Maybe it's because phones are becoming more fragile as they become larger and more advanced, but I've been compelled to focus on the durability of phones, or how to better protect your phone, lately. Cell phones are extremely important in our day to day lives – our lifelines, in some cases – and whether it be through insurance, a case or a full body wrap, protecting your phone is important. The first step, before insurance or cases, however, is to choose what your phone is made of.
Phones now come in a multitude of sizes and form factors, and every manufacturer has their own preference when it comes to build materials and what they believe is the most durable. Some phones are equipped with a cheaper, more lightweight plastic while others sport heavy, (somewhat) more protective metal. And some even come wrapped in sheets of chemically hardened glass.
All of these different materials not only determine how well the device feels in the hand, by adding or subtracting weight, they also determine how sturdy the device will be over time. The rigidness and strength of the material establish how the phone will hold up against keys and change in your pocket, how it will resist damage when dropped on asphalt or even how the hardware maintains its sturdiness (hinges and physical buttons) through the test of abuse and time.
As reviewers, we here at PhoneDog accrue a lot of hands-on time with different phones, all of different materials and make. We examine the hardware, top to bottom, note any questionable features and call attention to any highlights in a phone's design. But since a lot of the phones we receive are only review units and have to be sent back in working order, we rarely get the chance to put the hardware to the test.
Luckily, there are some people who are willing to pit devices against one another in very unscientific (not that they really need to be) drop tests. Phil over at Android Central shared a video of a drop test today, done by SquareTrade, where the Galaxy S II and new iPhone 4S faced-off against their mutual enemy, pavement. (It was actually pretty hard to watch through all of the cringing and eye-squinting I was doing.) The results were pretty obvious and expected – the iPhone suffered some extensive damage and shattered front and back glass. But I was sincerely surprised at how well the Galaxy S II held up against the ground. As far as I could tell and the video showed, it only suffered from a few scuffs after three drops – two from waist-high and one from shoulder-high.
If you were to ask someone who the top hardware maker is in the smartphone game today, you would probably be met with one of two answers: HTC or Apple. HTC tends to use a lot of accent metals in their devices along with matte finish plastics. This gives the phone a sturdy feel and induces a bit of comfort in a user. Apple, on the other hand, loves that elegant glass with metal trim. It should go without saying that although the device is built extremely well, a single drop from waist-high can leave you without a working phone. Obviously, "best" doesn't always account for durability.
Personally, I prefer a phone with a more "solid" feel to it. While I am currently carrying an iPhone as my personal device, I'm always afraid of what might happen if and when I drop it, even with a case on. I have to pay close attention every time I pocket the iPhone. I prefer peace of mind and tend to lean towards phones with more metal, although I had how the paint begins to chip away after several months of use. There is just something about the weight and sturdiness of a metal frame that puts me at ease.
With some phones obviously a little more rugged than others, do you choose durability over design? What material do you prefer? Lightweight plastic, sturdy metal, or the luxurious, smooth feel of glass? Do you wish more high-end phones were built with extra durability? Chime in with your thoughts below!