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Did the Essential Phone survive our drop test?

This titanium phone supposedly doesn't need a case.

Sean Hollister Senior Editor / Reviews
When his parents denied him a Super NES, he got mad. When they traded a prize Sega Genesis for a 2400 baud modem, he got even. Years of Internet shareware, eBay'd possessions and video game testing jobs after that, he joined Engadget. He helped found The Verge, and later served as Gizmodo's reviews editor. When he's not madly testing laptops, apps, virtual reality experiences, and whatever new gadget will supposedly change the world, he likes to kick back with some games, a good Nerf blaster, and a bottle of Tejava.
Sean Hollister
3 min read
Josh Miller
Watch this: We destroyed the Essential Phone

When we drop-tested the Samsung Galaxy S8 , it wound up with a cracked glass back. When we drop-tested the Moto Z2 Force, the "shatterproof" screen survived -- but its shiny aluminum edges got all chewed up.

Essential performed its own drop tests and claims the phone survived without blemish. That wasn't our result.


But what about the new Essential Phone, from Android co-founder Andy Rubin? With a titanium frame, a ceramic back that shouldn't crack as easily as glass, and a shatter-resistant Gorilla Glass 5 screen, we were optimistic that the new Essential PH-1 could take a beating better than the competition.

And Essential's own claims certainly didn't hurt: The company claims the titanium frame "doesn't scratch, dent or bend," and that it can survive a drop onto solid concrete without a single blemish. "That's why you won't find an area for phone cases on our site," Essential wrote.

So we put that to the test.

Hip-height drop

To simulate the all-too-common experience of trying to put your phone in a pocket or purse -- and badly missing your intended target -- we dropped the Essential Phone from 3 feet (roughly 1 meter) onto solid stone.

According to Essential's claim, the phone should have survived without so much as a mark. 

The reality? Not so much. Even after a single drop, we saw a permanent scuff on the titanium frame -- and a nasty ding in the plastic rim around the screen, too. Are you sure we won't want a case for this phone, Essential?

Enlarge Image

Essential uses a titanium frame for enhanced durability. We got a look inside the company's design process.

Josh Miller/CNET

Still, the Gorilla Glass-covered screen and ceramic back survived without incident. Overall, we're happy with that result.

Selfie-height drop

With the Samsung Galaxy S8, our next test was from 5 feet up, to simulate a fumble when taking a photo with both hands. But let's be real -- it's far easier to drop a phone when you're taking a selfie, way up high, with a single outstretched hand.

That's why we dropped the phone from 6 feet (1.8 meters) for our next test. And since that's higher than the 5.2 feet (1.6 m) that Corning says a Gorilla Glass 5 screen is likely to survive at, we expected to see our first cracks.

Impressively enough, the screen and ceramic back cover survived once again -- while the titanium frame and plastic bezel racked up even more dings and dents. Just the opposite of what we expected, but a good outcome nonetheless.


After a few drops, the Essential Phone's titanium frame definitely suffered dings and dents.

Jim Phelan/CNET

Staircase drop

What's worse than a single drop? How about several drops in a row, bouncing down a rough industrial staircase like the ones at CNET's San Francisco office? 

That was our next test. And for the Essential Phone, it was fatal. Amazingly, the phone survived its first full tumble, but the second cracked not only the Gorilla Glass 5 cover but also the LCD screen underneath. It added further dents and dings to the titanium and plastic, too. But the ceramic back cover survived it all... so we decided to try one last, totally unreasonable test to see if we could break that ceramic.


After the staircase test, the Essential Phone was toast.

Screenshot by Jim Phelan/CNET

Hammer test

Ever tried to hammer in nails with your phone? We doubt it, and you definitely shouldn't start now. It's not a reasonable thing to expect any phone to survive... and honestly, your phone probably doesn't have enough weight behind it to do a good job.

But now we know what it takes to crack that ceramic back: A few direct blows to the back of a nice, big nail. You can see it in our video at the top of this post.

Essential's response

Even if the staircase and hammer tests were a little overboard, the 3-foot and 6-foot drop tests seem to contradict Essential's website. But when we asked the company, it stood by those claims -- only clarifying that when it performed its own drop tests, they were only from 3 feet onto smooth concrete and granite. 

We can't say if our stone surfaces were quite as smooth as theirs, but does it really matter?

The good news: Even though you might have to live with some dents, it's great to see this phone's screen and ceramic back can survive a beating.