Bigger screens, more cracks. Since the arrival of the first touchscreen smartphones, experts say their overall durability has diminished greatly, mostly due to the amount of glass used to create them. Whether you’re looking back at the eruption of BendGate from 2014’s iPhone 6 Plus release, or watching YouTuber JerryRigEverything break a Lenovo Legion Phone Duel 2 into three pieces, the durability of smartphones continues to be concerning. With many phones costing several hundred dollars to purchase—sometimes in the thousands if you splurge for a flagship device—having a durable device is important. Unfortunately, one of the biggest design flaws with smartphones is also one that many people love: glass touchscreens.
–> Phone durability seems to have gone down since the introduction of smartphones.
–> Some experts think phone manufacturers could be using durability as a way to push more accessory sales.
–> Other experts believe the large touch screens we’ve come to love are the biggest durability issue with phones right now.
“I think everybody who’s ever dropped a phone can attest that the most vulnerable part of an entire phone is the screen,” Matt McCormick, founder and CEO of Jet City Device Repair, told Lifewire in a call. “The glass has always been the most vulnerable part, and the thing that has made that less durable is the larger screen size.”
More Glass, More Problems
Since the introduction of the iPhone in 2007, smartphones have continued to evolve. This has happened in three major categories: performance, software offerings, and overall design. While phones have become thinner in design over the years, McCormick doesn’t believe that’s the major reason durability has taken such a hit.
Instead, he says this fascination that many smartphone manufacturers have with rounded glass screens and even bezel-less designs is one of the major problems he’s encountered while repairing devices over the past several years.
“I think everybody who’s ever dropped a phone can attest that the most vulnerable part of an entire phone is the screen.”
“You can even make [the] case that a smaller, thinner phone is going to be lighter, right? A lighter phone is less math. It’s going to have less impact when dropped. I don’t think [making a phone] thinner has done it. I think it’s definitely the size of the screens that has made them less durable. And then, in Apple’s case, making more of the phone out of glass has made it more vulnerable.”
He also mentioned that the rounded edges that many “infinity display” devices are offering now is another problem. With these rounded edges come less materials around the corners to protect the phone. Corners are one of the major pressure points that phones often hit when they’re dropped, and without any kind of other material—like plastic or metal—the screen is more prone to crack from the hits it takes.
Still, there’s no denying the fact that thinner and lighter phones mean less material is being used to house the phone’s internals. Most of the internals are now soldered together, where they used to be freely attached—more similarly to computers. This is done to make those hardware pieces take up less space inside of the phone. While McCormick says the glass on smartphones has improved, his repair shop still sees more than its fair share of screen cracks coming through.
The Theory of Durability
Other experts, like Rex Freiberger, CEO of Gadget Review, feel that many of the durability problems we see with smartphones today come from a push to get consumers to buy new accessories.
“There’s zero reason our smartphones need to be as fragile as they currently are,” Freiberger told Lifewire via email. “Yes, the internal components of a smartphone are fragile. It’s hard to make a touchscreen that isn’t susceptible to cracking. But phones can be protected through their casing, and we’ve seen some phones that are way more durable than others. I do think it’s something to be concerned about and something that should affect purchasing decisions.”
There are things phone manufacturers could do to create more durable phones, but it could take away from the more premium feel and look many have come to love about modern smartphones. Moving away from rounded screens or glass backs to stronger materials could be one way to improve that durability.
Despite the issues we’ve seen popping up over the years, McCormick says there have been great strides towards improving phone durability, specifically in the removal of external ports and buttons.
“Headphone jack repairs were a big deal, you know, five years ago when every phone came with headphone jacks,” he said. “You would drop your phone when it was plugged into headphones and it would snap off of the phone, right? You don’t have those issues anymore. You still see it with iPads—you see that a ton, actually—but not with most phones anymore.”