Flagship smartphones are switching to metal cases, but I still prefer plastic
When Samsung launched the Samsung Galaxy S5, people complained that it looked cheap because it was made from the same polycarbonate plastic material found in other smartphones – without talk about the same monotonous design covering all its devices. Many of the new flagship smartphones on the market today – iPhone 6, iPhone 6 Plus, HTC One M9, Samsung Galaxy S6 and Galaxy S6 Edge – sport a metal body. Chinese companies quickly followed suit, with phones like the Gionee Elife S5.5, Huawei Ascend P8 and Xiaomi Mi 4 also using metal. On the other hand, brands that do not use metal opt for glass or leather as seen in Sony Xperia Z4 or the upcoming LG G4.
I’m using an old plastic Google Nexus 5, and I hate this switch to metal. Plastic phones hide scratches, are durable and won’t break. They are often less expensive, generally feel good in the hand, and also look great.
To date, large segments of handset users prefer metal smartphones for their premium look or feel. A few of my colleagues use the iPhone, and after a few months their handsets are covered in scratches, most of which are clearly visible in the shiny Apple logo on the back. Now they stay hidden thanks to “plastic” phone cases, which they say are part of “personalization.”
I thought smartphones with a premium metallic finish were meant to be displayed for their looks and design, not to sit under a phone case? Plastic phones tend to hide most imperfections on them while on metal bodies even the smallest marks appear awfully clear and deep. And to top it off, the plastic on my phone might not look as good to some, but it will probably last longer than your metal phone.
Here is a video clip showing a drop test of the (metal) flagship HTC One (M8) from last year. In this video, the handset is dropped three times on the ground (back, side and front) to test its durability and resistance level. Well, the very first drop test will speak for itself.
My LG-made Google Nexus 5 sports a plastic construction, and I sometimes use a case, but only because I like customization, not because I need protection for my phone.
Moving on, aluminum or magnesium (metals commonly used in smartphones) are malleable. After all, most metals bend when enough force is applied. Remember last year’s popular bendgate video featuring the iPhone 6 and iPhone 6 Plus? And also Samsung’s recent video showing the pressure new Galaxy devices can take before breaking or bending? It’s the glass Xperia Z3 that didn’t break, thanks to its rounded aluminum frame and tempered glass panels.
Smartphones with a plastic build, on the other hand, remain immune to these issues. Polycarbonate, which is used in most good quality plastic handsets, is known for its high impact resistance, good temperature resistance and flexibility. For example, take a look at the LG G3 and Samsung Galaxy S5 bend test in this video. These phones can withstand a lot more abuse.
The only advantage of metal is that it is good at dissipating heat compared to plastic. However, in the end, how much a handset heats up is mostly down to usage and the load applied to the SoC – high performance tasks will cause it to heat up, but everyday use of your phone shouldn’t be a problem.
For me, the most important thing is that a phone doesn’t have to be aluminum or magnesium to look good. I could talk about the design of the Nexus 5, which sits well in the hand and has a simple and unsophisticated design, or even the LG G3. Take the recently introduced Lumia 640 or one of Motorola’s first generation smartphones (Moto X, Moto G or Moto E). All of them are sturdy, grip well, and, in my opinion, look sleeker than metal-bodied phones.
So far, metal smartphones are still limited in number to flagships. But as is always the case, the ‘premium’ hardware could soon trickle down to mid-range handsets, as well as some budget offerings. But hopefully plastic or polycarbonate handsets never die because, for this user at least, they are the better choice.
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