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Rant of the week: metallic vs plastic vs unicorn horns
Google Nexus 5 Hardware Samsung 3 min read 12 comments

Rant of the week: metallic vs plastic vs unicorn horns

Today I wanted to have a little bit of a rant about the endless material choice ''debates'' we get every time a metallic phone is described as ''premium'' or a plastic phone as cheap. For starters, who cares – buy what you like – but more importantly, why does material choice cause so many bar fights in the first place?

aufreger der woche
 © ollyy/ Shutterstock/AndroidPIT 

Let's be honest, there's a decent enough reason why a metallic or glass smartphone is described as feeling more premium than a plastic one. If someone handed you two knives, say, or cups even, you'd tend to think the metal one was ''better'' than the plastic one, no? Sure, you may be a hard-core plastic fanatic, and there are many who are for good reasons, but that doesn't mean the ''metallic feels premium'' argument is automatically moot.

nokia x jack
I don't want to be mean to Nokia, but this kind of looks like a bar of soap. / © AndroidPIT

Metallic phones weigh more, cost more to make, are not so great at absorbing shock, are usually non-removable and non-replaceable and transmit heat more than plastic, making your phone feel hotter than it actually might be – these don't exactly sound like ''pro'' arguments to me. Plastic on the other hand, is cheap, light, shock absorbent, removable, replaceable and so on: perfect for something like a smartphone. You can even quickly and easily switch out a damaged or ugly plastic case for one your prefer. And yet, the lure of metal seems to be the standard we're all supposed to aspire to. We have been conditioned this way forever.

AndroidPIT Nexus5 Nexus5
Perhaps the Nexus 5 isn't as ''sexy'' as the Nexus 4, but that glass back was problematic. / © AndroidPIT

I like the look of metallic and glass phones, but they're not my cup of tea. I don't want the added weight or lack of impact absorption if I do drop my phone. I'm not exactly clumsy, but the glass back of the Nexus 4 was a terrible idea for obvious reasons. There's a reason that so many smartphones are made of plastic - they are disposable, relatively cheap to manufacture and we're meant to want to upgrade them every six months or year. This is why expensive watches are not made of plastic. If you have a perfectly crafted, timelessly designed slab of glass and aluminum in your pocket you may not feel slightly so tempted to buy the next iteration of plastic fantastic. And we know all these manufacturing decisions basically boil down to selling smartphones.

HTC one m8 one mini 2 camera teaser
Even if metal isn't your thing, you have to admit this looks nice. / © AndroidPIT

Apple goes metallic because it allows them to put a premium price tag on their phones. HTC is hell bent on being a design leader, and that goes hand in hand with metal, like it or not. You don't see designer kitchens decked out all in plastic after all, it has to be acres of stainless steel baby. Shiny plastic backs on phones usually look cheap and tacky and show fingerprints and scratch easily and so forth – all the things you don't want on your ''premium'' gadget. It's simple economics – we associate metal with more expensive items and plastic with cheap, throwaway items: something the OEMs definitely want us to subconsciously think about our smartphones, even if they cost an arm and a leg. I'm not saying I agree with it, but I'm certainly sick of hearing about it every time someone reproduces a very obvious argument about materials.

What would your material of choice be and why? Plastic? Metal? Glass? Graphene? Unicorn horns?


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  • Aluminum may be associated with more expensive products, but aluminum itself is cheap. Aluminum is like that one kid who shops at Payless while his rich friends shop at Louis Vuitton.

  • Whatever the back is - plastic or metal - as long as its removable? I replace it with Kevlar (light weight & protective) ... Apple consumers are stuck with whatever Apple offers (Android manufacturers seem to be paying attention to consumers)

    • I asked LG if you could replace the back of the G3 with a metal cover and they said sure, but of course then you have antenna issues and no Qi charging. But removable covers give the option at least and I'm sure there's some very clever third-party manufacturers out there that know how to work around these issues. Choice is king!

  • My obvious choice is glass (I also like that the frame of my Z is made of glass fibre polyamide and not metal, which makes it feel more exotic, to me at least). Until graphene comes into play.

    • Hey @Bojan, you're pretty savvy with this stuff: do you know much about how the conductivity of graphene will be handled in terms of heat dispersion and internal components? Like how do you limit the conductivity when you're charging, for example? (especially Qi charging)

      • Well, I may sound savvy, but that's just because I tend to research stuff I'm interested in to not spurt nonsense over the net :D. You know, if you talk about something, at least have some idea what you're talking about, if not more. But, I'm no expert on materials and especially not on graphene, although as my free time allows it, I will be paying more attention to that material in particular, in the near future. Sorry for not being able to answer your questions.

      • Haha, I only wish everyone took that much care with what they post on the internet! No problems, I should probably research it myself, but a day is only so long and I never have enough time to read up on everything that interests me as it is.

  • Another reason metal is not so good is winter tempertures. I live in Stockholm Sweden and here the temperatur can go belove -20 degres C and in the North belove -40. No one sänts to touch metal at those temperaturen, ☺

  • Plastic. Metal is too cold in the winter.