Will durability be Sony's saving grace in mobile?

Chase Bonar
 from  Winter Springs, FL
| January 22, 2013

Words like durable and smartphone are not usually used in the same sentence because they just don’t blend. Fortunately, for the adventure seekers reading, Sony has been listening and made a promise to deliver durability in its Xperia Z with a myriad of “tough” features.

Unfortunately, we have a little while until we can call the Xperia Z our own, so let’s review some other attributes we can expect to see in the mobile industry throughout this year.

It’s going to be a real party with 1080p displays, on-screen keys, batteries packing heat, dynamic multi-core processors, more NFC, wireless charging, new gestures in BB10, fonblets and phablets, 13MP cameras, S Pens, gigabytes of RAM … and the list won’t end until the holiday season late this year.

Everybody got time for that!

But what new values will be pitched by the big hitters? How are they going to sell you?

We haven’t seen many OEM’s identify durability as a selling point yet. Our own Taylor Martin recently admitted his distaste for the anodized aluminum on some smartphones today and pleaded for OEM’s to stop using the material. I agree. I’m less than keen on the idea of using glass on the backside of a device. It doesn’t make much sense to me. And I can’t imagine anyone who is too happy with the protruding camera lens on the back of most HTC devices.

So, what exactly are manufacturers thinking?

I realize design features and premium materials make a difference to the end user and it’s a strong sales pitch, but it’s getting to the point where I’m afraid to use my phone. It’s getting personal. I recently watched my Galaxy Nexus fall onto the carpet and rotate on its side, bounce into a full 180-degree rotation, do 2.5-spins counterclockwise, and land in a water bowl full to the brim with filtered water (our dog is living the life). Thanks to some Jasmine rice and Tupperware, it’s good as new. In comparison, you couldn’t pay me to drop a case-less iPhone 5 onto Egyptian cotton atop a waterbed covered with rose petals next to a Shar Pei. I just won’t do it.

To those mumbling, “Ridiculous! Who is this guy? A waterbed? Rose petals? What?” Buy a 64GB iPhone 5 off-contract and then we can talk.

Now, if you drop phones as often as Skrillex drops the bass, you have a long year ahead of you. In this day and age, manufacturers are taking us to shop with craftsmanship and quality of materials that we thought were only possible on a Jaeger LeCoultre. But that’s ok, because we have the best selection of rugged cases in the history. After all, the smartphone accessory industry alone pulled in around $20 billion in 2012, and cases were among the revenues.

The real question is: do we need art, or do we need functionality? You wouldn’t take a Smart Car mudding (wouldn’t be smart), or give a Les Paul to Kurt Cobain (he’d smash it). So why are we forced to worry about our aluminum-wrapped and glass-clad smartphones while we abseil, spelunk, and waveski?

Apple would just say I’m holding the phone wrong (and give you a bumper). HTC would tell me their matte polycarbonate can take the abuse (except for those who wear blue jeans). And Samsung would just say I’m crazy and make a bulletproof fonblet. (Please spread that last rumor.)

All good points, OEMs, but have you seen your neighbor to the East? No, not Apple. West-er. There. Sony.

Sony is pitching dust and water resistance hard and they’ve got a listener here. Their latest flagships unveiled at CES were nothing short of magnificent. Thanks to Tayor’s hands-on at CES, we know the Xperia Z and ZL are lovely to stare at due in part to the Mobile BRAVIA Engine 2 pushing those pixels along. But what the Xperia ZL sacrifices in OmniBalance minimalism and an open headphone jack, the Xperia Z delivers with durability and functionality in all situations, thanks to dust and waterproofing.

To my Saharan readers: before you go grab your floaties and head for the deep end in the Olympic pool of your desert mansion, help me think of one other manufacturer that’s being as public with the subject of durability…then you may go.

Among IP55 and IP57 waterproof ratings, Sony is also pushing polyamide which is a glass fiber material used as a metal substitute in cars. They’re basically saying it’s a car, so stand on it at the top of Lombard Street and let me know what speed you hit on your slide down. They’re also pitching an anti-shatter film atop tempered glass as a preventative measure to any hairline cracks, or divots on either side of the device. What Sony really means is the Xperia Z is bulletproof. They’re also saying it’s dust resistant and that it works no matter how much dust you throw at it. Perfect for those surprise dust storms. Lastly, their OmniBalance design with rounded edges and reflective surfaces are strong thanks to an innovative skeleton frame. In other words, you are urged to sit on it while eating that Big Mac and super-sized fries.

I feel these features will only help Sony as it focuses on high-end smartphones this year. Where other devices tout improvements in gaming and multitasking, Sony is pushing for you to take pictures while you snorkel. It is no doubt an interesting twist for other manufacturers to react to. To react is to behave, or respond in response to something and in this case, it might be too late. I expect other manufacturers to get serious about durability next year, but between the R&D already spent on successors to our favorite devices, it’s probably too late for any of these OEM’s to put durability and smartphone in the same sentence in 2013.

Is it a good year to be a Sony employee? I think so.

What sort of smartphone features matter in your active lifestyle, reader? Do you often wonder if your pocket will hold onto its precious contents while rock climbing? Am I too optimistic with the Xperia Z, or did Sony just make you believe? If you can think of a more durable smartphone with top of the line features, let me know in the comments below. Otherwise, let’s think of some real functionality we can recommend manufacturers add to our favorite devices in the comments! Just don’t get too excited and drop your phone into that mousetrap next to your keyboard.