Ina Fried

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An Exclusive Look Inside Nokia’s Smartphone Torture Chamber

Teijo Makinen grabs an unreleased Nokia smartphone, a product that engineers have been working on for five years to make a reality. He gives it a quick glance, then straps it to a machine and lets it free fall from about five feet onto a slab of concrete. Then he picks it up, sets it at a slightly different angle and gives it another drop.

Makinen, a hardware test specialist, has been abusing cellphones for years. It’s all part of Nokia’s effort to make sure that the devices can handle the same abuse once they are in the hands of customers.

“The purpose is to break things,” says Teemu Ala-Hynnila, director of quality operations at Nokia. That way, they can spot weaknesses and correct them before the products are released. Plus, he said, they don’t want customers to have to protect the phones with ugly rubber cases.

One room over, more prototypes are enduring other hardships. One chamber cooks phones to 55 degrees Celsius, while another sees how they do at -15 degrees Celsius. A third produces somewhere between 93 percent and 95 percent humidity.

In each case, a Nokia worker is able to pull the phone out, press a button and take a picture without delay.

The torture area is just one part of Nokia’s testing labs in Tampere, Finland. AllThingsD got a rare peek inside an area normally off-limits not only to visitors, but to most Nokia employees.

The labs themselves are a mix of old and new technology. One room resembles a 1970s sound studio. In there, enough sound is pumped in to simulate the noisiest of New York restaurants, while a robot talks into a cellphone. The robot is barely audible in the room unless you get right next to it. On the call, though, the sound is clear.

A few rooms over, a human-shaped plastic mold is filled with liquid, an effort to recreate the human form in order to test how much of a phone’s radiation is making it inside the body of a person using the phone.

Nokia is certified to do its own radiation emissions, a key step in getting new devices approved by the Federal Communications Commission and other regulators across the globe. Having its own labs, while costly, helps Nokia save the time needed to send new devices for outside testing, a move it hopes will help it crank out new devices faster.

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— Gitesh Pandya of comments on the dreadful opening weekend box office numbers for “The Fifth Estate.”