On 5th Jan, 2023, an Alaska Airlines’ flight lost part of a door plug mid-flight. Now, just imagine the terror of watching a piece of the plane break off mid-flight especially when you are flying at ~16,000 feet above ground level?

But here’s the kicker: a passenger’s (of the same Alaska Airlines flight) iPhone was recently found on the side of the road working perfectly fine. Not a single scratch, not a single crack, just a fully functioning phone that survived a 16,000-foot drop. YUP… 16,000 feet.

Can Modern Smartphones Survive 30 ft, 300 ft and 16,000 ft Drop Test

It’s like something out of a superhero movie, isn’t it? This incredible incident got us thinking: Was it the case? Improved phone durability? A miracle… whatever the reason, one thing’s for sure this Alaska Airlines incident left us with more questions than answers, and we were determined to get to the bottom of it.

The Experiment Setup

So, how do we go about testing the durability of these smartphones? Well, we decided to Get a bunch of iPhone fourteen S and Samsung Galaxy S 23s—the latest and greatest from both Apple and Samsung. We wanted to see how these devices would fare in our own little drop test experiment.

Now, you might be thinking, “Why not just use a case?” But where’s the fun in that? We wanted to push these phones to their limits, so we dropped each phone naked, no case from 3ft, 30ft and 300ft. That’s right, we went all out! The first set of tests were all done over grass, because let’s face it—if you’re going to drop your phone from a ridiculous height, you might as well give it a fighting chance on a softer surface.

Drops from 30 ft and 300 ft on Grass

With our phones ready to go, we fired up the phone dropping drone with this contraption—a masterpiece of engineering designed specifically for this experiment. The contraption, which held the phones securely in place, was rigged to release them at the touch of a button. Talk about high-tech!

First up, the iPhone from 30 ft. The drone hovered in place, the button was pressed, and down came the iPhone… and the result? The iPhone is in perfectly good shape other than some grass stains. Not too shabby!

But we weren’t done yet. Next, we took things to the extreme with the Galaxy S 23 at 300ft. It’s coming down… it’s coming down… and touchdown! The Samsung landed in a soft patch of grass, virtually unscathed. We couldn’t believe our eyes—these phones were tougher than we thought!

Drops from 30 ft on Asphalt

Dropping phones on grass is one thing—what about a surface that’s a bit more unforgiving? It was time to up the ante and move our experiment to the asphalt. We started with a drop from 30 ft, and let me tell you, the suspense was killing us. Would the phones survive this landing?

The iPhone was first to take the plunge. It hit the ground with a solid thud, and we held our breath as we inspected the damage. Yep, there’s a dent in the corner, on the edge—but to our surprise, the screen is fine. A bit scuffed up, but still intact!

Feeling emboldened, we sent the Samsung on the same 30ft journey. The Galaxy S 23 landed with a crack that made us wince. We gingerly picked it up, almost afraid to look… and there it was: Crack in the front top left of the screen. Crack in the bottom right of the screen. Our hearts sank a little—could this be the end of our brave little phone’s journey?

The Impact of Phone Cases

But wait, we couldn’t give up on our phones just yet! It was time to bring in the big guns—or in this case, the phone cases. We decided to give our phones a fighting chance with the otterbox defender case, a rugged protector known for its durability.

With a new iPhone 14 and Galaxy S 23 donning their protective armor, we sent them on another 30ft drop. The iPhone landed with a reassuring thud, and we held our breath as we examined it. Phone is good—the case just kind of came off there a little bit, but the device itself was unscathed!

The Samsung, on the other hand, gave us a little scare. As it hit the ground, we heard a disconcerting sound that made us think, “Ooh, that didn’t sound good.” But to our relief, it’s okay! The case had done its job, absorbing the impact like a champ.

It’s clear that the case does a lot of what the grass does—it provides a cushion, allowing for a slower deceleration of the fall. It also helps with so if you hit your phone on the corner, where the impact is concentrated on a small area and more likely to cause damage. But would even the mighty otterbox defender be enough to protect our phones from the ultimate test—a 300 ft drop onto asphalt?

Drops from 300 ft on Asphalt

Once again, with our hearts racing, we secured both our iPhone 14 and Galaxy S 23 in their trusty otterbox defender cases—to the drone. This was it. The moment of truth. We watched as the drone ascended to a height of around 300 ft. The phones were definitely looking tiny and vulnerable against the vast expanse of sky.

The iPhone was first to make the plunge. It hit the asphalt with a sickening crunch, and we couldn’t help but grimace. That hit pretty hard and the sound it made was just as bad. We rushed over to assess the damage, hardly daring to hope… but what’s this? Screen’s fine. Totally fine. Like working fine. Glass covering the camera, well, it was completely shattered. But to our surprise, the camera was working just fine. It was a bittersweet victory—the iPhone had survived, but at what cost? Around $1000 repair costs.

Next up, the Samsung. We held our breath as it plummeted towards the unforgiving asphalt. It landed directly on its right corner and bounced a second time on the surface. One of our team mates said “Oh. Oh, man.”

After closer inspection, we found that the case was cracked. The phone just won’t turn on. Its definitely bent on the sides. Our hearts sank as we realized that even the otterbox defender case couldn’t save our Galaxy S 23 from this brutal impact.

Sad days for Samsung. Two phones lost to the asphalt, even with the added protection of a case.

The Science Behind Terminal Velocity

You might be wondering how our 300ft smartphone drop test relates to the Alaska Airlines flight 1282 incident, where a plane’s door plug fell from 16,000ft. Here’s the thing—it simply doesn’t matter if you do it from space or about 300 ft high building. It’s the same result because of something called “terminal velocity.”

When you drop a phone, at first gravity is pulling it down, making it fall faster and faster. But there’s another force called “drag” that opposes gravitational pull. At some point, the force of gravity pulling your phone down equals the opposing force of that drag. It’s like a tug of war that’s now tied. Once this happens, the phone falls at a constant speed which what “nerds” call terminal velocity.

It’s about 27 meters/second which is about 60 mph for a phone. So, whether it’s falling from 30ft, 300ft or even 16,000ft, a phone experiences the same forces upon impact once it reaches its terminal velocity.

The Final Verdict

What did we learn from dropping all these top-of-the-line smartphones today? In one line – Physics is cool.

Beyond that, modern smartphones have gotten more durable too. Even 30 foot drops directly onto asphalt didn’t “completely” destroy these phones. But as we saw with the 300ft drops there’s a limit to what even the toughest phones can withstand. The key takeaway is – you should consider investing in a quality phone case that is designed specially for your phone’s model and try to avoid dropping your phone (or anyone’s) from ridiculous heights!