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What will it take to crack the glass on the iPhone 11 and ? That's the question I'm asking myself after putting these phones through eight different drop tests, each time onto hard concrete. Try as I might, the glass on these phones just wouldn't crack. But that doesn't mean the phones were damage-free.
At Apple's September event, Kaiann Drance, Apple's senior director of product marketing, said the iPhone 11 glass is the "toughest ever in a smartphone, on the front and back." We know that glass is custom-made for the iPhone by Corning, the company behind Gorilla Glass.
It's not the first time Apple has made such claims. Last year, marketing chief Phil Schiller said the iPhone XS had "the most durable glass ever built into a smartphone." .
We decided to change things up with this year's drop test. Our test zone was a concrete floor and to make the drops as consistent as possible, CNET Managing Producer Chris Parker built a system that helped each phone fall directly on the screen or on the back. While the drop machine didn't guarantee the phones would land in the desired position every time, it did help us test in a controlled way.
Of course, these tests were not scientific, but they do give us an idea of how the iPhone 11 and 11 Pro fare when dropped without a case.
After each drop, I checked:
- The screen for scratches or cracks
- The back and camera for scratches or cracks
- If the screen still worked
- If the camera still worked
Here's what happened.
Drop 1: 3 feet on the screen and the back
For the first drop I positioned the iPhone 11 to land screen side down. Falling from 3 feet (1 meter), which is about hip (or pocket) height, the phone was not damaged at all when it landed on the screen.
The iPhone 11 Pro gave the same result. There was no visible damage and everything still worked as expected.
I repeated the drop with both phones, except this time they fell on their backs. Same as when they fell screen-side down, there was no damage to report.
Drop 2: 6 feet on the screen and the back
For the next round of drops we took the machine to 6 feet and repeated the same drops.
The iPhone 11 had no damage at all when dropped on the screen or the back.
But the results were a little different for the iPhone 11 Pro. After it fell screen down on the first drop, I could see a small area of discolored or damaged pixels towards the bottom of the screen. There were no cracks on the glass itself, however, and the screen still worked as normal.
Drop 3: 8 feet on the screen and back
I wanted to take these phones even higher, so we set our machine to its limit: 8 feet, 7 inches.
Dropping the iPhone 11 on its screen, the glass again did not crack. But when dropping it on its back, it sustained some damage: a minor scuff on the aluminum bumper and a cosmetic scratch on the top lens housing. The camera itself still worked.
The iPhone 11 Pro fell on its screen first and added a few more small damaged pixels, this time higher up on the screen. Like the iPhone 11, it had some minor cosmetic damage to the camera housing.
While it's unlikely that you would drop your phone any higher than this, we took it to the next level -- these phones were still usable and the glass didn't show any signs of cracking.
Final drop: 11 feet
For the final round, we dismantled the machine and reassembled it as high as we could take it: 11 feet.
I only dropped the phones once from this height, screen-side down. The iPhone 11 fell first on a corner, flipped, then landed screen side down. The iPhone 11 Pro fell first on its side, flipped and landed on its back.
Again, the glass did not break on either of the two phones -- on the front or back. The iPhone 11's rear camera stopped working altogether and just showed a black screen when I opened the Camera app, although the TrueDepth camera was fine. I restarted the phone just to double-check and the camera still showed a black screen.
The iPhone 11 Pro's SIM card tray popped out when it landed but I was able to push it back in. Then, I ran my finger around the edge of the phone and felt a small bulge where the screen did not sit perfectly flush with the stainless steel frame. There was also an area of discoloration at the back of the phone (click to enlarge the photo below).
Does that mean the glass on the iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro is stronger than on previous iPhones? That's a tough call to make given that our previous tests were not conducted in the same way. But it does show that this year's phones can withstand a lot more drops onto concrete than we were expecting.
While neither of the phones cracked like we've seen in previous years, they didn't emerge totally unscathed: The iPhone 11 Pro had some damaged pixels and the iPhone 11's rear camera stopped working after our final drop.
I reached out to Apple for more information and the company provided the following statement: "iPhone 11 and iPhone 11 Pro both are made from the toughest glass ever shipped in the smartphone industry on the front and back. iPhone 11 features an aerospace-grade aluminum band and iPhone 11 Pro features a stainless steel structural band. All go through rigorous real-world testing and are designed to be durable, but not indestructible. If anyone is concerned about dropping their iPhone and damaging it, we suggest using one of the many beautiful cases available to protect iPhone."
I wasn't the only one who tested out the iPhone 11 Pro and found the glass didn't break when dropped from extreme heights. EverythingApplePro got similar results when dropping the phones from 10 feet. However, the glass did break on the final drop, likely because one phone landed on top of the other.
For the ultimate peace of mind, we still recommend putting a case on your phone, as getting it repaired if the glass does crack can be expensive: up to $329 for the screen or $599 for the back if you don't have AppleCare Plus coverage.