What do Apple & Samsung mean by 'durable', and how durable are their phones?

What do Apple & Samsung mean by 'durable', and how durable are their phones?

Phone manufacturers are really keen on selling the durable design of their latest handsets. But what exactly do they mean by durability? We took a look at the claims made by Apple and Samsung for their latest devices, and examine what they mean when they talk about durability. We found that what they are talking about is not necessarily what the end user is thinking about when they hear the word 'durable'.

Durability

'Durability' is the ability of a material or an object to withstand wear, pressure, or damage; hard-wearing.

Apple

Apple released iPhone XS in 2018. Their website makes a number of statements about the design of iPhone XS.

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'The most durable glass ever in a smartphone'. Apple claims the iPhone XS is using the most durable glass ever in a smartphone. However drop tests conducted on the new phone suggest that the glass on iPhone XS is still very easily shattered. The fact is that glass is inherently brittle, and when dropped it is intrinsically characteristic of glass to shatter being a brittle material.

Precision machined, surgical-grade stainless steel is used by Apple in the construction of the frame of iPhone XS. This makes iPhone XS an amazing phone to hold. It feels great and there is a reassuring weight to the phone as a result of all that high grade steel. Steel is heavier than aluminium and less liable to dings and dents. What the iPhone XS ads don't also indicate is that this use of steel makes the phone heavier, meaning any drops will result in a greater impact force and therefore increased likelihood of damage int he event of droppage. A heavier phone is more likely to suffer damage when dropped. especially if there is lots of glass on the phone.

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Samsung

Samsung's Galaxy S9 is a great phone. Samsung have given their most recent addition to the Galaxy S series an IP68 rating for water and dust resistance. The same level of water and dust resistance you will find in the iPhone XS. Samsung has a longer history than Apple of water and dust resistance featuring in their flagship smartphones. The S9 also features a similar construction to the iPhone XS. Glass sheets cover the front and back of the phone. The glass subtly curves around the front and back to meet the aluminium frame which goes around the sides of the device. Aluminium is a lighter material than the steel used in the construction of iPhone. When dropped, Aluminium is more able to absorb impact than steel, but will sustain more damage as a result of its absorption of the impact.


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Apple and Samsung's use of glass on the back of their flagship smartphones adds to the premium feel and look of the devices, but maybe more importantly allows for wireless charging functionality to be incorporated into their devices. Again, with the Samsung Galaxy S9, all this glass and aluminium makes for a phone which is prone to damage when dropped. Here is the evidence.

It is arguable that Steel is the more premium feeling material. However it is equally arguable that aluminium is the more impact absorbing material for smartphone construction.

Read up more about IP ratings here

Conclusion

When Apple and Samsung say their phones are durable, they are not lying. Their glass and metal construction makes then able to withstand scratches, and wear quite well. Water and dust ingress are also well guarded against thanks to the IP68 ratings of these devices. However when Apple and Samsung talk about durability they are not claiming their phones are resistant to damage from drops. In fact, the most recent flagships from Samsung and Apple are more liable to breakage from drops than some of their predecessors (iPhone 7 had an aluminium back- not glass), Samsung Galaxy S series phones prior to the Galaxy S6 were much more resistant to breakage due to their usage of plastic backs and sides. What this means is that responsible users of these phones will want to invest in a case made from materials which absorb impact in order to protect the phone from the damage which is nearly inevitable if the phone is dropped at the right angle, velocity or frequency.

Further reading