Triple-strength Gorilla Glass 3 unveiled at CES

Triple-strength Gorilla Glass 3 unveiled at CES

Summary: Corning has introduced the third generation of its tough Gorilla Glass in Las Vegas, but we won't be ditching those smartphone bumpers and screen protectors just yet.

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Corning's Gorilla Glass provides a welcome degree of damage resistance for a critically important component in a portable computing device — the display. First seen in the original 2007 iPhone, it's now widely used in smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices —over a billion are now out there, according to the company. At CES in Las Vegas on Monday evening, Corning announced the third generation of its flagship product.

Gorilla Glass is an alkali-aluminosilicate glass that's chemically strengthened via a process called ion exchange: the untreated glass is immersed in hot molten salt at around 400°C, causing smaller sodium ions to be replaced by larger potassium ions; as the glass cools, a layer of compressive stress is formed on the surface that gives it increased resistance to scratches and drops. Gorilla Glass 2, unveiled at CES 2012, delivered the same damage resistance as its predecessor with a 20 percent reduction in thickness; the newly announced Gorilla Glass 3 is designed to resist scratches even better and retain more strength when it is scratched. Overall, Corning claims that Gorilla Glass 3 is three times more damage-resistant than its predecessor — a feature it's calling Native Damage Resistance (NDR).

GG3-graphs
It's harder to scratch Gorilla Glass 3, and the new glass remains stronger once scratched than the second-generation product (Source: Corning).

A cautionary tale
Any improvement in durability will be welcome, because today's Gorilla Glass is by no means impregnable, as we recently found to our cost with a review sample of Google's LG-built Nexus 4. Perhaps presciently, we noted in the review that: "We've been carrying the Nexus 4 for a week or so, and found it pretty resistant to scratches and minor bumps. It's not suffered any drops from significant height onto hard surfaces, so we can't comment on its ability to withstand serious mistreatment".

Sure enough, within a couple of weeks of completing the review I managed to drop the Nexus 4 from about chest height onto a London Underground platform. The handset landed on its top right-hand edge, causing a small but significant area of cracking around the front-facing 1.3Mpixel camera:

nexus-4-screen-break
Dropping the Nexus 4 from chest height onto a hard surface is not recommended, even with a Gorilla Glass 2 screen (Photo: Charles McLellan)

I say 'significant' because although some screens with considerably more cracking damage continue working, the top half of ours refused to respond to the touch after its platform encounter, rendering the handset a 'brick'.

There are plenty of reports of cracked Nexus 4 screens — and backs, which (as in the related LG Optimus G) are also made of Gorilla Glass 2. So although Corning's glass is demonstrably more resistant to edge impact than conventional soda-lime silicate glass, there's clearly still some way to go before you can mishandle your phone with impunity. In the meantime, we recommend you buy yourself a bumper case, even if it means obscuring some of your smartphone's fancy design elements.

Scratching the surface
Having accidentally damaged the Nexus 4's original screen, we felt free to give its scratch-resistance a robust examination. Taking a sharp pair of scissors to the glass and pressing really quite hard produced no discernible disfigurement, which is impressive (you can see a similar test on this video). There are reports of screens picking up scratches, though, and this is almost certainly due to abrasion by harder-than-metal material such as sand or grit. If you're likely to get such material in your pocket, or you just want to keep your screen as clean as possible, consider investing in a screen protector as well.

Through the looking glass
Whether it'll be possible to create a glass that's hard enough to be scratch-proof and flexible enough to resist shattering under the most damaging edge impacts is debatable. Gorilla Glass emphasises the scratch-proof route, while another Corning product, Willow Glass (announced in June 2012) is primarily built for flexibility.

We'll be interested to see exactly what Gorilla Glass 3 brings to the smartphone table when it appears in shipping products later this year, but we're not expecting the bumper case industry to fold just yet.

Topics: Smartphones, Hardware, Mobility, Reviews, CES

About

Charles has been in tech publishing since the late 1980s, starting with Reed's Practical Computing, then moving to Ziff-Davis to help launch the UK version of PC Magazine in 1992. ZDNet came looking for a Reviews Editor in 2000, and he's been here ever since.

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19 comments
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  • Gorilla Glass

    I am guessing nokia also uses gorilla glass, what makes nokia phones so tough? I have seen samsung and iphone screens crack easily while n9, lumia 900 & lumia 920 are almost impossible to break.
    hrr4
    • Nokia phones with Gorilla Glass

      I suspect that Nokia phones hold up better due to the way they're constructed (i.e. - they absord sudden shock better than other phones).
      Rodgman
    • N8

      The Nokia N8 uses Gorilla Glass and, having dropped mine (twice) (accidentally) on first asphalt in a parking bay and then on rocky concrete in my drive way,, face first the second time, I can honestly attest to Gorilla Glass's scratch resistance. The top and right edge of the metal casing are nicked from the last fall and the left edge of the case is chipped from the previous fall but the screen looks perfect.
      LaMorte
    • N9 Definitely breakable

      A guy at work has dropped his twice from his top shirt pocket; totally smashed up the front glass both times. Both were tragic days. The second time it happened the phone was in a case, but the case didn't protect the front edges.
      He's recently upgraded to a Lumia 920; I hope his luck is better.
      Anyone with a late model phone, gorilla glass or not, is foolish to not have some sort of cover that protects at least the front edges from drops. It just happens too often.
      radsdau@...
      • N9

        Well i have different results about N9, i have been using it for 2 years now without a protector/cover and its still going great. Not only have i dropped it a dozen times, I even let my toddlers play with it and when they play its not pretty. Still no scrathes and the phone runs great.
        hrr4
  • Plenty of reports of cracked Nexus 4 screens

    ...probably frustrated users trying to use Android.
    WebSiteManager
    • ...frustrated users trying to use android

      Yeah ... you hardly ever see a cracked iphone. Really must be better.
      (that's a joke son)
      cchx111
  • Good Thing.....

    Good thing I bought a Nokia Lumia 920 ..... :)
    straycat5678
  • Where's Corning promoting devices?

    Seems odd to me that Corning is not really making a big deal of those devices that use Gorilla Glass. The inclusion of Gorilla Glass is a big plus in my decision criteria as I have seen way too many broken screens to want to have that happen to me.
    mryanaz
    • This has to do with business deals.

      I've spoken with them extensively about their product and they're rather cagey about mentioning clients on the record because many of their agreements prohibit it. I think it's a matter of upstaging the star.
      andrew.nusca
  • Samsung Galaxy Nexus

    I dropped a Samsung Galaxy Nexus from waist high, and the glass cracked. Total fragile piece of sh#t. Makes me so frustrated that the manufacturers sell devices that will break so easily.
    duckdive@...
    • same here

      I really like the phone overall but the glass is wimpy.
      cchx111
  • Just what do you expect?

    The unit you broke is glass right to the very edge. No wrap around protection at all. It is glass, it will break. Two things might have prevented this. Either sensible construction with plastic wrapped up around the edge of the glass (give up a little prettiness for better function), or a user who isn't stupid enough to drop it.
    GKSeifert
    • Ouch

      But of course... the truth hurts =-) I generally would not consider the second remark, but given how so many people are constantly upgrading phones to impress their friends or co-workers, I cannot argue against it. And sensible construction is a definitive truth and "functionality" can be an attractive selling point... just don't make it like the Panasonic Tough Book rep I came across 10 years back. He insisted the toughbook could survive significant impacts and urged me to toss it a few feet. I was reluctant at first, but then gave in... gave it a small toss and watched it break into 3 pieces with 2 bounces because it landed on its corner edge.
      Never-the-less, I fall victim to the stupid factor often enough myself, so the sensible design factor is a must for me and I hope I never put the screen on my phone to the test.
      tomxfoolery
  • acrylic

    Why don't they use acrylic instead of glass. Acrylic is the material used on helmet visors and bulletproof windows and it can distort a lot and not break.
    if they could just have the LCD not bonded to the surface material and touchscreen then this cracking problem is solved with flexible materials like acrylic. Then we just use screen protectors to protect it from scratches.
    warboat
    • Because acrylic scratches easily

      And if the iPhone 6 came out with an acrylic screen, and people screamed about how easy it was to scratch, and Apple replied, saying "Just get a screen protector to protect it from scratches," I am ONE HUNDRED PERCENT positive, that you would be clamouring to be first in line to condemn them.
      .DeusExMachina.
  • Unbreakable phones?

    Samsung has announced that it will have "unbreakable" phones with a new type of plastic screen on the market this summer. Stay tuned...
    Biotechguy
  • Not statistically significant improvement before 8 Newtons

    The graph provided doesn't show it's better between 0 and 6 Newtons of force. But you appear to have swallowed the hype hook, line & sinker!

    If you look at the error bars in the graph above, one can make the case that there really isn't a difference until 8 Newtons of force (1.8 lbs). It also shows that some of the samples were WORSE than Gen 2Look at how the error-bar "whiskers" of Gen 3 extend into and below the Gen 2 stuff.

    If we can't rely on the press to apply critical thinking, then why do we even bother to read your stuff?
    gallee
  • Why run the glass all the way to the edge?

    Why do manufacturers run the glass all the way to the edge even when the display screen is smaller? It would seem to me that having an increased plastic or metal buffer would save so many phones/tablets.

    It might not be so pretty, but a cracked glass is quite ugly...
    Paul Krueger