updated 02:00 am EDT, Wed May 1, 2013
S4 did not even beat predecessor Galaxy S III in slide, dunk, drop tests
In addition to news from Consumer Reports that Apple's iPhone provided the best after-sale support, insurance firm SquareTrade has reported that the hardware is pretty solid as well. Tested against both the new flagship Samsung smartphone the Galaxy S4 and its predecessor the Galaxy S III, the S4 score very poorly on a "torture test." Though all three smartphones were considered "medium risk" on a scale of 1 (hardy) to 10 (fragile), the iPhone 5 scored a 5, the S III scored a 6.5 and the new S4 rated a 7.
The tests were devised to reproduce conditions that might cause accidents with smartphones in real-world circumstances. To that end, the devices were rated for grip, weight and size and then tested for durability by being dropped, skidded across a table and dunked briefly underwater. None of the tested phones were in any kind of case.
One area in which the Galaxy S4 outperformed the Galaxy S III was in the "dunk" test, where it continued to function after being momentarily dropped in water. Like the iPhone 5, all functions worked; the Galaxy S III lost the use of its speakers in the same test. A four-foot drop test showed both the S4 and S III's screens being cracked, while the iPhone tended to fall on its edge which helped protect the screen. The iPhone 5 had previously gone head-to-head with the Galaxy S III last September and won out, but the fact that the S4 actually performed worse than the S III comes as a surprise.
The S4 has received mixed reviews since its debut, with most reviewers saying that while it is a worthwhile competitor to other premium smartphones, it still doesn't quite match up to offerings from Apple and HTC. Many of the new features are seen to be "gimmicky" and the plastic casing of the phone gives it a cheaper (and apparently slipperier) feel than either the iPhone 5 or HTC One, both of which have metal bodies.
The slide test used by SquareTrade showed off the issue with plastic casings, allowing the S III and S4 to be skidded much further than the iPhone. The two Samsung phones also fared poorly on a grip test. All three models were rated about the same on weight ("neutral") and all scored badly on size, the latter being something of an odd result as all three models offer different screen sizes. Despite doing better on the dunk test, the Galaxy S4 was seen to be a regression on durability from the Galaxy S III.
SquareTrade, which is in the business of offering third-party warranties on tech devices, said that smartphones (or more accurately, their owners) fare poorly overall in durability tests. The company estimates that one in three users will break their devices within the first year, and one in eight owners will damage their device within six months. Apple and others have recently modified their warranty policies to allow for one- or two-time exceptions to the "user abuse" clause with a small additional fee of around $50 per incident, but only if the consumer purchases the extended warranty.