Samsung Display has announced that it has developed a truly "unbreakable" display panel, after receiving certification from Underwriters Laboratories (UL) to verify the claim. The base feature of the panel is that it's made of flexible OLED, like many of Samsung's modern phones, but in this case it has a substrate that's been designed to not give out with repeated impact.
Rather than go with a super-hard glass, Samsung is using fortified plastic that's flexible.
The traditional way to have a super-tough screen was to simply harden the covering that went over top of it. Phone makers have been covering displays with synthetic sapphire for years, which is much stronger than traditional glass found on phones. Synthetic sapphire is extremely difficult to break when reinforced properly by the phone's hardware, and when paired with an OLED panel underneath the entire package is very rugged. But it can eventually break, because it's brittle. This "unbreakable" panel from Samsung is covered by a fortified plastic rather than glass, which makes it flexible during impact.
Samsung claims that the fortified plastic in use here is very similar to glass in terms of its transmissivity (how well light and RF can pass through) and hardness, while being dramatically more flexible. In UL's testing, the display panel was subjected to 26 successive 4-foot drops without damage, and also continued working in extreme temperatures. Samsung notes that the panel was also tested for drops at 6 feet, well above the current standard test, without issue.
Though the display may not be easily breakable, the concern with a plastic-based display covering is how easily it picks up scratches with prolonged use. The last time Motorola tried that, it definitely didn't work out for the company.
This isn't just for phones — Samsung envisions applications in automotive, military and education.
This type of panel is still a good ways off from being put to use in any commercially available smartphones, so don't get your hopes up for the Galaxy Note 9 — or the Galaxy S10, for that matter — to have anything like this. To that point, Samsung isn't saying that this is being developed solely for consumer electronics. The company notes that it could also be put to good use in other applications such as car center consoles, mobile military devices, portable game consoles and education-focused tablets — it's pretty easy to see why each one of these areas could benefit from a high-quality screen that's also made to take extra abuse without breaking.
But Samsung's flexible OLED panels felt like a crazy tech demo at one point too, and yet they were eventually integrated into every flagship phone the company sells over time. With rumors of Samsung working on a "foldable" smartphone, this sort of technology could definitely be a factor in those types of products being viable. At a bare minimum, being able to market an "unbreakable" display in a non-folding phone is also a nice feather in your cap.
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