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November 24, 2008

Nokia reliability labs – wear and tear

SOUTHWOOD, England – Kevin Smith, reliability labs team leader, jokes that he gets a new pair of jeans every month. Not because he’s hard on jeans, simply because the old ones get strapped to a machine designed to test phones. The test is one I’d never imagined taking place, but I’m pretty glad it does. It simulates what happens when owners rub their phone on their jeans to give the screen a quick clean. Yep, I do it, and I bet you do too.

Since the inception of Nseries, devices have used more interesting materials and particularly with the devices like the N85 and N96, the finish looks and feels a lot more delicate than those that have gone before. Compare the N95 and the N79 – the first had the feeling of being very rugged and able to withstand even the harshest abuse. The latter though looks and feels more delicate, but as we saw the other day, is just as durable. That’s due in large part to the various abrasive tests the team does on the finish of the device. Alongside the jean-rubbing test, and the weather tests (which also have a marked effect on the finish) the reliability labs run abrasion, stairs and dust tests.

It’s hard to describe the abrasion test, but it’s essentially a big bucket full of abrasive “media” which is moved around on a roller. The team simply “drop” the devices into the bucket and leave it to get abused and scratched. I tested the “media” on my N85 and it came out worse. The stuff is properly abrasive. It’s designed to replicate what your phone comes up against in a pocket or handbag. Even though newer devices look and feel more delicate, they’re just as strong and reliable as what’s gone before, in fact, probably more so.

Inside another room we were shown a machine that just rotates slowly, and inside you could hear a muffled, occasional, banging. This was the sound an N79 being bounced around what was effectively a metal box. Not just any metal box though, it simulates what happens when your phone falls down the stairs. In this case, some particularly harsh, metal stairs. Devices bounce around these things all day, and I’m sure there isn’t a staircase in the world that would allow your phone to just keep falling, or bouncing. But just in case…

At the end of our session in the reliability labs, we were taken out to the multi-story car park. This is where the “dust” test was kept. For two reasons, noise, and dust. On the door was sign saying “don’t come here alone without telling your manager where you’re going” (or words to that effect). Recreating hostile environments is something the team take quite seriously and the dust test is no exception. Designed to see how easily dust and grit can enter a phone, the testing machine is like a giant vibrator, with a closed box sitting on top. Inside we could see half a dozen N79s being tossed about in a cloud of dust. We didn’t get to see the aftermath, but the test seemed pretty intense.

And that’s it for wear and tear. Let us know if you’ve encountered any of the above, I’d particularly like to find any other jean-rubbers out there.

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