Yeah, it's lonely at the top. Keeping ahead of the pack is hard. What's your next big breakthrough? And the critics will be gunning for you – for the smallest defects.
Of late, two of the market leaders (and easiest targets) in consumer tech have been taking a drubbing on durability and longevity – Samsung with its latest S8 and S8+ smartphones; and both Samsung and LG for their tech-enriched refrigerators.
Still the brunt of jokes for exploding mobile phone batteries and lid-blowing washing machines, Samsung is in the wring cycle again for encasing the new Galaxy S8 series phones entirely in glass, with both a curved edge (wrap-around) face plate (previously in the top S6 and S7 "Edge" models) and a shiny new glass back plate. A similar wrap-around screen is anticipated on at least one model of the next gen iPhone, one hopes with less dire consequences.
Eliminating the screen bezel (frame) lets designers grow the displays without making the phones larger. In hands-on tests, reading text and working the hot buttons proved a lot easier on the ultra-high-def 5.8-inch screen Galaxy S8 than on my "ancient" high-def 4.7-inch screen iPhone 6S (same as on the current iPhone 7). Even though the iPhone is virtually as wide and only a quarter inch (or so) shorter than the Samsung, text, videos, and icons on the S8 appear larger and punchier.
The S8's wrap-around glass also looks and feels unique: lighter, thinner, smoother to the touch.
But all that glass also makes the phones slippery. And therein lies the rub. A phone that falls onto a cushiony carpet or wood is not a concern. But as product testers have dramatized and product insurer SquareTrade has now calculated, drops onto sidewalk concrete or ceramic-tile floors can damage the Gorilla glass that wraps the Galaxy S8 and S8+. (Note: A new Red edition Apple 7 came out of the same drop tests with screen and metal back cover intact.)
One YouTube poster showed off a spiderweb of cracks on the thinner glass back of an S8+ after a single drop from just three feet. The thicker front screen glass withstood both three- and six-foot drops, then got dinged at 10 feet. Damage from side drops caused distressing at six feet, the rounded corners particularly prone to chipping.
Already bought an S8 or still want to? There's protective stuff you can do. Suspending the delicate phone inside a rugged OtterBox cover ($40 to $70) double-insulates the back and puts bumpers around the edges, but clunks up the pocket package and covers a bit of screen display.
Other options? Wrap a $50 Zagg Sapphire Defense Curve InvisibleShield around your S8. While see-through and thermally transmissive for touch operations, it's embedded with sapphire crystals, which the shield maker claims improves the screen's durability "7x."
Or invest in an insurance plan from SquareTrade, which starts at $89 a year (two years for $149, three for $179) with a $99 per-incident deductible. Early price quotes to replace a cracked S8 screen have been running $200 to $250.
There's another solution. Buy a rival smartphone like the new LG G6, which has a terrific quality 5.7-inch screen (even handles high dynamic range Dolby Vision) and a narrower (but not totally eliminated) bezel and metal edging that can withstand spills. The G6 is equally comfortable in hand and fits into a slim-profile, raised-lip phone case without cover-ups of the big picture.
Blackballing white goods: For decades, American-based "white goods" (kitchen/laundry) appliance makers fell into boring sameness by complacency, repair partners, and the product reviewers of Consumer Reports, who preached the "KISS" doctrine – keep it simple, stupid. CR warned readers that value-added, price-raising features – such as in-door refrigerator water/ice dispensers – were the first thing to go wrong. And that old-fashioned mechanical controls were more durable than sexy, pricier electronic panels.
Then South Korean makers LG and Samsung started moving in for the kill in the early 2000s with premium white goods that seemed space age by comparison, yet didn't cost any more (hmmmm ...).
They launched the first clothes washers and dryers that had steam clean functionality and would remotely alert when the load was done! Also were the first with French (four) door fridges where individual compartments could be shifted from refrigerator to freezer (or vice versa) with the flick of a switch. That had touch-activated computer/TV screens on the door! WiFi connectivity! And cameras inside compartments to show – on your smartphone – what food staples were missing and needed replacement.
When I decided to replace a malfunctioning 16-year-old Frigidaire (yes, the water/ice dispenser was a mess), a technician from Huntingdon Valley's Baker Appliance Repair warned me to "stay away from Samsung and LG" replacements because they were "temperamental, hard to repair," and "lucky to last eight years."
I thought he was overgeneralizing. My LG laundry pair had been problem free for a decade and still are, three years later. But now a report from Reviews.com is raising the same complaints on a national level.
"Despite their high ratings, Samsung and LG refrigerators are notoriously difficult to repair," the study found. Forty-nine percent of surveyed repairmen groused about the products' "challenging technical aspects" along with the "frequency of repair needs and difficulty in locating parts." A quarter said they won't work on Samsung or LG refrigerators.
Could their complaints be sour grapes?