I often find brand loyalty a fickle mistress. You’ll see someone ranting about problems with company X (say Bell) while another raves about it. It’s particularly funny in the negative form, such as in online IT forums about Canadian mobile networks, where someone will rant and rant and rant about how terrible Rogers is, and then announce they’re switching to some new and wonderful cell startup with great offerings, without realizing that the new entry is using Rogers’ network.
Or they rant about how terrible Rogers is and they’re switching to Bell, posted right after the rant by someone who is fed up with Bell and switching to Rogers. On a good day, you can see them going from Rogers to Bell, Bell to Telus, Telus to Koodo (hah! same company and network), and Koodo back to Rogers.
You can see it more easily when someone is attached to a specific car company. The jokes, slings and arrows between truck owners are legendary. My favourite a few months ago was a guy talking about having a problem with his truck, and he had no idea where to even get a Chevy fixed. He then joked that if it had been a Ford, he obviously would have known where, because it would happen more often. And then he got everyone back on board by throwing Dodge owners under the bus, errr, truck.
But for most things? I don’t really care about a lot of brands on things. I like my iPhone, it serves me well, but I’ve owned Android before, and I miss certain aspects of it. If I wasn’t sharing stuff with Jacob and Andrea, and having a single OS being too useful, I’d probably still have my Android stuff. Yet there are a few things I normally swear by, and I don’t even care if they cost more. I just know they’re reliable and buy it.
You can’t go wrong buying OtterBox phone cases, right?
Otterbox makes some damn good cases for phones and tables. I would generally have no hesitation to recommend them. They’re solid, they don’t break down easily, good value for money, fit well, etc.
But they also have what most people say is a gold-plated warranty. It’s not quite “life-time”, but reasonably close for the products they sell. If you buy a phone case that is made by OtterBox, it comes with a seven-year warranty. Most people will upgrade their phone within seven years, so it is generally for the usual lifetime of the product it fits.
I’ve had OtterBox cases before and after 4-5 years, sure, they’re starting to get a little marred, but I’ve never outlasted one before I upgraded my phone.
For my iPhone, I got an iPhone XS Max back in January 2019. That’s almost five years, four years and ten months plus some days. At the four year mark, a little flap that covers the charging port for the phone broke off. Not surprising, really, it was a hinged flap, and an obvious weak spot. I don’t really need it, so I didn’t miss it much when it was gone. However, it also pulled the case together along the bottom of the phone, giving it a complete mold across the bottom. A structural side if you will.
About four months ago, I noticed that the silicone buttons over the phone’s buttons were getting a bit more mashed in. Not terrible, but not perfect. And then, two weeks ago, the little frame around those buttons cracked and split. It weakens the left side of the case, still totally functional, but it makes me less than confident of good protection if I drop the phone.
I needed a new case. And OtterBox has this gold-plated warranty, right? Everyone says so, right?
Not so fast, warranty claimer!
You go to the website for OtterBox US, it tells you if you’re from Quebec to go away as they have problems with Quebec regulations and laws right now (not uncommon for foreign shippers and not relevant to me).
At first glance, the claim process seems to be, hahaha, seamless.
You click on “Warranty”. It tells you that if you have a product of theirs, you can get a new one, as long as you pay shipping and handling. Seems fair.
It asks me if I bought it direct or online or elsewhere, with several options. I got it at Amazon.ca, so easy peasy. It asks other questions like phone or tablet, which type of case it was (with or without screen protection, folding, etc.), then it gets into more specific things for your phone.
Like make (Apple), Model (XS Max), etc. Eventually, it gets you down to the models that match.
Now here’s the weird part. OtterBox has about 8-10 big lines of cases…slim, chunky, with protectors, without, silicone, clear, blah blah blah. My model was a Commuter series, in Bespoke Way aka Blazer Blue. I can still get the model on Amazon.ca right now for just over $40 (it was only $35 originally) but not the same colour.
So, when I get to my model of phone, I should have dozens if not hundreds of choices, for multiple models and various colours. Yet the OtterBox only shows 2. Neither is my model of case.
One is a clear coloured case to slip over it, nothing like mine and about half the cost. The other one? Very similar, but it isn’t even for the XS Max. It is for another iPhone in the Series 11 model, which also has a 6.5″ footprint. Great that it shows it to me, because the cameras on the two phones are totally different. On the XS Max, it’s a small vertical 2 camera setup. The Series 11 format is a sideways triangle with an overall square footprint twice the size. So the S11 model WOULD fit my overall phone, just not very form fitting for the camera. Anyway.
So I look for other config options, nothing. I do it again to see if I missed anything. Nope, same result. Hmm. Oh, look, a line that says, “If you don’t find your model, click here!”. Right, missed that the first time. I click it and it takes me all the way back to the beginning and asks me if I want to claim a warranty.
I go sideways and try to reach customer service by email. Nada. They have a CHAT option, but after it asks me my name, and some basic Qs, it comes back and says, “Hey look, you’re on hold”. After 3 minutes, it says, “Sorry, we don’t have anyone to help you” and kicks you back to the contact page so you can call them.
But I don’t WANT to call them. That’s why I am on their website, so I don’t have to phone them. Grrrr.
A hidden door to nowhere
I decided, screw the model I had, I’d take the case they had available. Anything is better than nothing. I went through the hoops again, got all the way down to the models of cases “available”. I click on the XS Max one and it says, “Sorry, we have no stock of that”. Fine, I’ll take the S11 model. Nope, no stock of that either. I finally ended up getting to the contact page again, and tried a few things, nada. Searched Google for workarounds, perhaps an unpublished email address, nada.
Back on the OtterBox site, I noticed that there’s a link buried in the options to have MORE HELP WITH YOUR WARRANTY. Hallelujah!
There’s an option to contact them via form. Great! I give my name, model number, blah blah blah, not quite all of the same info, but most of it, and I dump the rest into the text box. Sounds great. I submit and I get a confirmation that my case has been opened. Yay progress!
Today I got an update from their CSR, Amanda. She will be glad to help me with their amazing warranty! Yay. All I have to do is call them at their non-toll-free number in Colorado.
Later today, while waiting for Jacob and Andrea at school, I called the number. Put on hold, of course. I lasted about 12 minutes before J and A were done, so I called back later from home. 32 minutes that time before I had to jump on another call.
Let’s recap, shall we?
It was a good case, and I got 4+ years out of it. At $35 to protect a ~$1500 phone, I probably got my money’s worth. But one of the reasons I buy OtterBox is not just the good case, but also because if it ends up having a problem, I can get a new one if it wears out. There were certainly a lot of other phone cases available for way less than $35 when I bought mine, after all.
But if you want to use the warranty, apparently you have to use it fast. Otherwise, they have no stock left of anything, you can’t actually choose a model of any sort, the website will put you in an endless loop so you can’t do anything, the only choice is to call them at your expense and sit on hold for a really long time with no guarantee anyone will even help you, and if you actually manage to submit something through the website, it just says, “Call me!”. And, of course, even if you do get all the way through, you still have to pay shipping and handling.
And I confess, I don’t have great experience with shipping and handling. In my experience with US companies that ship, they often have some sort of limited shipping account with FedEx or UPS that jacks the price so high, and in US dollars, you might as well just buy it outright in Canadian. I don’t know how many times I tried to buy some small astronomy gadget that was about $10 off a website and the shipping alone would have been $30.
I’ll try them maybe one more time by phone, but I’ll give them 10m at opening time and then I’ll bounce. I sent CSR Amanda back a somewhat grumpy message saying, “So why did I submit all my info online if all you do is say “call me” so we can start all over?”. Not the best method to get help, but at this point, do I really think I’ll get something worthwhile? Or just more frustrated?
In the meantime, I need another case. I found a highly reviewed one on Amazon for less than $20 that seems decent, will be here next week. I was already ordering some other stuff and I have Prime, I might as well go with free shipping. If it doesn’t work well, I can always set it aside for when I’m doing astrophotography (it’s a small slimline style that would work well for that) and buy one of the original Commuter series again. I suspect if I can get another 4+ years out of it, it’ll be time for a phone upgrade anyway. I mean, I know OtterBox is a little scummy, but it WAS a good case. Just disappointed I can’t get Blazer Blue again.