I typically recommend that people who have a glass-backed phone consider picking up a case to keep their phone looking fresh over months and even years. I often do the same for my own phones, though I don't typically use them long enough to warrant the "long-term protection" argument. Unfortunately, with the Note 9, I didn't get anywhere near the "long-term" testing phase before I really wish I had a case on it.
While pulling bags out of the trunk of my car, I dropped my completely unprotected Note 9 from about four feet onto a jagged concrete floor, hitting the concrete wall next to it on the way down. Expletives were uttered as I reached down to pick up what was sure to be the phone equivalent of a crime scene. Though I haven't shattered one of my own phones before, I've seen many people do so and countless others tell me about their experiences.
To my extreme surprise, the Note 9 survived. Yes, there's damage — that much is to be expected from any phone, especially one made out of curved panes of glass. But the damage wasn't critical; it was barely beyond cosmetic.
The extent of the damage is this: a couple small scuffs on the metal edges near the corners, and two portions of cracked glass about an inch in length on the top-left and bottom-right corners. Really, that's it — from a four-foot drop onto concrete without any protection.
The cracks themselves aren't even as bad as they look at first glance. For whatever reason, the glass cracked in a way that it didn't make it all the way through the pane. Of course the cracks spidered out from the metal edge where the impact occurred, but the cracks are underneath the surface of the glass, not all the way through — so you can't actually feel them from the top, meaning there's no chance of cutting my hand or snagging the glass on fabrics as I use the phone. With how many glass-backed phones I've seen that look like they were run over by a truck, this gives me confidence that Samsung (and Corning, maker of the glass) have done some work on this durability testing.
The small scuffs in the metal were to be expected. Most of my metal phones have such damage without any major drops. Aluminum is a pretty soft material as far as metals go (stainless steel is much harder, for example), and it's no match for hitting concrete from this height. Knowing this also gives us insight into what likely caused the glass cracks here. You can see that a vast majority of the glass is undamaged, despite the massive drop. The only actual damage points on the glass come from the glass impacting the metal frame, not the concrete. As the phone hits the concrete, the metal and glass flex; and because the metal is softer, it bends more and hits the less-flexible glass, which causes it to give way and crack at that point.
If the phone were all aluminum, the flexibility of the metal would actually be useful because it has more room to dissipate that movement. But holding onto a glass pane, it was likely a major factor in the damage that did occur. This shows you just how seriously strong this glass is — if you were to drop an object the same size and weight of this phone, but with just glass on the back supported by perhaps plastic or rubber instead of metal framing, I don't think it would've cracked at all. And even though it did, the damage was primarily cosmetic and not critical.
The purpose of this story isn't to solicit a mixture of grimaces and empathy from Android Central readers. No, the moral of the story here is that the Galaxy Note 9 is surprisingly robust. I would never have done a purposeful drop test on this phone, or any other phone, because that really isn't my sort of thing. But I found it so surprising how well the Note 9 took this type of typical drop onto concrete that I had to share. Not only was there no internal damage nor issues with the display or cameras, the only rear panel damage was effectively just cosmetic. All this from a glass-laden Samsung phone, which is typically mired online for being too fragile and too easy to irreparably damage.
The Note 9, at least in my experience, was able to take a serious amount of punishment from a drop that nobody should expect a phone to take unless it is purposefully built to be rugged. But that doesn't mean you should subject your shiny new Note 9 to such an amount of damage on purpose. To keep the damage you see here from even happening, pick from one of the dozens of awesome Note 9 cases out there. (The one shown above is the Samsung Rugged Protective Cover The results of my drop only show you that there's more of safety net here than you think — if it were to be dropped or roughed up without a case, there's a good chance it'll survive at least once.
Whether you go with something thick or thin, covering the screen or not, your $1000 phone deserves a little extra protection. Just look at the photos above, and you'll feel the same way.
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Andrew was an Executive Editor, U.S. at Android Central between 2012 and 2020.