When the going gets tough, the tough want iPhone

Samsung's Galaxy S4 sets a new standard for smartphone durability: it's more prone to damage than its predecessor, while the Apple [AAPL] iPhone is one tough cookie, SquareTrade claims -- and you don't take a Galaxy to a drop test.

[ABOVE: Drop test. Watch these smartphones get dropped, dunked and slid across the table.]

Fragile Galaxy

You see, it seems Samsung's Galaxy range is more fragile than Apple's devices, likely on account of their use of a plastic body in order to keep costs low.

Tested by SquareTrade, the Galaxy S4 scored seven out of 10 in an extensive durability test, in which 10 is the worst score. Galaxy S3 scored 6.5 and iPhone got five.

What this means is that if you should happen to drop your S4 while attempting to make any of its strangely useless new software features work, then you might as well say "sayonara" to a few bucks at the repair shop.


"While the S4 proved slightly more water resistant than its predecessor the S3, Samsung's new Galaxy phone actually performed worse in most other categories. Major strikes against the S4 include high breakability during SquareTrade Drop Tests, a slippery back panel, and a wider screen that reduces grip-ability, especially compared to the ultra-slim iPhone 5. Breakability Score: 7.

"While the Samsung S3 screen is more durable, it is less water resistant than the S4 and its plastic back and wide width decreases its grip-ability. Breakability score: 6.5.

"The iPhone 5 scored the highest of the three phones tested. While it lost points for its larger size due to more breakable surface area, its excellent grip-ability and low friction coefficient make it far more durable overall. Breakability Score: 5."


Your delicate life companion

Design is critical. The size, shape and weight of the device are just part of the story. What materials are used, weight balance and the matter of how easy a device is to grip securely all make a big difference.

It's not enough just to stick a few components inside a cheap plastic chassis and call it a smartphone -- the personal relationship between a user and their gadget means these devices matter far more than some disposable cigarette lighter or a cheap pen.

In a release, SquareTrade writes:

"Our research and experience shows that even the smallest device characteristics can dramatically affect its breakability: the weight balance of a device can affect the way it spins in free-fall, making it more likely to land on its screen; devices with rubber backs are less likely to slide, and device dimensions can effect how snugly smartphones fit in pant and jeans pockets," said Ty Shay , CMO at SquareTrade. "The likelihood of damage due to these common scenarios has never been higher."

Apple's focus on design is part of the difference between the platforms. Galaxy explorers may want to consider this Apple patent for a system that will protect dropped iPhones by shifting their orientation mid-flight. The patent suggests that while the S4 is more fragile than the S3, a future iPhone will be even less fragile than its predecessors.

[ABOVE: As pointed out by reader, WPMango, here's a Nokia Lumia defining tough.]

Good for business

This doesn't seem to affect price-conscious consumers. SquareTrade earlier this month announced research that suggests one in five Americans will buy an S4, but that one in four will break their device within the first twelve months.

"The study also found that Americans have spent more than $7.2 billion on damaged Android phones including Samsung, Motorola, LG and HTC since 2007, and $3.7 billion on Samsung's alone."

There's one good thing about all this: Android owners seem prepared to deal with the consequences of their buying decision, meaning they are 20 percent more likely than iPhone users to get a protection plan for their devices. This of course is SquareTrade's interest in conducting this research: The company offers protection plans for mobile devices, meaning Samsung's fragile Galaxy is good for its business.

Not so good for consumers, of course, and perhaps this is why a recent Yankee Group report notes that around one in four Android owners plan to switch to another platform next time around. 

My perspective? I remember how when the Apple v Windows battles were raging the propensity of Windows machines to contract malware meant great business to to tech support people. It took years before Apple finally won consumer users around to a point of view in which it became accepted that the more secure Mac platform was a better buying decision. That focus on customer need is something I'd like to see across all platforms. Or, as Edmund Burke put it: "Those who don't know their history are doomed to repeat it." Sadly in this case when it comes to key metrics such as device robustness, OS security and user experience, it seems history is repeating itself all over again.

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Copyright © 2013 IDG Communications, Inc.

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