The iPhone 5 Damage Report: Two Months Later

The iPhone 5 isn't the biggest or fastest, but it's held up to some of the highest physical standards of perfection. The phone is supposed to be a consummate beauty. But after two months of constant use, it's already showing wear and tear. Scratch-phobes, beware.

Below are two phones with very different lifestyles. One is a bit scratched up since launch day, one isn't. There's my phone, which was purchased on launch day and has never known the touch of a case. I carry it in my pocket or sometimes toss it in a bag with other stuff, every single day. The other (control) phone belongs to a coworker whose phone has been locked in a case from the day it was picked up at the end of September.

So let's take a very close look. Just how vulnerable is the iPhone 5?

With a case...

...an iPhone 5 looks like it did the day you took it out of the box, of course.

Note the pristine bezel, the unblemished chamfers.

The entire perimeter of the phone is without a single, even slight scratch.

But without a case...

Yeah, there are scratches. Scratches deep enough to dig through the iPhone 5's matte black treatment and reveal the silver aluminium beneath. Compare the two phones above.

Almost all of the corners show at least slight wearing or a little chipping.

Some worse than others.

And there's that drop bump.

And another dink.

Again, the slight wearing of the material can be seen all the way around.

Does it really matter?

Every iPhone has accumulated wear and tear over the years. Nothing looks like new after it's out in the world day after day — not smartphones, not iPods, not humans. And if you live in constant fear of scratching your devices, you're probably going to have an extremely anxious and unhappy existence. Shit happens, and things fall on the ground. You can't let worrying about a thing stop you from enjoying the thing.

And yet, we do pay extra for the iPhone because of its looks. It's a shallow premium that we've bought into, and one we expect to cash out on. There's nothing wrong with wanting your phone to look good after a year when that's what you've paid for. And there's a distinct difference between damage and ageing — while leather shoes take on character as they decay a bit, a chipped smartphone might not exactly acquire a patina.

Maybe this will haunt you. Maybe this is what we get for an iPhone whose back isn't made out of shatter-prone glass, but scratch-prone aluminium. Maybe you should get a far more durable Galaxy SIII or Lumia 920 if you're worried about cosmetic longevity. Or maybe you don't give a shit about your smartphone's paint job.

Either way, this is how much the iPhone 5 has been worn down by normal use after two months. Extrapolating forward a year or so from now doesn't take that much imagination. It's going to chip more. I'm sorry, but it's true.


Comments

    I use colcasac which is like a sock or slider cover. When in my pocket or on the desk it has some protection, but when in my hands it's unencumbered by cases and still svelte.

    Does the phone without a case get kept in a box full of keys and razor blades? I have had mine for a few weeks now and it looks like I just took it out of the box.

    I keep mine in a $6 pouch when it's in my pocket, and I try and only put it down on smooth surfaces (like right now, it's sitting on my notebook). It was an expensive object and I treat it that way, just like I do with every device I own.

      Does the phone without a case get kept in a box full of keys and razor blades? I have had mine for a few weeks now and it looks like I just took it out of the box.

      Exactly what I was wondering. It looks like when he goes out he just ties a piece of string around his ankle, attaches the other end to his iPhone and then just drags it around behind him.

    It's a little bit of a reflection on how the individual treats their devices, though.

    Had my 5 since Telstra's launch and it has, on inspection, on minor nick near the silent switch. But I'm not going to just chuck it in a bag with keys, etc - it's either in my pocket or on a flat surface like @mdolley. I don't use a case for it.

      Same. No case (had mine since launch day) and not a scratch on it. I guess it depends on how you care for your things...

      This is very true. My 3GS was in excellent condition for most of its life. I had a clamshell case for it, I never treated it poorly, always had it on my desk when not using it. Never kept it outside my pocket when not using it and always ALWAYS made sure never to keep my keys, wallet or anything else in the same pocket with it (scratches etc). This goes the same with my SGS2 which has a simple rubber case with an open front and is in perfect condition still 1 year later.

      Funny part was, the last day of my 3GS contract? I took it out of the clamshell case...

      I dropped it when taking it out of the case and smashed the screen. The first time since buying it I'd taken it out of the case...*facepalm*

    its an interesting piece this, the iphone 5 does seem more susceptible to damage than the 4s and even 3g.

    one thing i will say is its also amazing the slant this article took. "who gives a shit about a few scratches?" - im sure if this was any other brand, HTC, Nokia, Samsung they would have been condemned for releasing a phone that allows scratches. but when Apple does it, its fine?

      Got to agree with you there.
      My i3g with no case is all but scratch free - years old, and my Galaxy S11 without a case is still perfect(nearly) and lives in my pocket full of keys and crap.
      Though my friends with their i5 all look worse for ware.
      So much for a quality design - I suspect they could have done better - maybe learn something from thier opposition.

    Hey Sam, I'd hate to see your car's bodywork after 2 months of use... if you own a car...

    One of my car's is 43 years old this year and is in better condition than the iphone in the pictures. No case for it either

    Last edited 28/11/12 11:47 am

    I've had my Lumia800 since January, I've never put it in a case or a pouch or anything else, except when I am riding my bike, and after more than 10 months of sitting in my pocket or in the centre console bin or on my desk it hasn't got the tiniest mark on the chassis. There is a tiny, almost imperceptible, scratch on the gorilla glass but the polycarbonate unibody is as perfect as the day it arrived.

    It defeats the purpose of the iPhone being so impressively thin if you have to wrap it in a case to protect it, doesn't it?

      Yeah my year old Lumia 800 has some visible marks on the screen, but the polycarbonate body is still flawless. Nokia has raised the game folks, Apple really needs to up their game soon. Apple tinted glasses won't last forever, they don't want to lose their hard earned reputation for hardware excellence.

      Maybe they should make the Iphone ugly but comes with a 1st class case that does not scratch like the Lumia.

        That seems like a bit of a suicide stratergy because then they'd be competing against a beautiful Lumia that has the same quality 1st class case.

      yeh I have had my 800 for about the same but I have one make on the polycarbonate body from when I dropped it down a flight of stairs (made from concrete) and one small, difficult to see scratch on the screen. very happy

      Yep, i had my lumia 800 for a year now and not one visible scratch on it, i am not using a case! i am happy as a clam. Will get the 920 soon too!
      Were i live you have to pay Apple 50.- if you want your iphone replaced via mail and they will only replace it with a refurbished one. Not a new one.

      Last edited 04/12/12 7:18 am

    Just pulled my HTC Desire HD out. There's one scuff (not dent) on the bezel where it had a rough landing onto the ground from hip height once. Other than that there's no visible sign that this phone has spent 18 months in pockets, bags, in and out of the holder in the car, etc.

    I do treat my gadgets with respect though - I have a silver iPod mini sitting in a dock on my desk still looking as good as it did when I bought it in 2005 (the only problem with it is the battery is lucky to last 18 minutes, rather than the 18 hours it could manage when it was new, which is why it now stays in the dock) - so maybe if I was crazy enough to lend my stuff to Sam they'd come back all banged up like in the photos above... or could it be that the iPhone isn't as well made as my HTC?

    Breaking news: Phones in cases get scratched less.

      Actually, one of the reasons I don't put my phone in a case is that dust and grit from your pocket can get into the case and scratch the hell out of your phone.

        How large are the dust and grit particles in your pocket?

          No, it does happen. It largely depends on the style of case though. Ones that you pop the phone into that you see all over the place now days aren't so bad because when you remove and insert the device the only bit sliding against the case really is the sides.

          Back in the iPhone 3G and 3GS days, slider cases seemed to be a bit more popular where you would have a two piece case that you would slide in from either and and theys click together where they meet. It was very easy to get something small caught under there, and then when you opened it it'd drag it the length of the phone. I had a case like that back then and it probably did more damage to the phone than it ever saved.

          That said, as per my first paragraph, there are plenty of options that aren't all that prone to doing that.

          Actually it's the very small particles that cause scratching over time, especially if you never take the phone out of the case to just blow stuff off of it.

    If your going to post an article like this after 2 months, then you should definately do it for all phones that you reviewed. Otherwise this comes across as massively biased article against Apple products....

      The problem is that I bet everyone at Gizmodo owns an iPhone, so they won't have any other phones to look at. But the thing is that we all have our own experiences, which many of us are happy to share, and I can tell you no phone i have ever owned has looked as bad as that iPhone after two years, much less two months, so it just shows how poorly designed the iPhone 5 is, just as showing all the cracked back glass showed how poorly designed the iPhone 4 was. It is perfectly reasonable.

        Exactly. It's reasonable to write an article like this because it's a massively popular product line with few variants, and they made a major design change to the body for the current iteration, to a style that is quite different to other modern phones on the market. This provides evidence about whether or not that change was a good idea.

        so it just shows how poorly designed the iPhone 5 is

        Does it show you how poorly designed the iPhone 5 is, or does it just show you how poorly the author looks after his phone?

          I can't imagine how badly I'd have to treat a phone for it to look like this after just two months. Even the cheapest, nastiest phone I ever owned (Siemens) looked better than that after two years. And remember, reports started appearing within a week or so of iPhone5's being scratched straight out of the box, so it is clearly a real issue.

          there are iphones that come scratched out of the box. the iphone 5 has a real bad scratch problem, that's just a fact.

    over half a year with the one X no case. and still looks as good as new (one scratch, but white on white)

    Apple need to use Kevlar like Motorola....

    lol I've had my WP7 HD7 without case and screen protector for nearly two years now. Screen is near identical with a new one (more dirty than anything else, we have some samples at work that we bought that have never been anywhere) and body basically undamaged (except for a few light scratches where I've dropped a few times).

    Still looks pretty much brand new!

    I find it humorous that so many iPhones are sold, but all of them come without the key requirement of some sort of protection.

      I find it humorous that so many iPhones are sold, but all of them come without the key requirement of some sort of protection.

      A lot of cars are sold and they pretty much all come without the key requirement of some sort of fuel. Humorous? No.

        Fuel is analogous to battery charge, champ, not damage protection. And since you've apparently never bought a car, they all come with fuel. I guess you think people push new cars off the lot.

    Mine doesnt look remotely similar. there are a couple of nicks, but it's not like they just appear without my stupidity.

    I had a case on my 3GS and just the bit of dust getting in under the case was enough to scratch the sweet jesus out of it.

    Unles a case is a perfect fit with no holes for camera or buttons, you're still gonna have a bad time.

    Jebus do you fill your pockets with rocks as well? I don't have a case and there isn't a single mark on my phone - I dont take especially good care of it other than never putting it in the same pocket as coins or keys.

    Maybe I'm weird, but provided the device's functionality isn't impeded (e.g. by a severely scuffed screen or nonresponsive buttons) I don't mind wear and tear at all. No doubt it's objectively "uglier", but to me it demonstrates the quality of the device if it can be survive the rigours of everyday life in a pocket with keys, being dropped or otherwise mistreated.

    Our big young labrador chewed my old N95, and after giving it a solid treatment with disinfectant I really liked the big bite-holes and scratches. That was one tough smartphone!

      Not weird at all! I don't like a cases, mostly because they are bulky and generally ugly, but also because I like things (including phones) that tolerate wear and get a patina (is that the word?) from use. The phone in the photo is starting to look good to me. Loved those older nokia dumbphones where the paint and lettering on the keys would wear off showing a contrasting colour below. I don't put plastic covers on my couch either!

    I wonder what Consumer Law would have to say about a product looks like it is 2 or 3 years old after only 2 months.. with "normal" wear and tear.

    Last edited 28/11/12 3:33 pm

      Honestly I don't think "Consumer Law" would give two shits.

        The thing is, there is Consumer Law in regards to things not being of mercantile quality. Let's take another example, if you bought a brand new car and through regular and normal driving it had the same percentage of damage as this phone is showing, there would be outrage.. but since its a phone people, especially those who don't own that phone, don't see a problem with it.

        It's still a poor quality part of the product and I'm sure if there was enough complaints, that there would be interest.

          Consumer law has nothing to say about changes to cosmetic appearances resulting from normal usage (wear and tear), unless the product makes specific claims to that effect. eg, "Unscratchable", "super-tough" or "Unbreakable" It is normal useage for a phone to be repeatedly in brief contact with hard or abrasive obects in the course of day to day use, such as in a pocket. It is not normal for a car to be. If the iPhone's "Unscratchable" camera lens cover is scratched, then you'll have a solid case. You might just have a chance of making a claim if you alledged that the phone was of unacceptable quality because it fails on grounds of durability but a. The phone is still functional for its stated purpose and b. The consumer is required to take reasonable steps to ensure it does not become unacceptable. The comparison above shows the result of taking one normal and reasonable step - putting it in a case.

          The only real problem with the phone is the black anodizing shows damage more obviously than other materials and treatments. The same damage on a Lumia or even a white iPhone is going to show much less

    2 months later, no case, no scratches... Hmm. Cases are fugly.

    The high quality product reflected in the high premium purchase price?

    that garabage man i had a clear rubber case n coz of dust gettin into it still scuffed it up n made the matte scratch away. stuff it people its a daym phone live wit it or shut up

    Personally I'm a fan of skins. + a screen protector if you must have protection. Doesn't add much in the way of drop protection, but can safeguard against scratches fine and won't destroy the looks.

    Why do you care? You know you're buying iPhone 6 as soon as its released. It's all part of Apple's plan to sell more - make it vulnerable so that you want to buy the new one 6 months later because you can't stand how ugly it's become :-)

    my 2 year old HTC Legend looks newer than that iphone. never been in a case and i've even dropped it a couple of times. what are you doing with it?

    what the hell do you do to your phone? Both a friend and myself have had the phone since launch day, i have a case, which i got as I was going to a buck thinking alcohol + new phone = possible disaster.

    i just looked at my friends phone yesterday when she placed in on the table (no case) and its still good as new, couldn't see any scratches on the back or anywhere else.

    so i don't know what people do to their phones, do they rub it on concrete or something? then say "oh look it scratches so easily!"

    i'm sorry but i think you need to learn how to take care of your stuff. by the looks of the photos you must have dropped your phone a few times and have it rub against things all the time. those edges don't get like that from 'normal' use.

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