Nixon’s Watergate scandal rings back from the 1970s to today, where something goes awry with the latest hardware from a manufacturer, and it gets ‘gated. The first we saw of ‘bendgate’ was with the less-reinforced-than-it-should-have-been iPhone 6 and 6 Plus. We’ve been seeing people try to bend devices in half for the past year, but where this interesting test comes from is not quite decided upon by the Internet (that’d be the people, not the service / utility). But there’s a likely cause. Phones, prior to last year’s fall ranks, had been growing their displays and footprints in people’s pockets for the past couple of years and generations. But the trend that many took issue with was the manufacturers’ choice to thin the phone out more, for reasons of showing off that they could, and shrinking the battery, claiming still-improved efficiency. Performance and bragging aside, something that is actually happening is people putting their now-huge, now-even-thinner smartphone in their back pants pocket and having a seat. Then they’d hear a crack, or feel their phone give, and voila! The bent device appears!
So as well as commenting on the overall build quality of various flagship devices, reviewers and various people from the Internet took to letting people looking to pick up a new device whether it would bend if stressed too. And, honestly, it’s been interesting to see the phenomenon gain popularity, revisiting an older device to test it against its updated (and ideally more rigid) sibling, then continuing on to torture the newer device to have it prove its strength. And that’s really where the logic of it ends. But, since the bend test is only the latest in a number of device-destroying testing situations since the turn of the millennium, we’ll do a quick recap and see if this is in fact just the next logical evolution based on the smartphone environment. The ‘creak test’ has been around since the late 1990s, and simply involves trying to get the device to flex. Simple, right? And that was the appeal; people would review a device’s user experience, then follow it up by commenting on the material choices, and try to get the device to flex when twisting its chassis to test if it felt as quality as its materials made it sound or feel.
But with the advent of smartphones and personal technology with glass displays (as opposed to PDAs with plastic or otherwise), dropping these new pieces of hardware became commonplace. Thusly, the ‘drop test’ was born. Before buying that new piece of hardware, especially for a younger user, seeing whether it could survive a drop from a couple feet up, or, even worse, a throw straight at the ground was paramount. Was it time to leave your 5-year-old alone with something expensive? No, it likely won’t ever be, but drop tests began to show us literally the strongest devices for our dollars. This millennium began with destroying the newest hardware, so you could know if it could be done. We heard of the ‘blend test’ from the still-popular (and still-running, by the way) YouTube show “Will It Blend?”, where the device to be tested was tossed into a high-power, high-speed storm of blades, given a clever farewell pun, then let sit to wait for its death. Now, the number of people that accidentally blended their devices was likely smaller than the audience for this show, but it told you whether an extreme situation could damage your device, and roughly how long you had to turn the blender off to save it. Utility aside, it’s still an interesting part of hardware-testing history.
We then see, with the introduction of the original and first few iterations of the iPhone, as well as early Android devices, what they can take in so-called ‘stress tests’. With these, a device was run through a gamut of often-reasonable, sometimes just ridiculous situations and environments. The most popular was the screen scratch test, to see whether your other pocket or purse contents posed a threat to your new tech toy. But the drop test became part of this gamut quickly, and these two tests, as well as many others of varying levels of ‘this couldn’t really happen, but we’ll test it anyway’ peppered the internet. And upon release, the iPhone 4, with its dual-sided glass chassis, was tortured to the ends of the earth, finally showing the Internet’s desire both to destroy and to test new hardware. We all remember how the iPhone 4’s design was retired in 2012 with the iPhone 5. This is where, with the mostly metal chassis, we saw people start to notice the device getting bent when just storing it on their person.
In early 2013, LG took the opportunity to unveil the G Flex, with a large curve in its display and body, to better contour itself to users and their pockets. But, with LG bragging about how you could ‘push it flat’ on a table, and it would maintain its curvature, the Internet turned it up to 11. Various videos on YouTube showed off how neat this new ability was, then carried on to bend the device over the edge of a table, concluding that they had curved it the other way, though that wasn’t quite what LG had intended. With Apple’s 2013 release, we saw the same design, but the same type of ‘it bent in my back pocket’ scenario videos pop up, all the way into 2014. And in 2014, we saw slow adoption of trying to get the newest devices from manufacturers to bend or flex when put under sometimes realistic amount of pressure, and sometimes just to test an extreme. The iPhone 6 and 6 Plus didn’t fare better than any of the competition that year, with the Galaxy S5, M8, and LG G3 all bending by the will and force of the Internet’s strength. Obviously, it became a point of contention for consumers, since a bent device is often not the best thing to pull out to answer the phone.
And now, in 2015, we saw Samsung go metal-and-glass, as well as HTC stay mostly-metal, and we even saw LG return with a new, less-curved G Flex 2 (whose downfall was not ‘oh, it bends’, but its overheating Snapdragon 810, which causes many phones releases’ problems even today). The G4 also got a little curvy, possibly to combat the pocket bend trend. By this point, bendgate was still in full force, and we saw the new iPhones launch into the eager-to-bend hands of customers everywhere. And they sort of did. But these devices weren’t the scandal stars they were last year. This position got filled by the recently-released Nexus 6P.
And this is where we sit today, with the Nexuses 5X and 6P, Google, LG, and Huawei’s latest hardware. And, since the Internet bends stuff, the Nexus 6P, being the all-metal contender from Mountain View, was unboxed, reviewed, and ultimately bent in half. Twice. And when it bent in half, the same kind of structural problem (a lack of reinforcement in thin pieces of the chassis, such as near the power button and volume rocker) aided the Nexus 6P’s downfall in the bend testing world. With the Nexus 6P, Google’s first metal smartphone was poised to be premium and finally ready for widespread consumer adoption outside of developers and Android die-hards. And just as with last year’s consumer favorite to be, it bent in half when stressed. Maybe we’ll see a hardware revision going into 2016, or perhaps the Internet should stop just trying to snap a phone in half. If you pay upwards of $500 for anything, you might, just might, want to take care of it, or just stop using your back pocket to store it, since that area is inherently curved.