Chris Parker / CNET

Apple has branded its new iPhone 12 new type of glass called ceramic shieldIt is the hardest glass that has ever been used on a smartphone. Every year Apple makes a similar claim about its glass, but this time it may be different because this is no ordinary glass. While it looks and feels just like glass, the ceramic shield that covers the screens, as the name suggests, is a combination of glass and ceramic (which is harder than most metals). It's a whole new cover material for the iPhone, and it's unlike anything we've ever tested before.

And testing it is exactly what we did. To see how this new material could withstand the elements, we put two brand new iPhone 12s through some scratch-and-drop tests. And as it turns out, this new glass is incredibly durable.

iPhone 12: Breaking the Glass

The ceramic shield only covers the front (screen) of the iPhone 12. The back is covered with the same glass as last year's iPhone 11, which Apple says is the toughest in the industry. Both types of glass are made by Corning.

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The glass of the iPhone 11 (left) is curved upwards, while the glass of the iPhone 12 (right) is flush with the frame.

Vanessa Hand Orellana / CNET

Aside from the glass, the design is the other factor that can play a role in how well this phone withstands drops. The iPhone 12's glass sits flush with the metal frame and doesn't curve like previous models, revealing more glass. Apple says the design choice alone makes the front and back panels twice as durable as older models.

All four models of the iPhone 12 (iPhone 12 Mini, iPhone 12, iPhone 12 Pro and iPhone 12 Max) have the same ceramic plate on the screen and the same type of glass on the back. The only difference in material is the frame. The two professionals have a stainless steel frame, while the Mini and the 12 are made of aluminum. The performance of the frame may vary depending on the material, but the glass should offer the same protection across the board. We used the normal iPhone 12 in blue and green for our tests.

Scratch 1: It survived the bag / purse frenzy

For the first test, I put the iPhone 12 in a tiny makeup bag with some of the most common culprits that scratch our phones: a set of keys, half a dozen quarters, and a metal pin. I shook the bag vigorously for about 30 seconds to simulate what would happen after a few weeks hopping around in a purse or bag before inspecting it.

After wiping the phone with a cloth, I couldn't find a single scratch on the glass or frame of the iPhone 12.

Click the video below to see the results of the scratch and drop tests.


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iPhone 12: How hard is the glass?

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Scratch 2: No scratches on the screen after sliding on the tile

Next, I wanted to see how the screen would hold up if it came in contact with a hard surface like a marble table, kitchen counter, or bathroom floor. I slid the iPhone 12 back and forth on a textured ceramic tile 10 times, first along the screen, then on the back of the phone.

The screen had a lot of grime from the tile, but after removing it I tried to find any visible damage to the glass. Testing the back of the phone was more difficult. The raised camera module doesn't leave the phone flat on its back, so I made a few slides with the phone at an angle. It didn't damage the glass, but it did rub off some of the metallic paint on the frame around the lower camera. It was barely noticeable and the lenses themselves were still in pristine condition. Then I did it again with the camera module hanging on the edge of the tile. After examining the back closely, I was finally able to see two microscopic scratches, one on the silver Apple logo and one directly below it on the blue glass. Both were thinner than a fine strand of hair and about an inch long.

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The two tiny scratches on the back of iPhone 12 from sliding it on floor tiles. The screen came out just fine.

Vanessa Hand Orellana / CNET

Scratch 3: Rubbing on sandpaper made a mark

After passing the two scratch tests with flying colors, I decided to do another (extreme) test on this iPhone 12: rubbing with 80-grit sandpaper. This is probably the real-life equivalent of sliding your phone down a driveway or sidewalk, whatever hopefully not happening too often.

I rubbed the phone over the sandpaper 10 times on both sides with light pressure. This time both sides of the phone were scraped off. The screen suffered the most damage as the lines ran horizontally through the center of the phone. Some of them were deep enough to be felt with my fingernail, but it was still in a working state. The back of the phone shows significantly less damage due to the protection provided by the raised camera module, but has visible scratches in the center and on the lower edges. The metallic finish on the lens frames had continued to peel off, but the lenses themselves were still scratch-free.

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Vanessa Hand Orellana / CNET

Scratching the phone will affect the glass and make it more likely to break if you fall. So my colleague, CNET CEO Chris Parker, used another brand new iPhone 12 for our drop tests on the sidewalk.

Drop 1: 3 feet with the screen side down

One of the most common situations of dropping your phone is when it is plugged in and unplugged. Dropping a phone from waist height can be harmless. If it lands on the street or on the sidewalk, the screen is likely broken.

If dropped from waist height, the top of the iPhone 12 will touch the floor first, then the bottom. Then it jumped in the air one more time before landing flat on the sidewalk as intended.

The aluminum frame had a few dents on the edges of the phone, but nothing serious.

Drop Test 2: 3 feet, backside down

Next, Chris dropped the same drop, but this time with the back of the phone to the floor.

The iPhone 12 appears to be top heavy: it landed much the same as before, hitting the top first (where the camera module is located) and then the bottom. Eventually it landed face down on the sidewalk.

The main difference with this drop was the landing sound, a louder sound than before. Sure enough, when we turned it over, we noticed that the bottom half of the phone was broken. The edge felt a bit rough, mostly from the dents on the frame, but no broken pieces fell from the back of the phone, and it still felt smooth despite the cracks.

With cracked backs, we only narrowed our drops to the screen.

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The second teardrop shape at waist height broke the back glass of our iPhone 12.

Chris Parker / CNET

Drop 3: 6 feet, 6 inches, screen side down

This is about as high as Chris could drop the phone without using a ladder.

The top left corner of the screen, opposite the camera module, hit first, then the right side, and then the left until it flipped up on the back of the landing screen. The most noticeable dent was at the top where it first hit, and it almost looked like it had cracked the screen right where it hit the metal frame. But after rubbing it off we found that it was just scraps of metal from the frame and the glass was still in perfect shape.

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The iPhone 12's aluminum frame absorbed the brunt of the 6-foot drop.

Chris Parker / CNET

Drop 4, 5, and 6: 9 feet, screen side down

Since the screen was still strong, we decided to go even higher and use a stepladder to get 9 feet. Again, this isn't a realistic drop unless you're sliding your phone off a second floor balcony, but we wanted to see how far we can get it.

At 9 feet it became even more difficult to control the landing. While Chris aimed to drop it flat on the screen, the iPhone 12 had a mind of its own and landed almost exactly like the previous 6 foot drop. The top right corner of the screen hits the ground first, then bounces off the left side and lands with the landing screen facing up.

The dent in the upper right corner of the frame deepened, but the screen survived again.

We repeated this drop two more times in hopes that it would eventually land flat on his face, but the weight of the camera made it difficult for her to land at that angle, especially at this height. The iPhone 12 eventually landed screen down on the last drop, but only because it bounced off the side of the porch step. The frame still had a few bumps and bruises, but the screen still looked like new after three consecutive drops from 9 feet away. The only way from there would have been to climb the roof or rent a scissor lift, which we weren't exactly prepared for.

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Our iPhone 12's screen survived without cracking after we dropped it on the sidewalk six times.

Chris Parker / CNET

Let's sum it up

Since our tests aren't scientific, we can't say the screen is stronger than any other phone on the market, but we can definitely say that our iPhone 12 was incredibly difficult to crack (and scratch) even on tiles and sidewalk .

However, the back of the iPhone 12 doesn't seem to have the same drop resistance as the screen. Even if you're comfortable with this phone without a screen protector, we recommend – and Apple – using the iPhone 12 or iPhone 12 Pro with a case, since swapping the screen or back without the Apple Care Plus cover costs between $ 279 costs up to $ 549 depending on the repair.

In a statement to CNET, Apple said, "The iPhone 12 and iPhone 12 Pro represent the greatest leap in durability the iPhone has ever seen … iPhone 12 models have been rigorously tested in the field and are designed to last, but not indestructible. If someone is concerned about dropping their iPhone and damaging it, we recommend using one of the many beautiful cases available to protect your iPhone. "

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