With the price of mid-to-top range mobile phones not exactly amounting to loose change, it’s important to know that your shiny new handset is going to last for the full two years of your contract (or as close as possible…anyway). And let’s face it, however careful we are with our tech, everyone has accidents. But a short fall to the ground or a dive into a glass of wine will affect different mobiles in different ways (…speaking from experience).
This article outlines the different features of a mobile phone which affect just how durable it is. So if you’re trying to find a hardier model for a young user, for example, you’ll know what sort of things to look for and what questions to ask.
Dropping your handset
We’ve all had that heart-stopping, gasp-inducing moment where our phone has slipped and gone crashing to the ground. Here are some things to think about if you’re looking for something that can withstand a fall from height.
Dimensions: The height, width and depth of a handset will affect how you hold it. A smaller handset which is more easily used one-handed is going to be a lot safer than a mobile device which is only just about manageable to text on when your other hand is holding a coffee or a bag of shopping.
- Corners: Generally, the sharper the corners, the more dinged they’re going to be if you drop your phone. Also, users tend to hold more angular phones in the middle instead of curling hands around the lower corners, making it easier to have the phone slip at an inopportune moment.
- Grippiness: If the back of the handset is shiny plastic instead of a more textured dimple effect or brushed metal, it’s more likely to slip from your hand, especially when trying to move your thumb across it when texting.
- Slider phones: Sometimes we underestimate our own strength. Flicking up a slider-phone might seem like a piece of cake, but if the handset’s spring mechanism is particularly enthusiastic, it may result in the mobile all but jumping out of your hand.
- Sturdiness: Of course, should your phone hit the floor, you want to ensure that each piece still works properly. Some handsets have what’s called a ‘unibody’, which means that the back cover isn’t removable (and therefore won’t ping off if it gets dropped, releasing the usually also removable battery, memory card and SIM card back into the wild, only to be lost forever).
- Screen: A few dings and scrapes, while a bit annoying, tend to result in cosmetic issues rather than usability problems. A broken screen, however, can ruin your whole mobile experience. That’s why knowing the difference between the different screen types and strengths is important. The two main contenders are Gorilla Glass and Sapphire Glass - both of which have their advantages and drawbacks. Sapphire glass tends to be more scratch-resistant than Gorilla glass...but heavier and causes the screen to be dimmer, for example.
Of course, there are plenty of actual ‘drop tests’ conducted on poor, unsuspecting mobile phones by different tech blogs on sites such as Youtube. If you already have a handset in mind, why not see if you can find a correlating video to see what actually happens when phone meets floor?
Losing your handset
“I’m sure it was in my pocket…” Realising that you’ve left your mobile phone in the last coffee shop you were in is only marginally better than realising it’ll probably be long gone by now. Although there are a few physical aspects of a handset which will help curtail this, there are also a few apps which may help.
- Weight: If you can’t tell the difference between a pocket with no handset and a pocket with a handset, you’re more likely to shrug on your jacket and be on your way, without realising that you neglected to pick up your phone. It’s obviously not ideal to have to carry around a handset the same weight as Mjoliner, of course, but a very thin phone with a very light weight is usually a lot easier to forget you’re carrying.
Apps: Keeping track of your mobile isn’t all about the design and hardware, though. If the worst does happen, there are a number of apps that – as long as they’ve been pre-installed – will help reunite you with your primary communication device. Unfortunately, these will only be available for smartphones rather than feature phones, and it’s always a good idea to check which ‘Rescue’ apps are available on which platforms (e.g. Apple’s iOS and Android operating system updates).
Fighting with other items
For people who keep their handset in bags rather than in pockets, there’s always the danger of the hardware picking a fight with, say, the sharper and meaner nail file or inside-pocket-zipper. Here’s what to look out for if your mobile phone will be sharing carry-space with other items.
Screen: While a cracked screen doesn’t usually spell the end for a handset being useable, it’s nevertheless incredibly annoying to have to use a smartphone where half the screen is obscured by a spider-web of fractures. And like most other things, the materials which make up handset screens are not created equal. These different types are Sapphire, Gorilla and Gorilla 2.0.
Covering: What a handset’s casing is made of usually gives a good indicator of how durable the chassis will be to dings and scrapes. A handset with an aluminium body, for example, is usually more susceptible to issues such as dints and bending, but less likely to lose colour through chipping. For polycarbonate and other similar plastics, it’s the other way around.
Camera: Some handsets have a rear-camera which doesn’t sit flush with the back of the chassis, and usually appear on slimmer mobile phones. A non-flush camera means it’s more susceptible to knocks and scrapes around the sides and front. While there haven’t been any loud online complains about damage to camera quality thanks to dings on the camera surround, it may be better to invest in a handset that isn’t going to catch on anything should you carry it around in a bag with other items.
Slider: Remember that over-enthusiastic slider I mentioned earlier? Sometimes knocking against something and being jostled will trigger such a mobile phone to think it’s being useful and just open, revealing lots of lovely buttons to be pressed and scraped. Also, thin items such as credit cards and nail files are just slim enough to get caught between the two layers of the phone if introduced at the correct angle and pressure (for example, if you step down a curb just so…), causing odd dialling, scraped chassis and sticking sliders and keys for future use.
Gone seem to be the days where you could push a distracted friend into a swimming pool, safe in the knowledge that you weren’t about to destroy a handset worth more than the holiday you were currently on. The same goes with sending an important text in the middle of anything more than the lightest of drizzle (while back in the UK, obviously). Thankfully, some handsets are better than others for dust and water protection, and some now even come fully equipped to handle even the most dastardly of water-based summer pranks.
Licensed: Many mobile phones now come with what’s called an 'IP58' license, which means they are resistant to water and dust. These licenses are consistent across the board, which means anything with this labelled next to it are operable up to a depth of 1meter of non-salt water, for up to 30 minutes.
Back cover: A lot of handsets don’t have what’s called a ‘unibody’. That is, casing that goes all the way around the phone with a back cover that’s not removable. Having a removable back cover generally means more ways for dust and water to get into the hardware, although it’s always best to check the licensing on handsets, as some manufacturers have already considered this issue and have created handsets with rubber-trim to keep out the worst moisture and dust.
Buttons: How many crumbs do you think you drop into your laptop keyboard each week? Yeah, me too. Handsets with qwerty keypads can sometimes collect dust and moisture in the same way.
Holes: If your handset has a MicroSD card slot under the battery, you’ll have one less hole in the side of your handset to worry about. Handsets with the waterproof licensing mentioned above usually have ‘plugs’ attached in order to protect against these issues.
Don’t forget: Check the manufacturer or service provider warranty for a handset before you purchase, as different things may be covered for usually up to a year. For example, all of the handsets here on Three Clearance come with a full 12 month guarantee (which you can read more about HERE).