Review: Ballistic HC case for iPhone4 - Macenstein

Review: Ballistic HC case for iPhone4

When it comes to (somewhat bulky) uncompromising protection, Ballistic’s HC case for iPhone4 is perhaps tied with Otterbox’s line of cases in the interweb’s collective mind – but I must say, I think I would give the edge to the Ballistic. In fact, I would give it a solid edge over the Otterbox case in general if it weren’t for one thing… Read on to find out what!

Both cases consists of multiple layers of protection – and actually, both take almost exactly the same approach. First, there’s an interior plastic skeleton, complete with built-in touch-sensitive screen protector, which is then surrounded by a layer of rubber for cushioning. The screen protector allows you full access to the touch controls with no noticeable lag while providing an impenetrable barrier against dust or even a water spill. Both cases offer belt clips if you’re into them (I am not) which hold the phone snugly, yet are reasonably easy to remove when you get a call.

Above: The belt clips tells you to place the case facing inward to better protect the screen when being worn.


Personally, I find the Ballistic case to provide the feeling, if not the reality, of more protection. The rubber feels more “rubbery”, with more nooks and crannies than the smoother Otterbox. This also adds a bit more bulk and size to the Ballistic, however, but it is a little harder to drop, in my opinion. Probably this imagined sense of security is simply a matter of the Otterbox case being louder when it hits the floor than the Ballistic, but hey, what can I say? It felt like my iPhone wasn’t getting as hurt when I dropped it on a wood floor. If you are interested in video proof of the Ballistic’s toughness, check out this clip of some iPhone-wall-throwing action Ballistic put together. Clearly it’s the real deal.

Similar to the Otterbox, the Ballistic covers what ports it can, while leaving open holes for the iPhone’s speakers and noise canceling microphone. Rubber tabs cover all other ports such as the headphone jack, mute switch, and the dock connector. This basically means the Ballistic is dirt and dust-proof, and likely spill proof to a degree, but water-proof it is NOT, and you shouldn’t think your iPhone will survive a toilet dunking.


So, the Ballistic, while feeling a little bulkier than the Otterbox, provides identical protection, and a little more rubbery bounce for drops, and a better grippable surface when carrying. So where does it lose points? The screen protector. While it has an almost identical form factor as the Otterbox with regard to the non-removable screen protector, the protector is inferior to Otterbox’s – not in terms of protection, but in terms of fit. When you first place your iPhone inside the Ballistic, everything appears fine. However, as you begin pressing around the screen, there is what looks like an oil slick on the screen between your iPhone’s screen and the Ballistic’s protector. I suppose this is just the same type of air bubble type things we’ve seen on countless removable adhesive screen protectors, but it doesn’t make it any less annoying. I don’t know how Otterbox’s case avoids it, in fact when I saw how the cases were constructed I fully expected them to suffer from the same thing, but they don’t.

Above: The oil slick effect.

It’s a shame really, because I otherwise love the Ballistic, and if I were a construction worker or other such manly man, I would love this case, and perhaps even try to convince myself that the oil slick wasn’t all that noticeable or annoying. The problem is, I am a wussy, superficial man who works indoors with computers, and it is obvious and matters a lot. I let a friend borrow my iPhone to time something, and he also commented how there was “goo” on my screen. Not what you want to hear.

Above: The “goo” can be especially embarrassing if you happen to have a sexy-ish picture as your wallpaper.


If you discount the “oil slick” effect, the Ballistic HC beats the Otterbox case (slightly) in terms of providing the ultimate in rugged protection. The problem is, most iPhone owners will NOT want to discount the oil slick effect, myself included. It’s a shame really, because it is an otherwise great case. Unfortunately when your phone consists of 95% screen, having an unobstructed view of that screen becomes pretty important.

Price: $50
Pros: Awesome protection from falls, dust scratches etc.
Cons: “oil slick” between the iPhone and the screen protector is annoying and messes up an otherwise great case. Fix this and it gets a 9.5 rating.

14 Responses to “Review: Ballistic HC case for iPhone4”
  1. M4tt says:

    actually my otterbox had the same oil slick effect when i first put it on.
    after cleaning it a few times it’s gone away.

  2. @M4tt,

    Yeah, I’ve tried cleaning this thing about 5 times, different approaches, it just isn’t going away. It always looks fine right when you put it it on, but as your finger moves around these bubbly slick things appear.

    Possible I got a bad one or something.

    – The Doc

  3. Joe Spiegel says:

    I have the Defender on my i4, I only saw the rainbow once. Recleaning it eliminated it. I believe this is a common problem and have read baby powder can releive it. Search rainbow effect, might help. I had a Speck Tough Case on my 3G and wanted it for my i4 but they were too slow to market. Gotta protect. The Defender is awesome but I miss the peel away bottom to be able to dock it. Still, it’s a brick, I’ve been know to drop my iPhone so need the protection.

  4. MasterMacNikon says:

    Is it possible to use the case without the screen protector?

    I think that this would work with the ZAGG series film.

    Off to do some research……

    Thanks for a great review!

  5. MasterMacNikon says:


    The link you have provided is no longer valid and there is no mention of that case anywhere on there site.

    Maybe you have gotten Ballistic to revise their case for a better model? Hopefully?

  6. @MasterMacNikon

    Woah…. well, it was there yesterday, I swear!


    – The Doc

  7. Marcus says:

    My Otterbox for my 3G had the oil slick, but my iPhone4 Otterbox doesn’t. The screen protector on the latter seems to have a texture applied to it that the former lacks, and I can only assume that’s what’s preventing the oil slick effect.

  8. MasterMacNikon says:


    Now it’s live.


    Thanks again Doc!

    Any update on the “oily” screen artifacts?

  9. James says:

    The oil slick can be removed with a light dusting of baby powder. You take a bottle of baby powder and shake it a little, open the cap and let a mist of powder dust your case screen and it should take care of it. You can find videos on this I’m sure as well if need be. Hope this helps

  10. MasterMacNikon says:


    yes there is a video exactly like you said. And it’s from Ballistic directly…

    Good to know that they have a solution.

    Now I have to get the money together. By then they should have them available.

  11. AnyMouse says:

    After 5 years with my candy-bar-sized Nokia, I upgraded to an iPhone 4 in August (I’m obviously not an early adopter). While I was waiting for the iPhone to arrive I debated between the Otterbox and the Ballistic cases, finally choosing the Ballistic largely because of their YouTube videos. I love the case, and I have had ZERO oil-slick problems. Here’s how: since I expect to have this phone for 5 years, protecting it is a high priority. So when I got the iPhone I left the protective plastic film on both the front and the back (after cutting around the camera/flash and speaker) and put the phone with (most of) the protective plastic film into the Ballistic case. Since I have two layers of film covering the screen (Apple’s and Ballistic’s), you might think that the touch screen would have issues, but it works just as well as my wife’s totally unprotected iPhone. And, there is ZERO oil-slick effect.

  12. doom says:

    I had mine too..its superb on protection except those oily slick, baby powder trick works fine and after sometime the oily slick dissapeared but it evolved to rainbow effect. The screen protector also does protect the iphone4 lcd perfectly, but it doesnt protect its own self. There are scratches on it, pretty annoying though.

  13. Donna Flores says:

    I have the Otterbox for the 4G and I really don’t like it. It pales in comparison to the one they had for the 3G iphone. The outside silicone cover is loose and the flap that covers the sync port is floppy and is difficult to secure. I am daily having to reattach the edges of the outer silicone cover. Just my 2 cents.

  14. Mj says:

    The oil slick has been an issue with the Otterbox Defender, too. For this issue with any case, just put a matte screen protector on the phone first, then the case. Two glossy surfaces will stick together, the texture of the matte protector prevents that. I’ve really liked the Phone Devil Matte Screen Protectors, and there’s no noticeable difference in the sensitivity of the touch screen with both protector and case installed.

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