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Smartphone Build Material Showdown

Smartphone Build Material Showdown

If you take a look at the array of smartphone options today, you’ll find that manufacturers still use different build materials on their phones. With Samsung, you not only have the glass back panels that you can find on their flagships. But, you can also see that they use a polycarbonate build material on their A-series phones which they call “Glasstic.” Same with other manufacturers. Meanwhile, Google uses a metal construction for some of their Pixel phones.

So, why does this matter? Why should one care if a phone has a glass, plastic, or metal back? Well, if you’re one of the rare and brave people who don’t like to use a case for their phone. Then, surely you’ll understand that the material used on a phone’s build heavily impacts the way it feels. It could mean the difference between a phone feeling like an actual phone, jewelry, or a toy. Simply put, the build material used can affect whether a phone feels cheap or premium.

Aside from hand feel, the build material used in the construction of a smartphone can also affect how secure you feel about it. For some people, a glass phone will always feel like it’s on the verge of slipping from their hands. One fall could mean the end for its beautiful and shiny look. Meanwhile, if it’s a plastic phone, then bumps or drops won’t mean as much because plastic is more durable and less prone to shattering compared to glass.

With that said, what are the pros and the cons of each smartphone build material? And, which one is the best?

Glass: For those who like it shiny and premium looking

Glass as a smartphone build material looks premium. However, it is fragile.
Photo courtesy: Android Central

Almost all smartphones use a combination of a metal frame and a glass back panel as build materials. It got popular from the early examples such as the iPhone 4s and the Samsung Galaxy S6. And, there’s a reason it became popular! Glass backs on a smartphone offer a really good look and feel which appeals to the majority of consumers. Along with this, some of the pros of this smartphone build material are better access to improved reception, access to wireless charging, and scratch resistance.

However, glass is glass and it is fragile. This smartphone build material is likely to shatter if you drop it at the right height. It will also shatter or crack if it hits the ground at the right angle or if it hits any pebble or hard items upon impact. Glass back smartphones are also prone to fingerprint smudges which doesn’t do much for it’s premium look and feel. Instead of looking shiny and expensive, fingerprint smudges make a glass phone look dirty.

Metal: A rarely used smartphone build material these days

We rarely smartphones with bodies constructed out of a full metal build material.
Photo courtesy: Tech Advisor

The last time we’ve seen a smartphone with a metal build material in the spotlight was when the iPhone 6 series was around. During that time we also saw smartphones like the Huawei Nova 2i and the Nokia 6. But, it looks as if the metal body smartphones are a thing of the past. Despite the good looks and feel that they provide, these days we mostly see smartphones rocking plastic or glass build materials. The reason is simply that the metal body on a smartphone can’t keep up with modern times. With a metal build material on a smartphone, you can’t use NFC or wireless charging. You also don’t have as good of a connection as compared to phones with glass backs. This is because metal causes interference with high-frequency radio waves which causes unstable connection.

Plastic: The OG smartphone build material

Plastic is still a widely used smartphone build material even to this day.
Photo courtesy: TechRadar

There’s a good reason why we still see plastic being used in smartphone builds today. This is because plastic provides durability, unlike glass which can shatter, or metal which is prone to scratches and can bend. The flexible nature of plastic makes this smartphone build material difficult to shatter, dent, or scratch. This means that if you drop a smartphone made primarily out of plastic, you don’t have to worry about cracks. Using plastic on a smartphone build also means that there will be no reception or connectivity issues. Unlike metal, plastic or polycarbonate build materials don’t interfere with connectivity. It even allows manufacturers to place antennae inside the phone instead of on the exterior. This is why you don’t see antennae lines on the frame of a plastic phone, unlike glass and metal phones.

Using plastic as a building material for a phone also costs less for manufacturers. This is why we mostly see plastic on entry-level to mid-range devices because a plastic build material on a smartphone is also a way for a manufacturer to keep the price low.

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However, a plastic phone also comes with disadvantages. Unlike smartphones which use a glass or metal build material, a plastic phone feels cheap. It also looks cheap. Unless a manufacturer spends time on the design of the phone. In this case, a polycarbonate back can also sometimes look premium. Take the Samsung Galaxy S21 for example. It’s a premium flagship phone that utilizes the use of plastic back exceptionally.

Heat dissipation can also be a problem with plastic back smartphones since plastic is not a good material for dispersing heat quickly.

Which smartphone build material do you think is the best?

When it comes to choosing the best build material for a smartphone, many opinions exist. Some feel partial to the glass and metal sandwich, while some feel that plastic is still a better way to go. Some people don’t care at all! After all, the phone will live inside a protective case anyway. But, tiny details matter with items like smartphones that are getting expensive. You want to feel that you are getting what you paid for because details like the build material also reflect the value for money of a smartphone.

So, are you team glass? team plastic? or are you team metal? All of these smartphone build materials are good in their own way. But, they also have their drawbacks. And, choosing one doesn’t mean you get to shame the others. Sometimes, what we consider the best might not be good enough for others, and that’s okay! If it serves you well, nobody should care what it’s made of, because it’s the best for you.

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