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This is the only way to stop a phone screen from breaking in a fall

All this time you thought you were just unlucky when you dropped your phone and it always seemed to land face down, cracking the screen and costing a small fortune to repair. But it's not you, it's science. A new study has revealed the real reason why phones always land on their screens. Luckily it's also discovered the best way to stop a phone screen breaking in a fall.

But first, the fun part. The scientist behind the “why does buttered toast always fall on the buttered side?” research (yes, scientists investigate that stuff), Professor Robert Matthews, has turned his attention to smartphones. Motorola is behind it all, promoting its new ShatterShield glass, but the science is legit. As you may have guessed, it's all in the rotation physics present in a dropped phone.

AndroidPIT Moto X hero broken 2
No, it's not you. Physics makes your phone screen break.  / © ANDROIDPIT

Think of it like throwing knives. If you've ever tried that pastime you'll know that sometimes you get them all and sometimes you get none. This is because the rotation of the knife remains largely stable, the thing that changes is the distance between you and the thing you're throwing knives at. Get the distance right and you'll be joining the circus within minutes.

The same rotation laws apply to toast and smartphones. Measure the distance between drop height and flat surface and you can reliably predict how many rotations an object will make in that distance. Unfortunately for the smartphone and toast lovers out there, the average height from which a phone (or toast) is dropped results in a much higher incidence of the bit you don't want hitting the floor, hitting the floor.

AndroidPIT Motorola dropped phone physics
I don't know about you, but I'm convinced. / © Motorola

It's all a little more complicated than that – there's a fancy formula that pivots on you holding your phone with your fingers in a specific place on the back of the phone (slightly below the center of gravity, so the phone is top-heavy), the acceleration of gravity and the angle at which you hold the phone before dropping it.

The good news is that the research also mentions why the rule is not fool-proof. The formula hangs on the fact that you fumble with your phone as you drop it. The research shows that a phone dropped without resistance at the moment it loses contact with your fingers is actually more likely to land face-up, meaning your screen will be more likely to survive the impact.

smasung galaxy s6 drop test 1
You don't need to suffer screen damage like this if you just go with the flow. / © ANDROIDPIT

So the best way to save a phone screen from breaking in a fall is, ironically enough, to just let it fall. Kind of like the way babies (apparently) don't get hurt when they fall out of windows because they're so chillaxed, a dropped phone you don't fumble with is more likely to escape unscathed.

I wouldn't advise you to try this theory out, but if at all possible, the next time you drop your phone, try to relax and let things take their course. You might just save yourself a few bucks as a result.

Have you ever dropped your phone and broken it? Do you think you could just let it fall?

12 comments

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  • Why would I buy a phone that breaks from falling to begin with?

  • Al JR Nov 30, 2015 Link to comment

    I'm on my neighbours 3rd kid and there's a right mess on the pavement and I can hear sirens....

  • My Nexus 5 has a few times dropped buth witout damage...

  • Nice theory and it makes sense too. May be that's the reason my smartphone screen always survive the drop.

  • Sarvesh Nov 27, 2015 Link to comment

    I dropped my Nokia 3310 while I was in an elevator. It didn't end well. For the elevator. :-P Tbh my lumia 930 withstands all drops and I've had a lot of screen down drops and I didn't have any screen protector on.

  • Mike Nov 27, 2015 Link to comment

    I recently saw someone drop a brand new IPhone in an elevator.

    It did not end well.

  • it's impossible for me to drop my phone and not try saving with my foot, which actually works!! but I'm not recommending, if you gettit wrong ...

  • Dylan S. Nov 27, 2015 Link to comment

    Wow this is amazing! I'm sure this will revolutionise the way drop tests are preformed and there will be a whole ton of YouTube videos testing this theory.

  • Nice piece, and decent analysis. Quite difficult manoeuvre to pull off, though - I think my instinct is always to try to put my foot where I think the phone will land to cushion the fall....

  • From my own experience, I have found that a case that prevents the screen from hitting the ground (in most cases at least) works the best at preventing a shattered screen. I do however find this an interesting way to attempt to keep your screen intact.

    I feel like (based on my many slowmo worthy phone fumbles) most people would have serious trouble learning the trick of just letting go and allowing your phone to fall.

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