wThe official launch of Samsung’s newest flagships is one week away, but early reports from T-Mobile users hint at a quality control issue that can not be ignored: micro-scratches blanketing the phone’s surface right out of the box. The defects were first noticed here on the XDA Forums by Junior Member rhcpcjg, and the ensuing conversation from corroborating heavyweights like Senior Forum Members Poetique, martinezma99, and DrexelDragon, as well as Forum Member and notable tech journalist Erica Griffin, paints a picture of a potentially widespread display issue affecting both the appearance and function of the device.
The story centers on the discovery of hairline scratches forming apparent rings around reflections of strong, direct light, such as overhead lamps, flashlights, and the noon-day sun. This is a pattern common to beaten-up cars that have seen the auto-wash one too many times, as well as any other random assortment of lines illuminated by a spotlight; lines perpendicular to the light reflect the brightest, and form an eerie halo that follows you no matter where you look. In this case, thousands of randomly oriented abrasions are the root cause.
How widespread is this issue, and should we still buy the Galaxy S6 Edge? The answer is that we just don’t know, and desperately need your help to find out. Read on for the reports as we currently know them, then take to the comments with your personal experiences with this phone!
Which Phones Are Affected?
Unclear. Forums excel at many things, but collecting structured data for scientific analysis is not one of them. So far, the sample size is incredibly small and disorganized, so we are left sifting through posts from a handful of respondents. The confirmed cases are summarized below, but please speak up in the comments if you have a Galaxy S6 Edge in your possession!
Galaxy S6 vs Galaxy S6 Edge
Only owners of the Galaxy S6 Edge have reported micro-scratches thus far, so the issue is likely localized to this device. The obvious next question is “what’s so special about the Edge?” Aside from the phone’s distinctive look, the Edge differs from the “flat” S6 by utilizing a plastic display substrate as opposed to one made of glass. Additionally, the rounded edges are covered by a separate batch of Gorilla Glass 4 specially made to follow the device’s contours, and we have already seen how this unique construction has precipitated delays. The importance of these and other differences in component origins and manufacturing processes remains to be seen, but we will touch on them later in this piece.
Although both the front and back of the new flagship phone is covered in Gorilla Glass, users agree that only the front-facing panel comes pre-scratched.
There are confirmed reports of both white and black models suffering scratches. There are also reports of both models going scratch free. No owners of the gold S6 have chimed in yet, though several thread commentors have this variant on order. The bottom line is that more data is needed before we can draw conclusions about the distribution of defects by color, and how (if at all) the color plays into the likelihood of receiving a blemished display.
Carrier & Shipping Method
If you recall from our earlier roundup of shipping prices and dates, T-Mobile is the only US carrier sending out the Galaxy S6 ahead of its consumer launch on April 10th. This means that if you live in the States and own one of these devices, you either received it through T-Mobile’s delivery service or by magic. As such, we don’t yet know the shipping method connection to this issue, but damage at this stage in the chain of custody is worth considering.
Internationally, only one other source has emerged – Swedish Senior Forum Member Jiyeon90. We will have more on this angle as it develops, though the international presence is troubling, to say the least.
Percentage of Affected Devices
Again, our sample size is small. Forum Member and Google+ user Manuel Martinez is attempting to encourage a heightened response rate through a poll of the S6 Edge community, but even this poll requires more rigor. For example, have the fifteen respondents reporting no damage viewed their displays under strong light? Are the scratches reported by the remaining two votes the same micro-scratches discussed here, or are they the result of a separate quality control issue like boxes being dropped in transit? Regardless of the percentages, this is an issue to be taken seriously, as it is clear that at least some community members are not receiving the ~$1000 phones for which they paid.
Most devices ship with a film or screen protector covering the display in transit. This reduces dust buildup and protects against minor bumps and abrasions, so what’s not to love? Occasionally, protectors leave behind an adhesive residue after they are removed, and some speculate that this residue is the mystery scratch pattern. However, multiple thread participants have debunked the residue theory in this case, following repeated device scrub downs. The scratches that remain are clearly part of the display. Here is Erica Griffin’s take:
There was the standard plastic dust protector. All looked perfect as I pulled it out of that sleeve. Immediately I looked at the display and saw a pretty deep scratch. I thought it was adhesive and I rubbed at it. It didn’t go away. Then I could feel it with my fingernail. Next I looked at the entire display in the light and I saw hairline scratches all over the place. Something is definitely going on here.
I have spoken to a rep at Corning before. From him, I asked if visible scratches were in the actual glass or just in the coating. He said that if I can see the scratch it has made it to the glass…
Dust & Bumps In Transit
Note: Neither T-Mobile nor its partners delivers phones via parachute drop. That we know of.
A leading theory is that rough package handling is causing dust trapped between the screen and protective film to vibrate and etch away at the display. Variables at play include the type of screen protection used during transit, delivery method, sterility of the packaging environment, and the presence of third parties such as customs agents and T-Mobile employees who may be altering the original packaging.
Protective covers: T-Mobile is known to favor protective dust covers over adhesive screen protectors, though multiple packaging types have been observed in unboxing videos. We await more data on the particulars of each scratched device.
Clean rooms: The exact conditions of Samsung’s assembly rooms are unknown, but claimed electronics manufacturing expert and Forums Member uktivo suggests that most product assembly at this level is done within sterile environments. Here is his statement:
Speaking with nearly 30 years electronics manufacturing under my belt. There are many class 1-4 clean room factory assembly locations more than capable of producing mass production products. From my experience products such as phones/displays would be assembled in such an environment.
This assessment fits with my own experience working with chip wafers, though the full thread brings in many counter arguments from Poetique and others. Until we know more about each stage at which the device is taken out and inspected (including the procedures at US customs and T-Mobile), this particular topic is speculative.
Glass Defect At Point of Manufacture
Left: display model. Right: scratched unit. Center: closeup with increased saturation
It’s no secret that curved glass is difficult to produce, so rumors of yield issues that surfaced earlier this year give cause to speculate about related defects. Further, early comparisons made in the forums link scratched models with color balance and display brightness issues (a highly saturated version of which is visible at right). To my eye, the difference is hard to distinguish in the original image, though accurate color balance is a highly sought-after feature, and it’s difficult to “settle” for even the most minor of defects in phones of this price.
If the scratches here are truly a sign of a deeper issue, then perhaps the display substrate is a relevant factor. According to DisplayMate Technologies Corp., a screen display and calibration authority, the S6 and S6 Edge differ in one important factor – the layer on which the pixel lattice rests. Here is their analysis:
The Galaxy S6 Edge is actually a flexible OLED display manufactured on a flexible plastic substrate rather than on a traditional perfectly flat and hard screen like almost all other OLED (and LCD) displays [including the Galaxy s6]. This allows the display itself to bend, but it is then placed underneath a hard Gorilla Glass 4 cover for protection and to maintain its desired shape, which for the Galaxy S6 Edge is curved along the entire right and left side edges.
What is especially important and news worthy is that the performance of the OLED display on a flexible plastic substrate for the Galaxy S6 Edge (and Galaxy Note Edge) is now essentially the same as on a traditional flat and hard substrate for the Galaxy S6, even at 500+ pixels per inch and 2560×1440 resolution.
This is a milestone achievement, and a harbinger for of the curved world to come, but is this early generation bug free? This leading question featuring prominently in several threads is speculative at best, but still worthy of consideration as long as the pitchforks stay at home. Slight differences from one unit to the next within a single line like the new Edge are understandable and expected inmoderation. After all, every device is a unique snowflake. It is when these differences become both substantial and supported by a preponderance of examples that a strong correlation is formed. We are at the beginning of an evolving story, so stay tuned and please help us buildconsensus if you have one of these phones. The more widespread the issue (especially once other outlets and shipping methods become available), the more likely it is that manufacturing is the cause. For the moment, though, all we can do is wait for more reports and official statements by Samsung and T-Mobile.
Help Us Find The Cause
If you have a Galaxy S6 Edge in your possession, please help us narrow down what went wrong in the comments.
Do you see a halo of scratches under strong light?
Are there scratches on the back?
From which source did you acquire your phone – Best Buy, T-Mobile, etc?
What shipping method was used?
What type of screen protector protected your device in transit – plastic film, screen protector, etc?