Way back when, smartphones would see large performance increases year after year. Those kind of computing gains are now in society's collective rearview mirror, but handset makers keep pulling new tricks out of their hats in an effort to tempt customers. From a durability standpoint, water and dust intrusion resistance have become more widespread over the last couple of trips around the fireball in the sky.
However, shrinking bezels and ever-thinner chassis conspire to maintain screen breakage as a spectre to keep flagship phone owners up at night. Samsung isn't the only company whose engineers are toiling to produce flexible displays, but its “unbreakable” OLED panel is the first to be certified by Underwriters Laboratories. UL is an official test company for the US Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
The Korean manufacturer says the displays use a flexible OLED panel sandwiched between an “unbreakable” substrate and a overlay window. In comparison, most current smartphone screens are covered with some form of glass. Samsung wasn't specific about the nature of the substrate or the overlay, saying simply that the protective layer was “fortified plastic” with transmissivity and hardness “very similar to glass.” We suspect scratch resistance of this mystery material will be the subject of scrutiny once phones packing these displays reach the ever-clumsy public.
Samsung was more upfront about its shatter resistance testing, stating that the displays handled 26 successive tumbles from a height of 4' (1.2 m) without damage to its front or edges. The company says the durability characteristics are retained at temperatures from -32 to 71 degrees. The units were left out, but between Celsius, Fahrenheit, and Kelvin, only Celsius makes any sense with those numbers. The manufacturer says the screens also subsequently survived a drop from 6' (1.8 m) and kept on ticking.
The company didn't provide much other detail about its allegedly-unbreakable displays. The image Samsung provided suggests the technology can be applied to flagship-size phone screens, but it didn't mention the resolution, brightness, or color-reproduction capabilities of the displays. The company also didn't mention pricing or availability, but handing them over for third-party testing suggests the flex-y screens might not be too far in the future.