Clever Physics Explains Why a Dropped Phone Lands Screen-Down

Believe it or not, it’s not Sod’s Law that dictates a dropped smartphone will land screen down: it’s actually the same physics that influences buttered toast in free-fall.


As part of a PR exercise to encourage people to buy its shatterproof phone, Motorola set physicist Robert Matthews— best known for his authoritative paper, “Tumbling toast, Murphy’s Law, and the fundamental constants”—to work on the smartphone problem.

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The answer is surprisingly simple: whether a phone lands screen-up or face-up depends on a few variables, mostly how you’re holding the phone at the time of drop and the distance to the ground. Because people tend to hold their phones in a certain way (fingers below the center of gravity on the back, at roughly chest height), the numbers work out such that phones more often than not land face-down.

The good news is that the equation rests on people fumbling the phone when they drop it: if you just let it go, it’s more likely to land screen-up. Though, I’m not sure that means Professor Matthews will pay you back for repairs if theory doesn’t quite meet reality.

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Icecold Davis

People who drop delicious buttered toast on the floor deserve their broken phones.