True story: I was walking through CES with a Yahoo film crew, making a video, when this guy came up, laden with bags.
“David Pogue! David Pogue! I have to show you our new product,” he said.
I tried to decline politely. “This really isn’t a good time,” I told him.
Out of a bag, he pulled a bumper — one of those silicone bands that go around your phone. “Look, it’s an iPhone bumper,” he said. “It was a huge Kickstarter success.”
I really didn’t have time for this. He was pitching me on a phone case? There are thousands.
But before he could lose my attention, the guy took his iPhone 6 (wrapped in one of his bumpers) and started whacking it against a sharp wall corner at a hallway intersection. Like, rapping it with all his might.
“We sold 11,000 units in 30 days on Kickstarter!” (WHACK!) “It’s a special polymer that disperses impact —” (WHACK!) “— with a honeycomb structure that increases the absorption capabilities by another 15 percent!” (WHACK!) “It survived a 24-foot drop to concrete!” (WHACK!)
Seeing an expensive smartphone deliberately tortured inevitably makes your stomach flip. I just wanted him to end the violence.
“OK, OK!” I told him. “I’ll review your bumper!” He stopped.
I also asked him to send a phone for me to test, so I didn’t have to risk my own phone.
And he did.
Meet the Crash Guard
This is the RhinoShield Crash Guard bumper, available for iPhone 5, 5s, 6, or 6 Plus:
It’s $25, available in eight colors. It snaps around the outer edge of an iPhone. Right off the bat, it does one thing a bumper is good at: It gives you something that’s grippier than the smooth, shiny, slippery edges of the phone itself. In other words, you’ll be a lot less likely to drop it in the first place.
This bumper creates a ridge all the way around the phone that protrudes a couple of millimeters past the screen and the back panel. Meanwhile, it leaves the front and back of the phone naked, so you don’t lose much of the looks, light weight, or slimness of the iPhone. But if the phone falls onto a flat surface, the bumper is going to be what hits, not the phone itself.
The only way the screen could hit is if the phone landed on something that isn’t flat ground—the point of a rock or something. (For that, the company recommends its companion product, the $25 RhinoShield screen protector.)
Despite the minimalism of the bumper design, I’m not crazy about having a ridge around the phone. Your thumb has to cross it every time it reaches to tap something. I’ll admit, though, that it’s probably the least amount of bulk you can possibly add to your phone to protect it so well from screen damage.
The bumper doesn’t block any of the jacks, meanwhile, so you don’t have to take it off to (for example) plug it in to charge.
The torture test
All right, so much for the promise. How well does it work?
As you can see in my video above, I started by dropping it onto a hard, uncarpeted floor from chest height. It bounced a couple of times — sickeningly, if you ask me — but the screen did not crack.
I dropped it a few more times, and a few more. Nothing. By this time, we were drawing a crowd. A shiny new iPhone deliberately thrown into harm’s way is a can’t-look-away event.
So then I started dropping it from head height. Repeatedly. Nothing.
Then over my head. Then halfway up a ladder. Then all the way up the ladder.
I dropped this thing 52 times. I tossed it, kicked it, flung it. I simply was not able to damage the phone, even on purpose!
Eventually, I was standing 15 feet in the air, whipping the phone down to the ground with a sharp snap of the wrist, much as you’d launch a yo-yo if you were really upset.
The phone would bounce 3 feet off the ground, but it still would not crack.
At the end, I stood on top of the ladder, my hands extended up against the ceiling. And with all my might, I hurled the phone to the ground, both arms extended, absolutely determined to smash it.
I felt that maybe, just maybe, I was stepping over some line … going past the rational bounds of normal product testing into the realm of “50 Shades of Product Sadism.” But I couldn’t help myself.
On that last test, I’m proud to report, I did manage to introduce a slight bend in the iPhone. It still worked fine, and there wasn’t a scratch on it. But, yes, I was finally able to do something to the stupid thing.
(By the way: I was dropping the phone onto a hardwood floor. For the record, I’ve also dropped and thrown the phone many times onto sidewalks and other concrete — same results.)
Rhino vs. Otter
I’ve always thought that it’s goofy to buy one of the world’s lightest, slimmest, and most beautiful phones — and then entomb it in some big, heavy, bulky case, all in the name of protection against a fall that may never happen.
So I’m pleased to report that there’s a much better alternative: A simple bumper that adds almost no weight or bulk and doesn’t detract from the phone’s looks — but gives it an almost ridiculous amount of protection from drops, falls, and knocks.
I’m sure the company doesn’t guarantee that a Crash Guard-protected phone can’t be broken. But this much I can promise: I tried everything. I tried my hardest to crack that screen, from various heights and angles, with gravity alone, assisted by one hand and then both arms. I tried 52 times to crack that screen, and I could not do it.
Unless there’s something truly wrong with you, I think it’s clear that you’ll never subject your phone to this much abuse. Therefore, I’m confident in saying that a RhinoShield-protected iPhone, subjected to anything like the bumps and drops of everyday life, is one safe phone.
Not bad, Mr. CES PR guy. You win!