In early June, after I came back from the industry’s premier display conference known as SID, I shared in my PCMag column some of the major developments I saw there in flexible displays. The two major players who were very vocal about their breakthrough flexible displays were Visionox and BOE.
But while I was at the show, I was told that Samsung was showing a new flexible display to some of its customers in closed door meetings but was not sharing any info on this product publicly just yet. I was told to stay tuned.
Late last month, Samsung announced its version of a flexible display and said it was targeted for use on smartphones but hinted that it could end up in other devices, too, like vehicles, portable gaming consoles, tablets and mobile military devices. The press release stated that it had received a special certification from Underwriters Laboratories and met the military specifications for durability and unbreak-ability.
As PCMag’s Matthew Humphries points out, “The new display is a combination of a flexible OLED panel and fortified plastic cover, with certification from Underwriters Laboratories backing up the unbreakable claim. It’s so strong, no damage was visible after 26 drop tests from a height of 4 feet.”
In terms of new flexible displays, this is very encouraging. It suggests that we are getting closer to having mobile devices that can use flexible screens, which could mean many new innovative mobile devices over the next two to five years. And the competition between BOE, Visionox, Samsung, and eventually LG and Sharp will keep all of them on their toes in the push for advanced flexibility in displays and in turn, bring more innovative designs.
Still, I’m concerned by Samsung’s decision to use plastic as a cover for this new display. Historically, plastic has not performed well given it is prone to scratches and does not deliver the clarity you get from glass covers. Motorola used a plastic cover in the Moto Z2 Force phones called Shattereshield, which was not well received. The replacement cover was cheap but prone to scratches and peeling.
Samsung also used a plastic display on the Galaxy Tab Active2, reviews of which mentioned scratching and problems with optical clarity.
In late July, Corning invited the media to its Sunnyvale, California, campus to launch Gorilla Glass 6. It’s twice as durable as Gorilla Glass 5 and has an extra level of armor that helps the glass survive repeated drops from higher heights. Corning says on average the new glass can survive 15 drops at the height of 1 meter (3.2 feet). While the scratch resistance is the same as Gorilla Glass 5, I was at the Gorilla Glass 5 launch and watched repeated and extensive scratch tests and saw how well it performed.
I carry my iPhone X, with a Gorilla Glass 5 cover, in my pocket along with a pocket knife, small pen, and my Apple AirPods and have zero scratches on my phone after 10 months of use.
One odd bit from the Samsung flexible display press release is that while it touts the unbreakable nature of its new screen and plastic cover, it says nothing about its ability to withstand scratches. And it’s also vague on the clarity factor that has always dogged plastic screens.
While Samsung does emphasize a fortified plastic cover that makes the flexible screen more durable, the issue of scratches and visual clarity needs to be seriously considered by any vendor that decides to use this particular flexible display.
Ultimately, vendors are going to want a screen cover that has durability, scratch-resistance, and optical clarity and plastic just has not delivered on this trifecta to date, which is why I am skeptical that any plastic cover can meet these consumer needs now and in the future.