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November 20, 2008

“We’re a bunch of guys who break phones for a living”

SOUTHWOOD, England – That was the opening line Robert Johnson, senior engineering manager from Nokia’s UK testing and reliability labs gave us when we met him yesterday. We were in the labs with the guys from Pocket-Lint, AllAboutSymbian and MobileIndustryReview to find out just how Nokia tests it’s phones. If you’re anything like us, and thought a drop test involved one guy standing on the top of the building and another at the bottom shouting “okay, John, drop it now” then you might be surprised to find it’s a bit more sophisticated than that.

Whilst robotics, sophisticated analysis equipment and pneumatics all form key pillars of Nokia’s testing, real people are involved too. Take Stan. He used to be the guy who did “insertion testing” where cables were plugged in and out of devices, to check connections were still working. When Stan retired a few years ago, he was replaced by a robot (nicknamed, RoboStan). Quickly the team realised the precision of the robot didn’t accurately reflect the way real people put cables into devices and so they decided to replace RoboStan with a human.

That story highlights the backbone of Nokia testing – it’s all about real people and how they use devices. Sure, the button pressing machine might be able to tap out 1,000,000 key presses a lot faster and more efficiently than a human is able to, but some things still need to be kept very real. A phone’s reliability is all about how a person uses it, where that phone spends its time, and replicating how it gets treated.

The other day my wife gave me a perfect example when the top came off her 6500. This just months after she smashed its screen. Robert Johnson hit the nail on the head when he said “a lady’s handbag is one of the most challenging environments for a phone”. Where was my wife’s 6500 at the time of the incident? You guessed it, her very own “challenging environment”.

There was plenty to see on our visit yesterday, so over the next few days we’ll be treating you to an indepth look at the key stages of the testing process. We must warn you though. Device fans may find some of the images and words disturbing.