Gorillas in the Glass

Gorilla Glass. Just the name brings up images of zoo animals running rampant through panes of ordinary glass, shaking their fur free of glistening shards of the stuff, until the gorilla in the lead bonks his nose on Corning’s now ubiquitous “Gorilla Glass.”

We’re up to Gorilla Glass 5, now, apparently, and Facebook tells me it might be prone to scratches. I check; the phone I’m browsing headlines on is a Samsung Galaxy Note 5, not a Samsung Galaxy Note 7, so I’m only using Gorilla Glass 4. Good. I can chuck my phone into the poison ivy patch with no qualms.

Wait, that’s not the kind of scratches they’re talking about. Excuse me while I get coffee. It’s early, yet.

Realizing I don’t want to retrieve a phone from a poison ivy patch, no matter how unscathed the phone might be, I polish the screen on my PJs and remember that I’m not touching the Gorilla Glass 4 at all – what I’ve got here is a lovely sheet of Otterbox Alpha Glass.


Shatter- and scratch-resistance isn’t why I’m using Alpha Glass, though.

It’s Just a Phone…

My Samsung Galaxy Note 5 is the first phone I’ve owned that’s ever been put into a pricey case. The saleswoman at T-Mobile talked me into it, showing me how thin and delicate my new phone was. How easily it could slip through the fingers. Her colleague showed me a phone with a shattered screen. It made me appreciate my virtually indestructible Nokia phones of the past. I reminded myself that I am not thirteen; I don’t typically throw my phone across a parking lot in a hissy fit of adolescent rage. But they had me – all it takes is that one time… Looking at the Otterbox cases, I was reminded that if I were ever caught in a back alley without a working cell tower, I might have to use the phone as a weapon. The Samsung Galaxy Note 5 doesn’t look like it could make a dent in a bad guy’s forehead.

So, I bought the Defender Series case. It has a built in screen protector, whether you think you need it or not. And a case that looks a little like something the military might use to haul machine guns. Within a week, I’d managed to test it by tossing my phone across the kitchen onto ceramic tile. My Samsung Galaxy Note 5 – and the case! – were unscathed. Maybe that extra $60 spent on the case was a good investment, after all.

Not so fast! I began to notice that when I used the phone as a drawing tablet, sketching and painting with my favorite ArtRage app, an iridescent film appeared on the screen. It was kind of trippy, but annoyingly distracting after a while. I removed the case and was relieved to see that the colorful patterns on it disappeared. I mentioned this on Twitter, and Otterbox support (@OtterBoxCS) offered a number of helpful suggestions, including one to lightly dust the inner surface of the screen protector with baby powder. This worked for a little while, but as soon as I started using the stylus regularly, I’d have to repeat the treatment. The baby powder was becoming as much of an annoyance as the iridescent patterns.

Oh, Sir Isaac!

These patterns are often described as looking like an oil slick, but they are really a phenomenon called “Newton’s Rings.” I was about to throw in the towel and remove the screen protector, but it was built into the case. Otterbox support to the rescue: They suggested trying the Commuter Series case with an Alpha Glass screen protector.

I experimented a bit, later, and learned that I could also simply remove the plastic screen protector from the Defender case and still use it with the Alpha Glass, but the Commuter Series doesn’t have a built-in screen protector so it is completely compatible with the Alpha Glass right out of the box. Either approach works, and I highly recommend the Alpha Glass if you use a screen protector; it solves the problem of Newton’s Rings and you won’t even know it’s there. There’s a new version – I just ordered one – that adds privacy.

Mohs Not Always Better

But back to the Gorilla Glass 5 scratch test. Here is the video that caused the “trending” news that Gorilla Glass 5 wasn’t all it was cracked up to be, and Corning’s response to it:


I believe them. I’m a huge believer in science, and the science makes sense. But most of us don’t go around with a set of Mohs picks, scratching up our stuff for the entertainment and enlightenment of YouTube viewers. We drop our phones on the ceramic tile floors of our kitchens. We toss them into the tub while bathing Junior. We carelessly throw them into a purse – right along with a jangling ring full of keys, pens, and other junk. We sit on them. It’s hard to simulate all that in a lab, but companies like Corning and Samsung do their best to try. I’ll put a rambunctious toddler up against a lab test, any day, and my money’s on the child. The real world is messy and likes to throw us all curve balls.

So I still recommend the Alpha Glass.

4 thoughts on “Gorillas in the Glass”

    1. Thank you. I like both; I’m sorry to see the decline of Nokia, but I wouldn’t write off Windows phones just yet – the HP Elite x3 is pretty awesome. (Full disclosure: I work for HP. But I wouldn’t mind having an x3. Right now, it’s for the business market, primarily. But it’s a sweet phone. Even my husband – pretty firmly a flip phone fan who thinks smartphones are the antithesis of productivity – kind of likes it!)

    1. I think that’s what the Alpha Glass is. I’ve not dropped my phone in a way that would shatter it or the screen, but have seen one in the store that survived what would’ve otherwise been a fatal drop.

Comments are closed.