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The 4 Most Durable Premium Smartphones for Clumsy People

Your smartphone is pretty much with you every single day (every single moment for some people), so it's only a matter of time before it slips out of your hand and breaks or you spill coffee all over it. For some of you, it has already happened, perhaps even multiple times.

According to smartphone insurance provider Squaretrade, a cell phone breaks in the United States every two seconds. Research shows that 26% of iPhone users have broken their screen at some point or another, and 15% are currently living with a cracked screen. Those stats are likely very similar for Android smartphones, too—if not higher.

No device is truly unbreakable, so all of these damaged phones have to be fixed somehow, and our clumsiness has given rise to the smartphone repair industry. IBISWorld, a leading market research firm, shows an annual growth of 3% in the smartphone repair industry, with annual revenue at $4 billion.

Smartphones and clumsiness mix about as good as oil and water, but there are handsets out there that are a little more rugged and klutz-proof than others. So we decided to test out some of the most popular premium phones available and came up with a list of the four phones that were most resistant to clumsy people. After quite a bit of research and experimentation, these are the phones that proved most likely to survive an accident.

Image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

Selection & Rating

Our primary goal was to determine which four of the most popular current-generation flagship handsets available in the US are ideally suited for people with clumsy tendencies.

While there are smartphones such as the Galaxy S7 Active and Motorola Droid Turbo 2 that are specifically marketed as durable phones, we left them out for two main reasons. First, to achieve a higher level of shatter resistance, these devices traded in the use of premium materials, such as glass screen panels for plastic—but we're looking for durable and premium phones here. Second, they are limited in availability, being restricted for sale as carrier-exclusive devices. The S7 Active is only available through AT&T, and the Droid Turbo 2 is a Verizon-exclusive smartphone. That said, the Droid 2 Turbo and S7 Active are solid choices for accident-prone individuals, if they can manage to get one.

From our initial list of seven flagship handsets, we narrowed down our list to four using the following criteria:

  • Chassis: The phone must be well built in order to strike that fine balance between aesthetics and durability. Space grade and aircraft aluminum are renowned for being lightweight and strong—two properties that help with a phone's durability factor.
  • Glass Panel: Strengthened glass panels are ever evolving, and getting more durable with each iteration. Corning's Gorilla Glass 4, for example, offers twice the protection of its predecessor (Gorilla Glass 3). Both Gorilla Glass and Apple's ion-strengthened glass have been chemically altered via ion exchange to improve their strength. According to Applied Science, the process involves the exchange of sodium ions in the glass material with larger potassium ions under high temperature. The end result is a material that's more impact resistant and scratch-proof than regular glass.
  • Fingerprint Sensor: The use of high-end materials on smaller components like the fingerprint sensor not only lends to a phone's premium feel, but also adds to the overall sturdiness of the handset. A scratched or cracked sensor can hinder a phone's ability to read fingerprints.
  • Camera Lens: A scratched camera lens can affect a phone's photo quality, and a cracked lens can do the same, in addition to compromising a handset's resistance to water and other contaminants. A sapphire crystal lens is harder than glass, which makes this component more durable.
  • Water Resistance: The ingress protection, or IP rating, was a standard drawn up by the International Electrotechnical Commission to help measure the resistance of handsets to the elements. The first digit measures resistance to dirt and dust, while the second measures resistance to liquids. In a phone with an IP68 rating, for example, 6 means that it provides complete protection from dust and dirt following an eight-hour test, while 8 denotes its water resistance completely submerged at a depth of one and a half meters for up to 30 minutes.
  • Impact Resistance: Not as well known as the IP rating, the MIL-STD-810 rating is used by servicemen in a military setting where durability is a must. Only the V20 currently carries an impact rating of MIL-STD-810G, which involves dropping an object from a height of four feet a total of 26 times on two-inch plywood backed by concrete.
  • Screen Replacement: As the number one reason a phone comes in for repairs, it is important to determine how easy it is to replace a phone's screen assembly in the event of it breaking. The easier it is to replace a screen, the less risk there will be in breaking other components while performing the repair.
  • Charging Port Replacement: The charging port is another major component that's likely to break due to wear and tear from its constant cycle of plugging and unplugging. Thankfully, most flagship phones are engineered to have modular charging ports that are easy to replace.
  • Screen Assembly Price: Affordable spare parts translate to cheaper repairs. The less expensive the repair, the more willing a person would be in getting his or her handset fixed. Data for parts and availability was gathered from FixEZ and Mobile Defenders, two of the most reputable smartphone parts suppliers that I ordered from regularly as a tech—both of which provide a warranty for their parts against defects. We looked up screen assemblies, which consists of the AMOLED or LCD display and protective glass panel, as the primary example since these part represents a majority of mobile repairs. (Please note that prices listed below are only for the part alone, and subject to change.)
  • Drop Tests: Drop tests are done to determine how resistant a handset is to physical damage. Tests are usually done in varying heights, usually starting from chest height (about four feet) and up. The drop tests performed on these phones were sourced from various YouTube channels online. We found that there were no standard drop tests for every phone in our list, so we analyzed multiple videos of different drop tests performed on the same model to draw a more well-rounded conclusion.
  • Water Immersion Test: As the name implies, water immersion tests involve leaving a handset underwater in varying depths for a set amount of time, to determine how well it's protected against liquid damage. Again, these tests were sourced from various YouTube channels online.
  • Ergonomics: Ease of use is a vital feature that every great smartphone has. A phone that is easy to manipulate with one hand has fewer chances of accidental slips and falls. Key factors in determining a handset's ergonomics are how easy it is to grip, and the ease with which we can reach all corners of the screen and external keys with one hand.
  • Slip Resistance: A smartphone's overall texture goes hand in hand with its ergonomics. Many premium smartphones appear smooth at first glance, but actually have a subtle grit to their housings that becomes apparent when held. A handset's overall texture gives it a sort of grip and aids in keeping it from slipping out of your hand accidentally.

To determine slip resistance, we devised a tilting rig and ran a series of tests with the phones lying flat on top of various materials. Using a protractor app, we measured the angle at which the handset irreversibly slipped off of the different surfaces.

Image by Amboy Manalo/Gadget Hacks

The materials used were cotton, metal grating, a polyester mouse pad, a rubber placemat, paper, and a paper towel. Each device was measured six times for slip angle—three times vertically, and three times horizontally—then an average was drawn up and appropriate marks were given.

Image by Dallas Thomas/Gadget Hacks

1. OnePlus 3T

OnePlus, a company based in Shenzhen, China, has been quietly belting out smartphones that are so well made inside and out that the company has gained a cult following among the tech savvy. Their latest model, the OnePlus 3T, definitely doesn't disappoint. Starting out at $439 (about two-thirds the price of an iPhone 7 or Google Pixel), you get a premium smartphone with external and internal specs that meet or exceed those of its more expensive rivals.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

The OnePlus 3T shines in terms of overall build quality and materials used. Virtually identical to the OnePlus 3 build-wise, its main housing is milled from a single block of space-grade aluminum, giving it strength and rigidity. Attention to even the smallest detail is clearly evident with notable features such a ceramic fingerprint sensor, and a camera lens made of sapphire crystal. Ceramics are incredibly hard and highly resistant to scratches and cracks. Some well-known uses for ceramics are knife blades and body armor. Sapphire crystal is also extremely scratch resistant, and second only to diamonds in terms of hardness.

The OnePlus 3T is the second largest handset on our list, coming in at 6.01 x 2.94 x 0.29 inches. Despite its size, the 3T is surprisingly easy to use with one hand thanks to its design. Its width is greatly offset by its gently sloping rear and front perimeters, making it very comfortable to grip. The texture on the housing has a subtle grit to it that's apparent when held, giving the user a very secure feeling when holding the handset.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

The OnePlus 3T's no-frills design also gives it high marks for overall durability. The use of Corning Gorilla Glass 4 and high quality aluminum gives it superb protection against drops, dings, and bending. One notable torture test performed by Technotice showed the OnePlus 3T surviving a hammer drop from about three and four feet, then finally succumbing to a hammer drop from about five feet. A hammer drop is in some ways worse than a regular drop, since the force from the impact is focused on a smaller area.

The OnePlus 3T is by far the easiest handset to disassemble out of the four phones that made it on this list. The phone breaks down into its major subassemblies with the removal of two screws and a little prying on the side of its housing. The screen can be easily replaced by prying it off its mid-frame, though we recommend removing the motherboard, battery and charging port first before doing so to lessen the risk of damage to other components. With its modular design, use of high quality ribbon connectors, and minimal screw placement, swapping out other faulty parts such as cameras and charging ports is also a breeze.

Image by JerryRigEverything/YouTube

Spare parts are fairly easy to find for the OnePlus 3T. AMOLED display prices are moderate, averaging out at about $130.

For all the great features the OnePlus 3T has that make it stand apart from all the rest in terms of durability, it has one glaring fault that cannot be ignored—it's not fully protected against liquid damage. The 3T has no rating for water resistance, but OnePlus states that its handset does offer some protection against light splashes due to its tight tolerances. Before you go to the beach with your 3T, please bear in mind that OnePlus will still void any warranties due to water damage.

The OnePlus 3T is on the left, compared to the iPhone 7. Image by Tech Trinkets/YouTube

A water test performed by Tech Trinkets on a OnePlus 3T showed it surviving after being immersed for three minutes underwater, but the lack of any official water-resistance rating means its owners should still take extra care of their devices when around water. We've reached out to OnePlus regarding the lack of an IP rating for the 3T, but have yet to receive a reply. We will keep you posted if more information becomes available.

2. iPhone 7

Apple's iPhone 7 and 7 Plus are without a doubt the most popular handsets out there, and even with lower than expected sales, it's still ahead of its nearest competition by a decent margin. The iPhone 7 was ultimately picked over the 7 Plus due to its more ergonomic size and cheaper spare parts (about $245 for the 7's screen assembly versus $265 for the 7 Plus). Models start at $649, which is right between the OnePlus 3T and LG V20 in terms of affordability.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

Apple has come a long way in improving their flagship line's overall durability with the iPhone 7. In drop tests done by TabTimes, the iPhone 7 did great, surviving chest-height and about seven-foot drops without cracking its display.

The iPhone 7 also sports a series 7000 aluminum housing that's more resistant to bending than its predecessors, with an ion-strengthened display that's just as good as Gorilla Glass 4. Notable features found in the iPhone 7 are its omission of an audio jack and a haptic home button powered by their Taptic Engine. The iPhone 7 uses sapphire crystal for its camera lens, but it's reported to have impurities that lessen its durability. According to JerryRigEveryting's findings, the camera lens in an iPhone 7 is actually a mixture of sapphire crystal and glass, and contains trace amounts of carbon and silicon that make it less resistant to cracks and scratches.

The one feature that stands out is waterproofing. For the first time, Apple has introduced water resistance to the iPhone. Through the strategic placement of gaskets and rubberized adhesives, the iPhone 7 comes in with the water resistance rating of IP67, which means complete protection from dust and dirt following an 8-hour test, and water resistance while completely submerged at a depth of one meter for up to 30 minutes. It's no surprise then that the iPhone 7 did very well when CNET performed an extreme water immersion and swim test on it, coming off mostly unscathed, apart from a muffled speaker. However, Apple's warranty does not protect against water damage, so keep that in mind before you go for a swim with your iPhone.

Image by CNET/YouTube

To further enhance waterproofing, the home button for Apple's latest handsets has gone capacitive, which goes a long way in terms of durability. The biggest reason for a broken home button on past iPhones was corrosion from liquid damage. Repairs required the cleaning of contact points within the button to restore inter-component connections, but often proved difficult to repair due to the Touch ID chip's incredibly thin ribbon cable getting in the way. More often than not, the whole button had to be replaced, which permanently disabled Apple's Touch ID and software restore features (the dreaded Error 53), so a sturdier fingerprint sensor is a welcome improvement.

Anyone who's ever owned Apple's 6 series handsets will feel right at home with the iPhone 7, as they share the same dimensions. Coming in at 5.44 x 2.64 x 0.28 inches in size, the iPhone 7 is the easiest to manipulate one-handed of all the phones in our list. Button placement is also intuitive and easy to reach, with very minimal hand movement required to reach out for its external keys.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

The iPhone 7 we tested also had a good amount of grit to its surface, which helped with slip resistance. It performed very well in our slip test, coming in third overall. (Note that our test phone was the matte black version of the iPhone 7, and results may vary with other finishes, especially with the polished Jet Black that's obviously going to be a lot more slippery.)

It's no surprise that the iPhone 7 made it in our shortlist for the most durable smartphones. However, there were shortcomings that just couldn't be ignored, which kept it from being the top handset in terms of durability.

The iPhone 7 is a double-edged sword when it comes to repairability. As to be expected with Apple, the iPhone 7 disassembly is pretty straightforward. The screen assembly is moderately easy to replace, though, one must take extreme care when transplanting all the small components like the home button, earpiece, and front camera subassemblies. The charging port subassembly is also modular, and can be replaced relatively easily, by first removing the speaker and Taptic Engine to gain full access to the port itself.

One thing to watch out for is the waterproofing seal that runs around the perimeter of the screen assembly and bonds with the main housing itself, making it a little challenging to pry open. The iPhone 7 will lose its water resistance once it's opened up, so keep that in mind.

iPhone 7 opened up. Note the sticky residue from the water-resistant adhesive. Image by iFixit/YouTube

Apple is widely known for over-engineering its iPhones, and the iPhone 7 is no exception. All the various plug-in type connectors on the phone are reinforced with plates that are locked in with tri-wing type screws. This means there are numerous tiny screws of differing sizes that need to be kept track of. A wrongly placed screw can result in damage to the phone, so extreme care must be taken when repairing this device.

Of the four handsets in the list, the iPhone 7 comes in as the easiest device to source spare parts for—but unfortunately, it also comes with the heftiest price tag. With an average LCD assembly price ranging from $220 to $245, the iPhone 7 has the most expensive screen in this list. As such, AppleCare+ is highly recommended with this device, especially for the clumsy.

The iPhone 7 has gained notoriety for its lack of an audio jack. A rarely-discussed downside of foregoing the inclusion of a headphone jack is how it could potentially affect the iPhone 7's long-term durability. Omitting the audio jack makes sense from a waterproofing standpoint, as there's one less cavity to have to seal. Doing this, however, places undue burden on the charging port, as it effectively doubles its workload and stress. A phone with a damaged headphone jack can still function normally for the most part, but a phone with a damaged charging port will be useless as soon as its battery dies.

3. Google Pixel

The Google Pixel and Pixel XL immediately made a splash upon their release in October 2016, and have never looked back. Replacing Google's Nexus line of smartphones, the Pixel and Pixel XL are rapidly gaining a huge fanbase, with no signs of slowing down.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

Featuring a clean look that's similar in shape and dimensions to Apple's iPhone 7, the Pixel differentiates itself with a glass panel that covers about one-third of the phone's rear chassis. This houses a rear-mounted fingerprint sensor (made of plastic) as well as a camera lens (made of just regular glass). As was the case with the iPhone 7, we chose the Pixel over the Pixel XL due to its size and price for screen assembly ($130 for the Pixel versus $150 for the Pixel XL). Models start at the same price as the iPhone 7—$649.

Google's flagship is encased in aerospace-grade aluminum and Gorilla Glass 4, giving it a premium and sturdy feel that won't bend easily. Though the Pixel proved to be the smoothest handset out of our final four, its overall dimensions made up for it in terms of ergonomics. Coming in at a fairly compact 5.66 x 2.98 x 0.33 inches, the Pixel is very easy to grip and manipulate with one hand. (Note that our slip tests were performed on a Quite Black Pixel, so results may vary with other finishes.)

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

Spare parts for the Google Pixel are abundant and fairly easy to source. Ranging from $110 to $130, the Pixel's screen assemblies are fairly cheap and second only to the V20 in terms of price.

The Pixel is rated IP53 for water and dust resistance, making it the second phone in our list to be officially rated for protection against the elements. This rating means that the Pixel is protected against light splashes like getting caught in a rainstorm, but offers no protection against being completely submerged.

A water test done by Harris Craycraft showed a Pixel surviving a series of splash and immersion tests mostly intact apart from a foggy rear camera. The Pixel doesn't offer the same level of protection against liquid damage that the iPhone 7 does, nor does it cover water damage in its warranty, so care must be taken when around water or drunk people in a crowded bar.

Google Pixel after 30 minutes underwater. Image by Harris Craycraft/YouTube

Much like the iPhone 7, Google's handset repairability has its shares of up and downs. In terms of screen replacement, the Pixel tops the list due to its design. With a careful balance of heating and prying to loosen its adhesive, the screen assembly will pop out, and can be replaced after unscrewing and unplugging the ribbon connector and fastener. From a repair technician's perspective, it's beautiful!

Pixel with its screen off its frame. Note where the paint chipped off the glass along the bottom. Image by JerryRigEverything/YouTube

Unfortunately, repairs performed on other parts, such as the charging port and camera, are far from pretty, and significantly more difficult due to the Pixel's design. The paint underneath the glass panel will scrape off easily, especially if using a metal pry tool. But that's just the tip of the iceberg. The phone's screen assembly itself is very thin and fragile. Prying it out with too much force will crack the paper-thin AMOLED display. Proceed with extreme caution when opening up this device.

The Pixel's shattered screen after a five-foot drop onto concrete. Image by TechRax/YouTube

One final downside: Google's handset also fared the worst in drop tests. In a test performed by TechRax, a drop onto concrete from about 5 feet resulted in the complete destruction of the Pixel's screen.

4. LG V20

The LG V20 has come to be the one bright spot on an otherwise lackluster year for LG, selling 200,000 units in the US within a month of its launch back in October 2016. As it continues to fill the void the Note 7 left, LG's latest handset has become a true flagship its own right.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

The V20 is the largest handset to make it into our list. With an MSRP of $789, it's also the most expensive. And while it comes in last, it certainly doesn't come in least in terms of durability. Notable features are its removable battery, reinforced polycarbonate inner frame, a removable rear panel made from recycled aircraft aluminum, and a Gorilla Glass 4 display.

The LG V20 performed well on both durability and drop tests. Android Authority's drop test showed the V20 surviving chest-height drops relatively unscathed, with its screen finally cracking under the strain of a seven foot drop, though, it was still functional. Out of the four phones in this list, the V20 flexed the most, but survived intact.

The V20's rear cover and battery had a habit of flying off the phone as it impacted the ground during drop tests. As traumatic as it looks, coming apart does dissipate and divert force away from other components, such as the screen assembly, in the event of an accidental drop or impact.

While it may look bad, the LG V20 comes apart on purpose when dropped. Image by LG India/YouTube

LG V20 spare parts are relatively easy to source online. With an average LCD assembly price of $105 to $113, it's also the cheapest out of the four in this list.

LG's premium handset is also the only phone in this list to be rated for impact resistance, with a MIT-STD-810G rating against impacts and drops. The rating system is a little questionable, however, since it states that up to five separate devices can be used for the 26-drop impact test, on a concrete surface that's covered by two inches of plywood. While the test seems fine for an 80-pound .50 caliber machine gun, it sounds iffy for a phone that weighs less than a pound.

If this was the methodology used to test the handset's impact resistance, most, if not every premium handset currently out, would pass and theoretically receive the same rating. We've reached out to LG in order to get a better idea as to how they test for impact resistance, but have so far only received a reply stating that their tests were done from a height of four feet.

The LG V20's troubles don't end there. Although disassembly and screen replacement are straightforward, caution must be taken when transplanting smaller components like its headphone jack, vibrator, volume cable, earpiece, and proximity sensors from the broken screen assembly to the new one. All these small parts are securely taped on and can tear very easily.

The bare mid-frame of a V20. Note the small components that have to be taken off and transferred into a new display assembly. Image by JerryRigEverything/YouTube

Another key weakness becomes apparent once the V20 is disassembled, which is its lack of modularity. Unlike the devices that made our top four, the LG V20 comes with its USB Type-C port soldered directly onto the motherboard. If the charging port ever fails, it'll need to be taken to a technician that specializes in solder reworking.

The charging port on a V20 is soldered on, making repairs difficult. Image by JerryRigEverything/YouTube

Dropping a V20 does also pose a risk of damaging or even losing the battery, especially if it lands on a subway grating. The plastic top and bottom enclosures of the phone will also dent easier than its aluminum-clad competitors in the event of a bad spill, and its larger camera lens (made of just regular glass) means it's more susceptible to scratches and cracks.

The LG V20 also has no ratings against water and dust resistance, and no appropriate water tests were found to determine if it has any unofficial resistance. Proper care should be taken when using this device around water. Its tolerances are looser compared to the other smartphones on the list due to how it's manufactured. The LG V20 would almost certainly fare the worst against liquid damage out of all the handsets in this list.

Image by Katie Puccio/Gadget Hacks

Its overall size can also be a liability for clumsy people with smaller hands. At a little over three inches in width, the LG V20 came in as the widest smartphone in our selection. Its curved rear panel does aid in one-handed use, but its width makes it a little awkward to handle if you have smaller hands. The rear fingerprint scanner, made of plastic, was still easily accessible with barely any strain put on my index finger to reach it. The LG V20 has a pretty smooth texture, but didn't feel as slippery as the Google Pixel, which is supported by the results of our slip tests.

Conclusion

It was an extremely tight race, with the OnePlus 3T eking out a victory over the other handsets in the list, thanks to its ease of repair and premium build materials. In the end, the 3T struck the best balance between all the categories, but that doesn't lessen how well-built all the other flagships are. Any of the phones in this list would be a great choice, but if you've seen your fair share of screen replacements and bent housings, the OnePlus 3T would be your best option.

It's also highly recommended that you always cover your precious smartphone with some sort of protection. A cheap rhinestone-encrusted case bought from a corner bodega is better than going commando on a device that can cost you a car payment if something goes horribly wrong. We use our devices so much that it's often very easy to take their monetary value for granted. As durable as these phones are, it's important to note that they're not bulletproof, and the right drop will break anyone of them and make your wallet bleed.

Cover image by jes2ufoto/123RF

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