I know phones don't have feelings (at least I'm fairly certain they don't… yet) but I cannot help but flinch and gasp when I see them heated, dropped, poked, frozen, and water-boarded.
I know this now because I watched Samsung put its handsets, including the new Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5, Galaxy Z Flip 5, and your best Samsung Galaxy smartphones through all these grueling tests. It was fun to watch but also a little anxiety-inducing.
This week I've been in Seoul, South Korea for the unveiling of Samsung's latest foldable handsets, the Galaxy Z Fold 5 and Galaxy Z Flip 5. As part of the festivities, Samsung invited me and other tech journalists to its headquarters in Suwon, South Korea.
Inside Samsung's Lab
Nestled among the hulking gray buildings and splashes of greenery on Samsung's campus is the unassuming Reliability Lab, the place where Samsung Galaxy devices face the harsh reality of human ownership.
Inside, and during a tour on which, sadly, we were not allowed to take cameras, is a cluster of office cubes, each one covered by a giant, fake, green palm frond which is there for the sole purpose of protecting the workers from the harsh, overhead fluorescent lights.
We were led past the desk jockeys to a series of test rooms, each one devoted to a specific type of phone torture. Samsung has been testing its products in this way since 1996. (We've put Samsung's new foldable through rather less rigorous testing for our hands-on Galaxy Z Fold 5 review and Galaxy Z Flip 5 review.)
Over the span of roughly an hour, we were led from one grand guignol of phone abuse to another, starting with the Thermal Test Lab. With its face-to-face desk, the space didn't look all that different from the cubes just outside it. But on one desk I spotted a small metal and lucite cube with a pair of Samsung foldables.
The Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 was running a game, and next to it was a Samsung Galaxy Z Flip 5 running a YouTube video. Perched above the phones was a thermal camera. It didn't look like either handset was working too hard, but on the lab tech's screen, there was the readout from that thermal camera, where the Z Fold 5 was depicted in shades of red, indicating it was, in fact, working hard and heating up, while the Flip appeared mostly green.
Tests on everyday tasks
Samsung also tests a phone's ability to stay cool through more mundane activities like scrolling a website. Instead of using Samsung workers to sit there and swipe through endless Reddit pages, it has a robot doing the tapping and swiping.
None of these tests seemed too stressful, but as we walked to the next room and I read a large wall sign that read, 'Reliability Group: Creative quality, No challenge no change,' I noticed that each room we visited featured increasingly intense and, yes, disturbing tests.
In the Durability Lab, we found robots repeatedly picking up and dropping phones from heights that varied from one to three inches off the ground. The click and clack of the phones hitting metal was annoying, but not too disturbing.
The tumble test was another matter. I watched as long gray metal boxes with pressboard bottoms tumbled end-over-end while Samsung Galaxy phones noisily rolled around inside, falling as much as four feet from one end of the metal box to the other. I found myself cringing each time I heard the phones clattering to the base.
Samsung, by the way, couldn't tell us just how many tumbles these phones withstand.
Behind the lucite windows of another pair of test boxes, mechanized systems dropped rubber and metal balls on foldable screens. I didn't notice any of them cracking, but I also wondered how they might fare against a hard-edged metal block.
Opposite that, a metal rod was being pressed a little too hard on a Galaxy Z Flip 5 screen in an effort to stress-test the display. I tensed with each press, waiting for the ultra-thin glass to shatter.
Surviving wear and tear
Sometimes durability is less about trying to break the phone and more about how well it holds up to normal wear and tear. I saw more than my share of robots folding and unfolding Galaxy Flip and Fold phones. I'll admit that I wished some of the bots would over-flex the handsets, just to see how well the smartphone's Flex Hinges handled it.
As for how many times Samsung does these tests, company representatives explained they test how many times someone might fold the phone in a given time period and test to that extent, and then they go beyond that point to ascertain at what point there would be breakage.
As we moved through the aisle of one test area I heard a staccato sound that turned out to be a robot repeatedly pressing six Samsung Galaxy Z Fold 5 phone buttons. It was a melody that I'm sure would become annoying after a few minutes.
Just when I thought I'd seen the extent of Samsung's drop-test mania, we walked into a room housing what I think are the Reliability Lab's largest drop rigs. I watched as a platform roughly four feet from a metal floor flipped down and dropped a Galaxy phone. This time the cacophony was so loud we all jumped, and some of us audibly gasped. I watched as the lab tech picked up the undamaged Galaxy Z Flip 5 and dropped it over and over again, without somehow cracking the display or Gorilla Glass on the outside.
If dropping the phones wasn't enough, Samsung also likes to freeze and cook its handsets. They had a half-dozen foldables in an ultra-cold chamber, and invited me to stick my hand through a hole in the test window to experience the -20-degree Celsius chamber temps. I could only stand it for a few moments, and my hand couldn't stand more than a half second in the hot and humid box. Somehow, the phones survive.
Perhaps the most memorable room was the Water Resistance Labs, where Samsung waterboarded a Galaxy Watch, using a carousel-like setup to cycle four watches through a tank of water. The idea is to recreate the act of swimming. I'd argue that Samsung is recreating Olympic-class swimming given the speed at which the phones were moving.
Next to that splashy tank was a Galaxy phone taking a jet of water to the face... er, main screen. At the other end of the room was an IPX 7-to-IPX8 test tank, in which a phone sat at the bottom of 1.5 meters of water for 30 minutes. When the test is done they simply release all the water into a separate holding tank, rather than having an intern plunge in to retrieve the phone.
Samsung also tests for heat and humidity resistance, trying to shock the phones with rapid rises and drops in temperature, and performs static electricity tests in a room that sits on an elevated grounded platform.
It was all fun to see, and also a little disturbing. It's so much phone abuse, but then, if you were considering buying one of the new foldable phones Samsung launched this week, you can probably sleep well knowing that Samsung has thrown pretty much everything but the kitchen sink at them.
Get daily insight, inspiration and deals in your inbox
Get the hottest deals available in your inbox plus news, reviews, opinion, analysis and more from the TechRadar team.
A 35-year industry veteran and award-winning journalist, Lance has covered technology since PCs were the size of suitcases and “on line” meant “waiting.” He’s a former Lifewire Editor-in-Chief, Mashable Editor-in-Chief, and, before that, Editor in Chief of PCMag.com and Senior Vice President of Content for Ziff Davis, Inc. He also wrote a popular, weekly tech column for Medium called The Upgrade.
Lance Ulanoff makes frequent appearances on national, international, and local news programs including Live with Kelly and Ryan, Fox News, Fox Business, the Today Show, Good Morning America, CNBC, CNN, and the BBC.