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Galaxy S10 Plus ceramic vs. glass: Which phone survived our drop test?

Is the ceramic model worth the extra $250? We put a ceramic S10 Plus and a glass S10 Plus through our extreme drop tests to find out.

Angela Lang/CNET

Samsung's new Galaxy S10 Plus has the same signature curves and aluminum frame as previous models. It's a great-looking combination that hasn't been so great at surviving our drop tests. The glass backs on both the Galaxy S8 and Galaxy S9 cracked on the first drop from hip height.

This time around, however, the glass on the front of the S10 Plus is made of Gorilla Glass 6 while the back is covered in Gorilla Glass 5 or ceramic, your choice. The previous models had Gorilla Glass 5 on both sides. 

But buying the ceramic S10 Plus will cost you at least $250 more than the glass S10 Plus. Reason being the $999 base model with 128GB of onboard storage is only available win a glass back, once you bump up to the 512 GB or 1TB models it automatically switches to ceramic. Aside from the higher storage capacity, the main reason why you would spend more on a ceramic model would be durability. Samsung notes that the ceramic models have added strength, durability and scratch resistance compared to their glass counterparts. 

Material 

Storage

Price

Glass (Black, white, flamingo pink, blue, black)

128 GB

$999.99

Ceramic (Black, white)

512 GB

$1,249.99

Ceramic (Black, white)

1 TB 

$1,599.99

To test out Samsung's claims and find just how much tougher the ceramic S10 Plus is than the glass, we subjected a glass S10 Plus in prism blue and a black ceramic S10 Plus to a drop test.

It's worth noting both phones come with a preinstalled in-screen protector out of the box. Samsung recommends keeping it on the phones, so that's exactly how we dropped them.

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Drop 1: Hip height (3 feet), back side down

I started off with a drop from pocket height, or about 3 feet (90 cm) with the back hitting first to test out the two different materials. This is a natural height from which people tend to drop their phones. This is also the same impact that cracked the backs of our Galaxy S9 and Galaxy S8.

Both phones' aluminum frames cushioned the fall a bit, but they both hit back side first as intended. The glass one bounced off the ground, flipped over mid air and actually landed with the back facing up.

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Glass S10 Plus

I could immediately see that the back glass of the phone had survived with just a bit of debris from the cement sidewalk and a few small scratches on the glass right where it curves to meet the aluminum frame. The screen protector on our glass S10 Plus already had a few bubbles and debris upon inspection, but nothing too serious on the front. The brunt of the damage was to the frame, with a few scrapes on the top border between the glass where it likely hit first.

Ceramic S10 Plus

The ceramic S10 Plus had similar damage, with just two tiny lighter-colored spots on the top right hand corner of the ceramic back, and some scrapes on the aluminum frame.

Drop 2: Hip height (3 feet), screen side down  

Next up, we repeated the same drop, but with the screen facing down. At this point both phones still had the screen protector on.

Neither one landed completely flat on the floor, but they did hit the screen first, then bounced, flipped over and made their final landing screen side up.

Glass S10 Plus

The screen protectors on both phones were noticeably damaged, with the bits of cement debris making bubbles below the surface. I decided to remove them at this point because they interfered with visibility and I need to assess the damage underneath. Only the sides of the glass screen that the screen protector wasn't able to cover had any visible damage. There were a few minimal scratches on the bottom corner of the glass, but the more visible scratches were again on the frame.

bubbles

This is what the screen protector looked like on our S10 Plus after two falls from hip height (3 feet).

Celso Bulgatti/CNET

Ceramic S10 Plus

After taking the screen protector off the ceramic model, I noticed some small dents on the bottom right hand side of the glass, right where the screen protector ends and the glass starts to curve to meet the aluminum frame. It might not have been noticeable unless you were looking for it, but it was definitely enough to compromise the integrity of the glass.

Even with the few bumps and bruises, these phones had already proven to be tougher than their predecessors after surviving two falls from 3 feet. So we kept going.

Drop 3: Eye level (5 feet), back side down

This time we raised them up to 5 feet before letting them free fall onto the sidewalk, back side down to test out the glass and ceramic backs. The glass S10 Plus landed nearly flat on the floor with a cringe-worthy slapping sound, while the ceramic phone flipped over mid fall and landed screen side down (not as we had intended). 

Glass S10 Plus

I didn't even have to turn over the phone to know what was coming: The sound said it all. And sure enough, the glass on the back (including the glass on the three-camera module) was completely shattered. It had spiderwebs extending outward from the right hand side of the phone, moving up the middle and ending on the other side. With two of the three camera modules completely blocked by the cracks on the glass that covered them. The aluminum frame also had a few more dings on the side it hit, but the screen, which didn't touch the floor this time, was still in working order as expected. 

galaxy-s10-plus-drop-test-8

The back of our glass S10 Plus shattered after a drop from 5 feet. 

Angela Lang/CNET

Ceramic S10 Plus

The ceramic back didn't look any worse for the wear. But the screen on this phone, which is what sustained most of the impact, was broken -- both the glass and the AMOLED module on the back, which didn't even turn on. The only evidence of a functioning screen was a thin flickering stripe at the top, while the rest was black. There were some hairline fractures throughout the entire front of the class, but the worst-hit areas were the corners. Both top corners of the glass had been shattered while the bottom left-hand corner of the glass had a dent the size of a pencil lead and exposed the inside of the phone. The aluminum frame directly below this corner was also severely scratched, dented and pushed in. 

20190310-003645

The dent on the side of the screen of the ceramic S10 Plus after a 5 foot drop. 

Vanessa Hand Orellana/CNET

Drop 4: Eye level (5 feet), back side down

Because we were mainly interested in testing out the material on the back of the phones, we decided to retire the glass S10 Plus and run the same five-foot test on the ceramic phone. 

Ceramic S10 Plus

This time it actually did hit with the ceramic back as intended, although it did bounce off the side a bit before landing. Obviously the screen had been rendered useless at this point, but the back didn't even seem like it had been dropped again and I struggled to find additional damage. It still had the two small specs from the original drop, and a few tiny marks on the metal camera frame, but that was it. Time to raise the stakes!

Drop 5: Above my head (6 feet +), back side down

At this point we were only interested in testing out the ceramic back, so we continued with a drop from as high as I could reach with two hands (a bit over 6 feet). 

Ceramic S10 Plus

The height of this fall coupled with the fact that my hands were shaking on this unseasonably frigid San Francisco day made it hard to keep the phone steady before dropping it. So while it did land back side down and even slid across the cement sidewalk, the sides of the phone took most of the impact. That said, I was still shocked to find that the ceramic didn't take any additional damage -- not even so much as a scratch. The aluminum frame on the camera did have a few extra dents, but that's minimal considering the height at which it was dropped and the fact that this was the fourth time this phone had been dropped. Which is why we decided to drop it one final time. 

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Drop 5: Above my head (6 feet +), back side down again

The phone bounced a bit on the bottom edges before landing flat on the floor, back side down as intended. 

Ceramic S10 Plus

When I first reached down and turned it over I couldn't see any damage on the back of this phone, which I was hard to believe at this point. But on closer inspection I noticed a small hairline fracture on the glass that covers the camera module with a barely visible line running through the flash and the third lens. The ceramic looked nearly pristine, with just a few microscopic specs (smaller than a grain of sand) near the edge where the ceramic curves into the frame. 

galaxy-s10-plus-drop-test-4

The back of the ceramic S10 Plus (left) after six drops compared to the back of the glass S10 Plus (right after three falls).

Angela Lang/CNET

Let's break it down

Based on this highly unscientific test, it would seem that Samsung's claims are right: The ceramic back on the S10 Plus is stronger and holds up better to scratches than its glass counterpart. If you're accident prone, or want to rock this phone case-free it may be worth the extra investment. 

But as we saw in our tests, a stronger back doesn't guarantee a stronger screen. So even if you decide to splurge on the ceramic S10 Plus, you should still leave the screen protector Samsung provides on the phone, buy a third-party screen protector or put a case on it with a thicker bumper that protects the exposed edges. 

That doesn't mean you should go case-free on this one. I'd still cover it with a case as soon as you take it out of the box or tack on the warranty.