On Today’s Flagship Durability: When Premium Construction Isn’t All It’s Cracked Up To Be
Glass, metal, aluminum, chamfer, curved, edged, 2.5D, premium construction and materials. These are all buzzwords the industry uses in press releases, announcement videos, and website listings when describing a new phone.
While many of us know these promotional images can easily be “enhanced“, it is difficult not to be impressed by them none-the-less. With all this glitz and glam it is far too easy to fall into the trap of wanting that premium feel at any cost. For some, the removable battery being the primary casualty of this push for premium is a price we are willing to pay. But right under our noses, we have been giving up something much more than a simple feature, something that in one way or another impacts how we use our devices every day.
I am fairly careful with my devices. While I have had my fair share of hardware failures and RMA’s. I have really only broken one Android phone and that was my Nexus 6 while taking it apart — hardly typical usage. Keys in one pocket, phone in another. Don’t lay it down on a sandy or dirty surface. Remove it from my pocket before sitting in my car. Move it away from the edge of a counter to center of table. Don’t grab it with wet hands. Be gentle while setting it down. Don’t let it fall into a recliner. The checklist is endless, but I think a lot of readers can agree with me, I love the feel of a naked phone even if that means taking a few risks. My wife also has never broken a phone, but she stays home with our two children all day and as such her phones typically see a little more brutality. When she gets a new phone it is coddled until her Otterbox Symmetry and tempered glass screen protector come in. While there is a lot of hate towards Otterbox, she’s never had a broken phone and it has withstood some really hard falls. Many users have found this to be the case too (accidental pun), for many users phones today almost require some sort of screen or body protection.
So when she wanted a new phone to replace her failing iPhone 6S she settled with the Galaxy S7 upgraded through our carrier. The water resistance combined with Apple allegedly removing the headphone jack made it the logical upgrade for her. She had liked my S7 edge, and while other phones can beat it in terms of performance and other aspects, the all-important for children camera, battery life, and waterproofing make it the only real choice for her usage. But in searching for the protection she would need I found a disturbing trend: there was none. Sure, Otterbox and a few others have some durable cases for the Galaxy S7e, but there are no cases that offer edge protection or proper glass screen protection. So I steered her towards the S7, which she loves, except for one nagging issue… There are no proper screen protectors for the S7. In the pursuit of further beauty and wow factor the actual usability and durability have been sacrificed. So I purchased a screen protector for her anyways just to see how bad things are… they are bad.
When Samsung announced the Galaxy S7 one of the headlining features was the surround 2.5D glass. A side-effect of this feature causes the curve in the glass to extend beyond the display, especially on the sides. Due to this manufacturers actually had to create a floating screen protector, one that adheres on the top and bottom but actually floats in the middle. As you can imagine this is horrible for usability. However, there is an alternative but it is one that causes the screen protector to not actually go edge to edge on the screen, have fun trying to swipe in with that thing. This isn’t just a problem that Samsung has created. The iPhone 6S and many other phones also features 2.5D glass making screen protectors go to the very edge of of the display but not the glass, and in many cases causing a visible gap where the glass curves but the protector cannot. While these situations may be relative to my situation, the fact that creating a more lust-worthy and desirable phone also makes it more fragile is almost undeniable.
Corey Feiock, an XDA writer, has broken 2 Galaxy S7 edges after dropping them in relatively small incidents, while we ribbed him and his unfortunate butter fingers the truth is that his situation isn’t isolated. Broken front and rear glass on the S6/S7 series are a fairly common occurrence. Even worse is that the edge display on the S6 and S7 edge models is exposed making it an easy target for drops to directly impact and shatter the glass. The Note 5 had its infamous clickable pen getting stuck in the silo and other users have had shattered camera glass due to the camera bump. Again, it is important to remember that Samsung isn’t the only offender here. When I had my Nexus 6P I would cringe any time I sat it down at the wrong angle on a hard surface fearing my visor had met its match, even while being careful. Unfortunately for many other users, the visor was a weak point, shattering sometimes when the device was sitting still. Bendgate affected both the iPhone 6+ and the Nexus 6P bringing in millions of YouTube hits and countless headaches to OEM’s and R&D teams. The problems caused by “features” are real, and as devices continue to push towards curved displays and all glass fronts and backs like the recently announced Note7, these problems will only get worse.
While phones are certainly more pretty to look at we are reminded that beauty is only skin deep and it is times like those that caused me to love using my Moto G4 so much. The Moto G4 feels like an ode to the yesteryears of fantastic plastic and just normal, flat, boring 2D glass. In fact it reminds me of my Galaxy Nexus in many ways, one of my all time favorite phones to use because of the in-hand feel caused by the materials used. The same can be said of the Nexus 5X, a phone I would prefer the in handle feel of to the 6P every day.
While devices like the HTC 10, Nexbit Robin, iPhone SE, and LG V10 show that you don’t need to sacrifice usability for a premium feel, those devices are being pushed firmly to the minority. Gone are the days where you could toss your phone onto a couch and watch it slide off onto the carpet and not have to fear if it was shattered into little bits. Gone are the days where a phone could withstand a few drops with minor damage. Gone are the days when phones were comfortable to use without all these edges and chamfers cutting into your hand. Gone are the days when we really didn’t have to think about How we were using or holding our devices for fear of it sliding out of our hands, we just used them.