Jul 15, 2014

Is sapphire glass better than Gorilla Glass for smartphones and tablets?

Some companies have started talking about using sapphire glass instead of Gorilla glass in mobile devices. Is there really a difference between the two, and if so is sapphire glass a superior material?

Sapphire vs Gorilla Glass: which touchscreen display wins on scratch resistance, shatter-proofing, price and weight

"It's now confirmed that the iPhone 6 will sport a sapphire crystal display when it launches later on this year. Which may or may not be bad news for Corning, the makers of the current leader of the smartphone screen pack, Gorilla Glass. So what does sapphire offer that Gorilla glass does not, and what are the key points of difference between the two display materials?"

As the owner of a number of smartphones that used Gorilla Glass over the years as well as the owner a a Rolex with a sapphire crystal, I can at least offer an apples and oranges comparison. Sapphire crystal is very hard to scratch or break. I didn’t get a Rolex to be ostentatious, I got it when I used to spend a lot of time in the wilderness and wanted all of my equipment to be as reliable as possible, including my watch for both for timekeeping and as a backup compass. In years of harsh use that scratched up the stainless steel case, I never got a scratch on the crystal. In fact, on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness, Sapphire crystal is a 9, which is very close to the hardness of a diamond. It is a very hard material, and it is not brittle, which is the Achilles’ heel of Gorilla Glass. 


Don’t get me wrong, Gorilla Glass is pretty hard, and is far superior to ordinary tempered glass. But while it is pretty good at resisting scratches, many, many people have learned the hard way that doesn’t mean it won’t shatter quite easily when dropped onto a hard surface. Gorilla glass is likely to have an advantage when it comes to the ability to make thin screens, with current technology it is unlikely that sapphire crystal screens will be quite as thin, but the additional hardness is worth the trade-off to me. 


So what’s the downside to sapphire crystal, other than slightly increased thickness vis a vis Gorilla Glass? Cost. A sapphire crystal screen will cost an estimated 400% more than a comparable Gorilla Glass screen. Is it worth it? Not for low end devices that tend to get replaced on a near annual schedule, but for a high end device that costs many hundreds of dollars, I would say that it is.

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