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Why are some Android phones made of plastic?

Discussion in 'Android Lounge' started by Trackr, May 8, 2014.

  1. Trackr

    Trackr Newbie
    Thread Starter

    I got into an argument the other day with an iPhone 5S owner who claimed that his phone is superior to the Samsung Galaxy Note 3, despite the size difference.

    Thinking about it, I realized that he was right - the build quality of the iPhone 5S seems to be far better. In fact, it seems that the Note 3 and almost all Android phones are made of.. plastic. Some are made of harder kinds of plastic and polycarbonate but those are still plastics.

    What made me feel odd about it, is that these phones are super high-tech gadgets and their fronts are made of the same glass material and are aesthetically equal.

    However, the sides and back of the iPhone are clearly superior.

    For instance, my Galaxy Nexus. Its front is gorgeous, but back and sides are made of a slightly cheap plastic.

    I guess I feel kind of disillusioned and I'm not sure why this never occurred to me nor bothered me before. I guess I just took Android phones for what they are, and never realized that they were plastic while iPhones are glass and metal.

    What I don't understand are why they can't be at least partially metal. I'm not talking about glass on the back, but like my Galaxy Nexus.. the sides are made of a plastic rim that could have easily been made of aluminium. It would have made the phone feel far more robust, in my mind.

    But again, this never bothered me before, so it's weird. Anyone else know why Samsung chose to use plastic?


  2. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

    Hello, the 21st Century is calling you. This is no longer the 1960s. Plastic is the superior product to metal in many ways. I'm not sure if the Note 3 has a back cover like the S4, but if so, pull it off and then try to imagine building the same thing out of metal. You couldn't do it, and that back allows both a removable battery and a microSD card. (And yes I know there are metal phones which can do the same, but it makes it easier.)

    About the only advantage metal has to plastic for a cell phone body is the ability to conduct heat, but with many cell phone users using covers the manufacturers need to deal with heat dissipation anyway.

    There was a recent article that actually covered the pros and cons of each type material. I'll try to find it.
  3. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

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  4. Hadron

    Hadron Smoke me a kipper...
    VIP Member

    Might want to do something about your thread title though. Not all android phones are made of plastic: you can have metal, glass, heck even wood if you want. :)
    funkylogik and Crashdamage like this.
  5. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

    AnandTech didn't cover wood!
  6. Trackr

    Trackr Newbie
    Thread Starter

    I read that article, but I don't see how plastic is superior when it is clearly cheaper. Not only that, but it is used BECAUSE it's cheaper.

    So, I just feel used. I'm buying the Note 3 and laughing all the way home about how I got a bigger phone with more features than the 5S and for cheaper.. not realizing that the 5S is superior overall because of its build quality.. and also aesthetics because the smooth back is awesome, but whatever I'm talking about materials.

    I mean, if Samsung chose to use plastic for my Galaxy Nexus because it's superior, I'd understand and I wouldn't feel stupid laughing at the 5S.. but clearly, that's not the case.

    I guess I just feel angry that my only choices now are: iPhone or plastic Android.. oh, unless I want to spend more money and get a less attractive phone. I want the Note 3, godamn it.. not some Sony Ericsson phone that just happens to be made with metal.

    It's like laptops, isn't it? Macbook Pro Retina - Metal. Any windows laptop under 3,000$ - plastic. Why are we so forsaken?

    What pisses me off was that somewhere down the line in designing the Galaxy Nexus someone said "hey, we need to make the battery cover plastic so it can be removed", then someone else said "well, we might as well make the sides and basically the rest of the phone out of that same cheap plastic so that the only part that feels of high quality is the screen".
  7. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

    Why would you care about the cost? You determine how good something is by how well it works.

    Using an analogy, Mercedes and BMW used to build good cars. They no longer do, but you can't determine that by the cost.

    There are lots of things that are cheaper which are better. The Samsung S5 over any Applie iPhone comes to mind.

    And your choice wasn't just a plastic Android. As has already been pointed out the HTC flagship phones are metal. If you're that hung up on metal that would be the best choice.
  8. Trackr

    Trackr Newbie
    Thread Starter

    It's not that I'm hung up on metal, I'm just wondering why it's not the standard for Android phones like it is for iPhones.

    Doesn't it seem like Samsung thinks they can use any shitty material and we'd be forced to buy it unless we want to spend more money on HTC? And if HTC isn't more expensive, why are they using metal while Samsung uses plastic?
  9. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

    Plastic is not a shitty material. You need to get that out of your head. That hasn't been true since the 1960s.

    When I was buying my phone the important things on the list were: (1) Removable battery; (2) microSD card; (3) NFC; (4) Large screen. Plastic/metal wasn't an important factor, but if I had a preference it was for plastic because plastic doesn't easily dent or scratch.

    Using my criteria for buying a phone, the iPhone is a shitty phone. It has none of the features that are important to me. IMHO, most people who buy iPhones do zero research about features because they accept whatever Apple offers, even if those offerings are absurdly deficient. But hey, it's a metal case! I'm underwhelmed.
  10. Hadron

    Hadron Smoke me a kipper...
    VIP Member

    I can't speak for Samsung. They'd probably say that they use plastic for durability, weight or some mixture. They wouldn't publicly say "it's cheaper so gives us a higher profit margin", but of course they will have considered commercial factors as well. The truth is probably that they would use metal if they thought they could charge enough extra or sell enough extra phones to outweigh the cost of doing so (including different antenna design and retooling their production lines), and if they don't think that then they won't.

    The "standard" for IPhones is what Apple decide they will do in any given year. For 2 years that was all plastic for them too.

    I don't know whether you'd pay more for a HTC or not. Last year the original list price of the S4 where I am was slightly higher than the HTC One, but it fell faster and before too long was cheaper. Carrier subsidies mean you don't see real pricing anyway. But real prices are always determined more by "what are people willing to pay" than "how much did this cost to make", which is why I talked about margins above.
  11. Slug

    Slug Check six!
    VIP Member

    I think there are many pofessional cyclists, racing drivers and fighter pilots who would take issue with your description of plastic, considering that their heads are protected by the stuff. :)

    Btw, the iPhone 5C and most Nokia Lumia handsets also use plastics for the phone casing.
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  12. Rxpert83

    Rxpert83 Dr. Feelgood

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  13. Goodspike

    Goodspike Android Expert

    Good point. You could also add tennis rackets and golf clubs to the list. And of course there's the Boeing 787 which is largely plastic, and will likely have a lot longer lifespan for each plane because of that, but which also saves a ton of fuel.

    As I said, people who think plastic is "cheap" are stuck in the 1960s.
  14. pool_shark

    pool_shark Android Expert

    The conversations of "premium feel" (usually comes up when speaking of Samsung) is so absurd to me.

    I wouldn't care if a phone was made of grass. All I care about are the features and specs.
  15. chanchan05

    chanchan05 The Doctor

    1. Does it matter? You're encasing the iPhone and the Note in a case anyway. Premium feel? once you put both in a case, it's either plastic or rubber. The premium feel argument for me is the a stupid argument in that case.

    2. Say you don't put the phones in a case. Have you seen the collective outburst against the iPhone 5s where the phones came out of the box with scratches? Or was that iPhone 5? Whatever the case, metal being more durable than plastic isn't true. It just makes the device heavier, and that's about it. Carbon fiber isn't metal but it's 3x stronger and lighter than steel. I think it could be considered a polymer.

    3. Have you seen the drop tests? iPhones break as easily as the weakest Android phones. That's not to say that Androids don't break, as bad construction design could also cause breaks easily. However plastic is, well, plastic. It bends and can absorb more impact. Haven't seen drop tests for the 5s, s4 and note 3, but for the 5, s3 and Note 2, the Note 2 comes out the winner. Edge to edge glass was the downfall for the S3, and the metal for the S5. This is because metal does not bend, simply transmitting the impact force direct to the glass, so a fall on the edge breaks it immediately since there is no force outlet. The Note on the other hand, has a plastic construction with the chrome plated plastic surrounding the edge, with the cover designed in such a way to cling to that edge. On impact, the bending of the plastic transmits to the back cover and sends it flying, allowing an outlet for the impact energy. The screen is saved from a 6foot fall on it's edge, while the S3 and iPhone break from a mere 3 feet. So proper construction design with plastic can be considered superior.
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  16. mikedt

    mikedt 你好

    Hello this is the 21st century you know? We're not using Bakelite any more. ;)

    You might have noticed that cars are using plastic(polypropylene) bumpers and not metal bumpers to protect you and their metalwork these days? And all those construction workers, motorcyclists and cyclists that are using polycarbonate helmets and not aluminium helmets to protect themselves. And polycarbonate is what Samsung uses to make their phones. In fact aluminium would be a bad material to use for safety helmets, because it doesn't keep it's shape under impacts and stress AFAIK. Drop a heavy object or hit the ground with an aluminium helmet, it's likely to put a large dent into it and your head....not good.

    What about plastic iPhone 5Cs and metal Androids? As long as you got the $$$ for the metal 5S, rather than going for the cheaper plastic 5C. What really puts me off iPhones these days, is the prices and the fact I think they're too small for my uses, as well as the BS brand whore Gucci like aspect of Apple products that one finds in this country.

    FYI Sony-Ericsson doesn't actually exist these days, they're just called Sony now.
  17. mikedt

    mikedt 你好

    Yeh, and what good is a premium feel when it's all full of dents and dings from everyday usage. And in this country especially, how an iPhone looks can seriously affect its resale value. So it actually pays you to keep it hidden and protected in a case and cherish it.

    Perhaps in a premium phone like the 5S, Apple should be using titanium rather than the cheaper and softer aluminium. In that way a metal phone would be more resilient to wear, dents and dings, and keep looking good for longer. Vertu uses titanium, but you're paying one hell of a price for their phones.


    An Android phone I purchased recently, Oppo Find 7a, that uses a titanium alloy frame and chassis, and the removable back is made of carbon-fibre plastic. And this is a flagship Android that's around half the price of the iPhone 5S.
  18. nickdalzell

    nickdalzell Android Expert

    Don't forget how metal also shields radio waves...

    Remember the signal issues in the iPhone 4? "You're holding it wrong"

    So happy to be a Samdroid.
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  19. fdbryant3

    fdbryant3 Android Expert

    I'm with you. I've held the iPhone and I owned several Samsung phone and you know what - I choose Samsung. Why, because I don't understand this notion that if it is plastic it is cheap and feels it or why that matters. Personally I think it just feels - smooth and comfortable in my hand.

    I tend to avoid criticizing people's tastes. You like what you like and that is what makes the world go round. So if the OP doesn't like a phone cause it is made of plastic, great good for him. It is as valid a reason as anything else I guess. However - I have to say, this is the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard. Your (the OP) fine and dandy with your phone till your friend convinces you that it is inferior because it is made of plastic. Not because of something it can't do, not because of performance, not because of not because the iPhone does something different.....but because it is made of plastic? Seriously? This ruins the experience for you and only after your friend makes an issue of it? I mean I know that people can be influenced into thinking something is better because they are simply told to think it is better (and honestly, to a degree, Apple is built on this) - but still, this really ruins it for you? I just don't get it.

    Like I said though - you like what you like. So here is what I recommend:

    A) Sell your phone, and buy an HTC One M8 or some other metal body phone. Then rub it in your friends that one of the strengths of the Android platform is you have choice.
    B) Sell your phone, and buy an iPhone because if your that easily influenced you might as well follow those sheeple.
    C) Man up and embrace that it is plastic, that you can do things like change your battery and have an SD card. That your phone is superior because of all the things it can do.
    D) Just stop worrying about what other people have and think.
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  20. mikedt

    mikedt 你好

    Hang on what standard? :thinking: Because this year Apple decided to make a plastic iPhone and a metal iPhone. No doubt the 5S is really more expensive because it's higher specced and has more features than its cheaper 5C brother. And they're both quite expensive anyway.

    IMO using the words "Apple" or "iPhone" and "standard" in the same sentence is kind of an oxymoron.
  21. nickdalzell

    nickdalzell Android Expert

    Haha the 5c is about as hideous as iOS 7. iOS 7 is what brought me over to Samsung Galaxy stuff. iOS 7 was installed on its own to both my iPhone 4 and iPad 3. Made be very angry too. At least i have choices with Android. Before, it did not matter as Apple iOS was to me, beautiful and i loved how my iPhone essentially became whatever i wanted it to me with the level of 3-D and skeuomorphism coupled with the Retina display. It could be a 80s cassette deck, a radio, a clock, anything. Even a wireless weather station. Then iOS 7 came and ruined it with its mostly white hospital style sterility. It turned from warm and inviting, to cold and metallic. As far as i am concerned, flat design can go crawl back into the 1980s where it started, right next to AOL 1.1 and MS-DOS 6
  22. John Bean

    John Bean Happy Wanderer

    Nothing cheap about those materials :)

    I wasn't going to comment on this thread but your reply made me think: why do people use incredibly broad collectives like "metal" and "plastic" and attach tags to them implying one is better (and more expensive) than the other?

    For example there are lots of cheap (and/or unsuitable) metals I'd rather not have a phone made from - lead anyone? Equally there are unsuitable cheap plastics, but also very expensive and totally appropriate plastic composites like carbon fibre.

    "Metal versus plastic" is a completely meaningless comparison when considering either cost or quality; one may be chosen over the other for aesthetic purposes but the only real test is suitability for purpose, where modern plastics are often the material of choice even when cost is not a major consideration - ask any F1 car designer.
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  23. mikedt

    mikedt 你好

    :D ...neither would I.

    Even lead has it's uses where other metals such as aluminium may not be so suitable, ammunition, roofing, radiation shielding. Lead is also extremely unsuitable for making aircraft from, on the other hand things like aluminium, titanium and carbon-fibre composite plastics are.
  24. funpig

    funpig Android Enthusiast


    Well, Samsung just fired their designer. So maybe the new samsung phones will be different.

    PS. I am ok with either plastic or metal. But i do like good fit and finish. I still think the plastic iphone 3gs was one of the best looking phones, better than the 4 or 5. And i like the feel of the metallic HTC One. Our ipad 3 also feels so solid. On the other hand my galaxy tab has a creaky back cover.
  25. mikedt

    mikedt 你好

    My first Android four years ago, Samsung Galaxy S, appeared a bit creaky, cheap and toy like. I'm pretty sure that had something to do with its demise, I think it flexed a bit too much in my pocket and cracked the screen. Most Samsungs these days don't appear to be that at all IMO, like the S4 and S5.
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