Otterbox Universe iPhone case review: Modularity has its perks

I’m not a fan of smartphone cases. I carry my device unprotected pretty much all the time but, when Otterbox handed me a modular iPhone case, I was intrigued. As soon as I got home, I slipped the Universe case on and didn’t immediately hate it, which seemed like a pretty good start.

That weekend, I headed to Connecticut for my five-year college reunion, carrying a single bag packed full of clothing, a few toiletries and a handful of specially designed modules offering everything from extra battery life to an attachable tripod. For the next few days, I constantly had one module or another secured to the back of my iPhone. By the end of an eventful weekend, I had wowed a few friends and came away pretty impressed as well.

Still, the best part of the experience may have been finally taking the case off, holding my naked iPhone and remembering how nice it felt without all that extra bulk. There’s plenty to love in the Otterbox Universe, though, so let’s dive right in.

The Case

($50 for iPhone 6/6s, $60 for iPhone 6 Plus/6s Plus)

Otterbox has been making durable cases since before the first iPhone even launched. The company’s name instantly conjures up big bulky accessories, but that’s not all it has to offer. The Universe case is slimmer than those behemoths. It’s closer to the fashion-focused Symmetry series, but I wouldn’t say it’s slim either.

The case added plenty of bulk to my Plus-sized iPhone. It’s made from a thick rubbery substance that looks like it can definitely take a beating, and it’s pliable enough to slide on and off with a little effort. All the ports are left uncovered, which makes sense since plenty of the modules require access to the charging port. So if you’re looking for waterproof protection this isn’t the case for you.

The Modular System:

Otterbox’s approach to modularity is genius in its simplicity. There’s a rectangular groove on the back of the case and each module features a corresponding design. Just slide the module in and, when you hear a click, you know it’s secure. The case doesn’t connect electronically, leaving each module to include its own solution, which mostly means a Lightning plug or Bluetooth.

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When you’re going module-free, there’s a small piece of plastic to fill in that empty space, but it’s extremely easy to lose. There’s also a small groove at the top of the case for camera-focused attachments like the olloclip 4-in-1 lens. Otterbox didn’t loan me any of these modules, though, so I can’t really comment on how well they work.

The Modules:

Otterbox left me with the following modules: a Bluetooth speaker, a battery pack and a tripod (all from a company called Polar Pro), along with a SanDisk Flash Drive and a Nite Ize Steelie car mount. Otterbox isn’t building any of the accessories, but it says they all get tested to meet its requirements for durability and quality.

My personal favorite of the pack was the speaker ($60), which offered solid sound and an impressive battery life. Snapping directly onto the back of my phone made it easy to carry around and impossible to accidentally leave behind. Polar Pro also cleverly designed the speaker with a groove in the middle where your index finger normally sits, making it easy to use the phone while the module is attached.

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Being able to slap on a battery pack when I needed some extra juice was also great. It gave my phone Mophie-like capabilities without adding all that extra bulk unless I actually needed it. Polar Pro’s battery ($50) was just powerful enough to get me through a single day, though it charges painfully slowly. A bulkier module from Goal Zero promises a full charge for your device, possibly making it a better option for the slightly higher price of $60.

SanDisk’s flash drive ($59.99 to $119.99 depending on capacity) is also pretty awesome. Adding extra storage to your iPhone is always great, and it’s easy to access whatever you saved to the drive with a special app on your phone. The addition of Otterbox protection means the Lightning connector won’t slip out (or worse, snap off) if you drop your phone when it’s plugged in.

The tripod ($50), which also doubles as an extension pole, is well-built, but a little too bulky to carry around. The car mount is pretty nice too, sporting a strong magnetic grip to keep your phone in place. But, as a city-dweller without a car, I don’t really have much use for it.

If you decide to pick up the case, you won’t be stuck with any modules you don’t need. Otterbox is selling Universe as a standalone product with the option to pick and choose accessories you want.

Wrap Up:

That’s really the beauty of Otterbox Universe and its system of modules. You can pick and choose the accessories you want without worrying they might be poorly made or won’t work with your phone. Need a Square reader for your business? No problem. How about a Wi-Fi booster? Easy.

Otterbox Universe really does bring modularity to your smartphone in an impressive way that’s easy to use. If you’re the type of person who likes to keep their phone protected at all times, this is a perfect option. Me? I’m still happier with no case at all.

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