HTC isn’t lying when it says that its special edition U Ultra has a sapphire crystal display. Zack Nelson put the phone through his usual scratch tests over at JerryRigEverything, and the U Ultra fared better than any other smartphone he’s ever tested. The screen only starts showing scratches at a level 8 on Moh’s hardness scale, which means it will likely stay pristine for the device’s entire lifetime — unless you drop it, which is when sapphire’s brittle downside comes in.
It’s an impressive achievement by HTC. Covering a smartphone’s display with sapphire is a challenge that Apple couldn’t pull off at mass scale; one of the company’s suppliers went bankrupt trying to figure out how to do it. But mass scale is the key piece, here. Just like Vertu, which has been laminating its overpriced “luxury” smartphones with sapphire for years, HTC didn’t have to worry about churning out millions of these things.
The U Ultra Sapphire is significantly more expensive than the regular model and is only available in some countries. That greatly eases any stresses around production. JerryRigEverything hasn’t yet done a deep dive on the makeup of this screen, but hopefully we’ll soon see exactly how HTC and its supplier went about making it.
Sapphire is far easier to work with at smaller sizes; Apple covers the iPhone’s home button and camera lens with it, and it’s also on the stainless steel Apple Watch. Sapphire is basically the norm for many companies in the watch industry. But having a screen that might never scratch still doesn’t mean you should buy the U Ultra. The underlying product is still fundamentally pretty lackluster, and sapphire doesn’t really improve its other misses.
Plus, Apple and other phone makers are right in concluding that sticking to the tried-and-true slab of Gorilla Glass is sufficient for consumer gadgets. You’ll pick up hairline scratches over time, but at least your phone has a chance of enduring accidents. And that’s the more important thing, really. These days it feels like I walk by more people with cracked phones than not. Also, as Vlad has pointed out, even with sapphire’s resistance to everyday wear, it’s unlikely to hook shoppers in the same way as some buzzy new feature. And then there’s the whole mass scale thing, which no one has figured out. But it’s always fun to watch an onslaught of durability tests — and imagine a world without screen protectors.