, however disassembly may be a bit difficult as the plastic clasps must be pressed in (to the phone) to release them. It is a snug fit, so it can be tricky until you get the hang of it. In addition, it also comes with a plastic screen protector built in to the plastic case layer. Compared to the Commuter, the rubber at the bottom edge also comes up to cover/protect the home button. Also, this case comes with a hard plastic belt clip/holster. I would probably not use it everyday, but I can see it being useful for people who are in environments that may benefit from the extra protection. With the screen facing down in the holster, it really feels safe and secure.
This case is the biggest of the four, however it was surprisingly quite compact when I first saw it. They redesigned it compared to how it was for the Note 2. Yes, it is thicker than the Commuter still, but just a little bit. It is a bit wider than the Commuter - maybe 2mm or so. Despite it's thicker dimensions, it still fits fine in most pockets - even slim jeans. Because the outer layer is rubber, it will not slide in/out as well as the other three though. On the plus side, the outer rubber layer is probably one of the most outstanding features of all the cases that surprised me. The enhanced grip it offers is absolutely amazing.
The built in screen protector is something that I did not like though. It feels OK and does sit rather well on the device's screen, but it's still not the same as an actual screen protector applied onto the device itself. After using the Defender and built in screen protector with the GLAS.tR for 3 days, I opted to remove/pop it out. So now I just have the tempered glass screen protector which feels way smoother and less affected by smudges.
The headphone and charging ports are protected by thicker feeling tabs compared to the Commuter. The opening for the pen actually feels just a hair-bit tighter than that of the Commuter's. From the looks of it, I am thinking this is because of how thick the rubber is around that corner.
The volume rocker and power buttons depress smooth and fine - pretty much identical to that of the Commuter's.
I am sure it is no surprise to anyone that the Defender offers way more protection than any of the three other cases. Even if the tactile rubber grip somehow fails your grasps, the impact protection this offers is second to none. I would probably feel confident in this phone dropping from two levels up onto hard surface.
Using this case everyday may not be for everyone though. Yes, it can fit in the pockets of slim jeans, but it may not be the silhouette one may want in their outfit. Sure, you could use the belt holster, but again, not everyone may want that look either.
I was very surprised how comfortable I felt by the end of the week of using the Defender. On the first couple days, it seemed like I was making an extra effort to carry it around. After the week, I could see myself really getting used to it.
For all those who want to see the cases next to each other for dimension comparison purposes here they are...
There really is no 'best case for everyone'. It comes down to what you want and individual lifestyles and preferences. With that said, you need to determine how much protection you would like from a case.
I will say that of the four cases, the Otterbox Commuter comes out as the winner for me. It offers the most protection hands down with minimal bulk (although the defender is a close second). The UAG is a nice looking case from the back, but aside from that and the grooves for grip on the plastic back, there is not much special about it. Take into account the extra grip you get from the Commuter, and even more from the Defender, and they trump the UAG in that regard easily. The Neo Hybrid was disappointing for me as it not only did not offer much protection, it was also difficult to handle with its smooth-texture surface.
I do not regret having bought all four cases though - it's the price I'd gladly pay to ensure I find one that meets my expectations. The Commuter is now my everyday case, with the Defender being the one I change to here and there just to have a different look when I want to change things up. Even with slim pockets, the Commuter is still my choice over the slightly slimmer Neo Hybrid and UAG cases.
I want to thank everyone who has reviewed a case for the Note 3. It had likely played a part in my decision making and am appreciative of the effort and time put in.