Review: iPhone 4 Ballistic (HC) Series Case

This solid product protects your iPhone 4 well. (July 31st, 2011)

This five-part case is a solid product that protects your iPhone 4 well.

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Product Manufacturer: Ballistic Case Co.

Price: $29.99 US (Sale)

The Good

  • Multi-layered hard and soft protection.
  • Dirt and splash resistance, but not watertight.
  • Good feedback on covered power, volume buttons.
  • Good, clear built-in screen cover.
  • No problems with glass cover over camera lens.
  • Reasonable price.

The Bad

  • Thin strip of silicon between face, volume buttons comes loose.
  • Tight fit for Data Port cable heads may challenge third-party cables.

After I reviewed the excellent OtterBox Defender, which had some minor quibbles, I wondered if the AT&T iPhone 4 Ballistic Hard Core (HC) Series Case could match or surpass the OtterBox.

For background, these cases are not like the basic ones you might to pop on quickly and offer a bit better grip or add a splash of color. These are serious cases that add to the bulk of your iPhone. They remove the sleek lines in favor of offering extreme levels of protection for the device, with multiple layers of materials between you, the ground, the elements, and your iPhone.

This AT&T Ballistic Hard Core (HC) Series Case is a five-layer, full coverage polycarbonate hard case. It includes a polymer inner and outer lining, geared towards impact resistance, that envelops the iPhone with a third element, a wrap-around silicone skin.

All the pieces

Ballistichc HC Parts with iPhone

You place your iPhone in the rear of the hard case, and mount the faceplate over the top. It has a built in screen cover, so the phone is essentially protected all around, with the exception of the mute button, headphone port opening and Data Port. The Silicone skin protects those with flaps that open easily for access. They also stay closed when shut, acting as plugs to the port areas. The case is a snug fit, which gives it a very stable, protective feel as you assemble it. The finished product is very solid, and gives you confidence that your phone is well protected. It comes with a belt clip that I didn't use much as it adds too much bulk to an already bulky case.

belt clip

Ballistichc HC Belt Clip

I did test it and it grabs and holds the phone well, is solidly built and anchors the phone safely to the case. Releasing it is easy, but an accidental release is unlikely.

 Ballistichc HC Front View

Ballistic HC Front View

The company has an unedited video that demonstrates the case and its impact resistance on its site.

Ballistichc HC Back View

Ballistic HC Back View

The camera and flash on the rear of the case are protected by clear plastic, which in testing does not optically limit the iPhone 4 camera. It still delivers sharp, vibrant images when you shoot through the extra optical layer.

Inner and Outer Pieces

Ballistic HC Inner and Outer Pieces

The power and volume are enclosed by the interior polycarbonate case, and have excellent, snappy response instead of the usual, squishy, rubbery feel of other cases. When you press the buttons with this case, they are sure and true. This comes into play even more when Apple ships iOS 5 and the iPhone 4 gets shutter button control via the volume button.

Top of Case

Ballistic HC Top of Case

Other, smaller ports like the ear-level speaker, bottom microphone and speaker are protected by mesh fabric while the FaceTime front camera and infrared sensor is covered by clear plastic. They are more resistant to gathering dust than the OtterBox case and the mesh adds a layer of protection against splashes or rain that the OtterBox does not provide. Due to their shape, they are a bit tougher to clean due to their shape. The mesh fabric does not stop water immersion, so please don't think this is waterproof. However, it is as water resistant as you can expect for a non-sealed case.

The screen protector does not interfere with your ability to view the screen and has good tactile response, with no delay on the touch pass-through. It is also scratch resistant. It is not the oleophobic-coated screen of the iPhone 4 however, and if you have oily skin, you may notice build-up and smearing occasionally, but it does not interfere with the iPhone screen. You also have to take great care not to allow lint, dust, dirt or hair to get between the Ballistic screen and the iPhone screen when assembling the case, or it will sit there until you reopen the case and clean it, which can be extremely distracting.

There are two small quibbles I have with the case. Invariably with cases for such a small device, there are points in which the company uses a thin margin around points near ports. In the OtterBox, it was the rear of the case behind the Data Port, which buckled and left the area somewhat open to moisture and dirt. The Data Port is well protected on the Ballistic case, but a small strip of silicone between the volume buttons and the face is a bit unstable after a few weeks of use. It is a small but noticeable glitch that should have been thickened; it appears to me that they could have doubled the thickness and had a more stable anchor for the strip, so it would not tend to pop out and wobble a bit. However, it's a small niggle that doesn't affect functionality or protection, just creates a distraction in use occasionally.

Closer Look

Ballistic HC Closer Look

The other problem I ran into is one only a small fraction of users may encounter. The Data Port opening is just wide enough to fit a standard Apple Data Port cable head. It is not wide enough to manage wider cable heads, like the one provided by my iPhone car adapter device I installed for connecting my iPhone to my factory stereo. It really isn't the fault of Ballistic. The sound design keeps the speaker ports safe, but I have to completely remove the case to charge my phone with that cable, or to hook my phone into my car stereo. It is a major frustration, as I prefer to not take the phone out of the case once I have the screens clean. I also dislike having the phone unprotected while driving my car. I considered trimming the edges of the car cable head, as the edges appear to be simple, wide plastic, but have not worked up the courage for such a solution.


Other then the two small glitches, I have very little I can criticize. The colors of the cases are black on black, grey on black, and pink on black, plus a red on black version can be had for Verizon users. Overall, this is an excellent case.

Pink on Black

Ballistic HC Pink on Black

I should note that the case is available for both AT&T and Verizon iPhone 4 users, but the cases are not interchangeable between the two providers. Neither work with white iPhone 4 models, a trait they share with OtterBox Defender Series cases.

So, is the Ballistic case up to the OtterBox challenge? In a word, yes. It is best in its class, despite strong competition from OtterBox. This is the case to buy if you are serious about protecting your iPhone from falls, rough handling and the elements.

Related Reviews

OtterBox iPhone 4 Defender Series Case (March, 2011)

Edited by Ilene Hoffman, Reviews Editor

by EV Hunt


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