The Droid Turbo 2 Is (Almost) Unbreakable. Here’s How Motorola Did It
Looking at its screen, the Motorola Droid Turbo 2 will not bowl you over with its beauty. It’s got a forehead like Peyton Manning, sideburns like Gen. Ambrose Burnside, and a chin like Jay Leno. But there’s so much more to design than aesthetics, and the phone’s marquee feature is an impressive bit of engineering: the screen is shatterproof. Drop it over and over and over again—face down, corner down, behind the back, under the leg—without fear. Trust me on this. I passed it around a bar full of people in various states of drunkenness and encouraged them to try it. The phone survived.
As mind-boggling as that may seem, there’s a simple explanation: no glass. The top two layers of the screen are plastic, which doesn’t shatter—but plastic does scratch. There other major drawbacks to using plastic for a screen, and making the Droid Turbo 2 required more than simply slapping a slab of plastic on the face and calling it done. “The trade-off (for just a simple plastic screen) would likely be a non-working system after a drop,” says Jason Wojak, Motorola vp of engineering and product architecture.
The screen is actually a stack, and each element in that stack is essential, Wojak says. It must respond instantly to your touch, and absorb the impact of your finger without distorting the image or impacting pixel performance. The outermost layer, called the external lens, must be scratch-resistant, and the housing must be up to the abuse people heap upon their phones.
The first line of defense, of course, is a scratch-resistant layer. Motorola chose a user-replaceable peel-off guard. Motorola calls it the “exterior lens,” and it features a proprietary design similar to third-party screen protectors. Below that is the real top layer: a thicker interior lens of polycarbonate, the same type of material used in shatter-resistant eyeglasses. Though the two components are plastic, it’s hard to tell. The screen just feels like glass.
Even if those top layers don’t break, other parts of the display can fail. That’s why Motorola put a reinforcement system for the capacitive touchscreen under the top two layers of display protection. It’s a dual-layer touch system—also made of plastic—that provides backup if anything damages the top touch layer. The doubled-up touch sensors are laid over a flexible OLED display that bends but does not break.
It’s all encased in an aluminum chassis. The metal is exposed around the edges of the phone, and it gives the handset a tough, stable skeleton.
You’d think Motorola’s engineers destroyed a truckload of phones before nailing the ShatterShield, but Wojak says that wasn’t the case. Developing the screen took a few years, and just like you’d do when trying to design the ultimate BBQ brisket smoker, his team used digital simulations to test each iteration. When it came time to test the design, the tech had to endure more than a 5-foot drop. It was subjected to extreme temperatures, all kinds of chemicals. They also subjected it to the dreaded “sit test.”
“This is a combination of tests that involves mimicking a phone in a back pocket,” Wojak explains. “As well as a three-point bend test to determine how much force the units can support before yielding.”
If you were going to pick nits with the Droid Turbo 2 design, they’d be aesthetic. Yes, you can customize the back of it, and many of the options do look nice. But the front of this thing looks a bit dated with those pronounced bezels and big honkin’ Verizon logo (the phone is a Verizon exclusive). Wojack kept mum on whether the tech will appear in other handsets, but did suggest future ShatterShield phones will look slicker. Expect the big bezel, needed to accommodate the five-layer screen, to get smaller. “Some of the underlying ShatterShield technology required minor size tradeoffs,” Wojack says. “We are developing the next generation to be even more aggressive.”
It’s important to remember that “shatterproof” does not mean “indestructible.” It isn’t officially rated as shockproof. Wojak says the phone wasn’t designed to be passed around a bar so every drunk in the borough could drop it face-down onto a tile floor. (My bad.) It survived such a gauntlet, but that’s not the kind of abuse Motorola had in mind. It’s designed to survive an accidental drop, the type of thing that might happen when you miss your back pocket or spill the contents of your purse all over the floor. “It is not designed to be shockproof or withstand abuse scenarios,” Wojack says.
I’ll remember that next time I hand it over to a guy on his fifth Zima.
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