Synthetic sapphire smartphone screens: besides being fun to say five times real fast, they sound like they could be the future of advanced damage-proof smartphone designs. After hearing about the tech in some super-expensive smartphones, we got to check out a pretty impressive demo at the Mobile World Congress, and later GT Crystal Systems was nice enough to give us a tour of its manufacturing facility. With sapphire screens starting to sound less outlandish and more likely to actually end up on an affordable commercial device within a span of a few years, we were getting pretty excited. Well, Gorilla Glass maker Corning just had to go and stick a pin in our balloon, spreading the word that sapphire might not be an ideal material for smartphone screens, after all.
Corning ran its own tests on both Gorilla Glass and sapphire screen material, and while it concedes that sapphire is more resistant to scratches, that’s only part of the equation.
The problem is how brittle sapphire can be when formed into a big sheet like this. While it manages fine in smaller form factors, like a watch crystal of camera lens, the sizes we’re talking about for smartphones allow greater forces to be exerted upon the material. As such, Gorilla Glass came out ahead in a tumble test, simulating real-world smartphone wear and tear.
Granted, Corning has a vested interest in convincing us that Gorilla Glass is the way of the future, but that doesn’t mean that we can just ignore its point here. Going forward, we would all be wise to remember that while sapphire does have some remarkable properties, it’s not the bulletproof end-all-be-all solution it might appear to be.