Is metal becoming the new plastic?

Samsung Galaxy J5

Samsung Galaxy J5

Dimensions

5.59 x 2.83 x 0.31 inches

142.1 x 71.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

LG G5

LG G5

Dimensions

5.88 x 2.91 x 0.29 inches

149.4 x 73.9 x 7.3 mm

Weight

5.61 oz (159 g)

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Dimensions

5.48 x 2.74 x 0.33 inches

139.3 x 69.6 x 8.5 mm

Weight

5.08 oz (144 g)

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

Dimensions

6.16 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches

156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm

Weight

6.00 oz (170 g)

Samsung Galaxy J5

Samsung Galaxy J5

Dimensions

5.59 x 2.83 x 0.31 inches

142.1 x 71.8 x 7.9 mm

Weight

5.15 oz (146 g)

LG G5

LG G5

Dimensions

5.88 x 2.91 x 0.29 inches

149.4 x 73.9 x 7.3 mm

Weight

5.61 oz (159 g)

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Xiaomi Redmi 3

Dimensions

5.48 x 2.74 x 0.33 inches

139.3 x 69.6 x 8.5 mm

Weight

5.08 oz (144 g)

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

Asus ZenFone 3 Deluxe

Dimensions

6.16 x 3.05 x 0.3 inches

156.4 x 77.4 x 7.5 mm

Weight

6.00 oz (170 g)

To see the phones in real size or compare them with other models, visit our Visual Phone Size Comparison page


Oh, how things have changed since our poll more than two years ago asking you whether you are more interested in phones with premium build, rather than a plastic chassis. Samsung has been lambasted for its plastic $600+ flagships for so long, that all of a sudden it changed course late in 2014 with the start of the metal Galaxy A-series, then came the metal-and-glass Galaxy S6, and it seems that most every maker since followed suit.

So much so, that today even budget handset like Samsung's new J-series, or affordable phones from Xiaomi or Meizu, are all clad in some sort of an aluminum alloy, even sub-$200 ones. That's not even adding the current flagships from LG or HTC, which are crafted out of the cold hard stuff, too. Well, HTC was one of the first to toy around with premium metal designs, and has been doing it forever, so it's really everyone else that all of a sudden switched course in the span of a year or so, but still...

That is why we wanted to ask you today whether you think that metal is slowly turning into the new plastic. Granted, it is harder, feels more solid, and ia sometimes shiny, but if everyone and their low-enders employ it, can we really call it a "premium" design anymore? Tell us your opinion in the poll below, and pile on in the comments.

Is metal becoming the new plastic?

Yes, a metal phone is totally unremarkable now
30.38%
It might be, but I like metal chassis, so I'm cool with that
35.82%
No, metal still makes for a premium phone design if done well
33.8%

FEATURED VIDEO

42 Comments

1. siddharthayadav202

Posts: 286; Member since: Apr 23, 2016

Metal does look and feels better. But even cheap devices have started using it so it cannot make a device premium. But that does not means that it does not as advantages.

7. Switch00

Posts: 536; Member since: Sep 04, 2013

'Premium' is all about our minds and marketing tricks. As they used to say about plastic phones... they were not plastic, but premium polycarbonate, they had that premium feel. Whatever that meant. There are no borders to human stupidity.

11. sgodsell

Posts: 7377; Member since: Mar 16, 2013

If they could use wireless charging through metal, then sure. However, since they can't, then use anything else that will allow wireless charging. That's my take on the metal.

35. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

You can. It just requires a special cover to shield the metal back.

19. PhoneFixer unregistered

But Samsung NEVER made their flagships with metal AT ALL samsung is NEVER metal ALWAYS plastic and yet ppl buys it.. Ppl don't mind if plastic or metal ...

43. Diezparda

Posts: 941; Member since: Oct 23, 2013

That's true, i don't care much about it since it'll end up using plastic case anyway.

2. LeSerpentVincent

Posts: 66; Member since: May 30, 2016

Oversaturated Android phones are the reasons metal became new plastic, it's everywhere now. I hope someone can patent it and restrict them for making metal phone :(

3. Sidewinder

Posts: 515; Member since: Jan 15, 2015

^this

32. Finalflash

Posts: 4063; Member since: Jul 23, 2013

LOL, now all the broke people buying iPhones and thinking they have a premium phone feel like losers again. Well, only until the next marketing trick makes them feel special again.

45. AlikMalix unregistered

What about broke people that buy android flagships?

14. Arthurhkt

Posts: 723; Member since: Apr 19, 2012

With that logic I should just patent calling technology and no one else could ever manufactured any phone anymore, that including your beloved Apple. By the way, don't you feel boring by using a fake/troll account? Sheeh.

33. mrmessma

Posts: 271; Member since: Mar 28, 2012

Can't tell if you're serious or not. If so, I think since everyone has a handle on quality materials, let's move on to something else that is lacking. Make good phones better, not good phones worse to make others feel better.

4. vincelongman

Posts: 5695; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

IMO aluminum and magnesium alloys are the standard now for flagships, nothing special about them Hopefully one day we will see some more premium metals being useds, e.g. titanium alloys, and eventually glassy metals (e.g. Liquidmetal)

13. BradyCrack

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 29, 2015

Oh yeah give me those metallic glass. I wouldn't mind seeing different materials used in smartphones. But it'll cost a bit.

17. vincelongman

Posts: 5695; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

I'm not a chemat enginer, but I did do a chemat paper in my first year, hopefully I remember correct :) Metals have a crystalline structure, which means there's some weaker areas due to slip planes, grain boundaries and defects Metallic glasses have amorphous (glass-like) structure, which is random, not organised pattern like crystalline IIRC it means that there's are no slip planes or grain boundaries, and the defects are more spread out Amorphous materials, e.g. glass and ceramics, are harder than metals, but very very brittle (no slip planes) Metallic glasses are supposed to be stronger and harder than metals while being less brittle and tougher than glass/ceramics BTW I believe a 3D crystalline network structure is the strongest structure (e.g. diamond), but that's those materials impractical for phone frames (even metallic glasses is most likely too expensive at the moment)

18. BradyCrack

Posts: 835; Member since: Dec 29, 2015

Yep, I believe metallic glass is cooled down at a fast rate before it can transform into a crystalline structure. Very cool. Would love to see people making products with this stuff. Of course, it all come down to money...

5. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

Plastic is so much better than metal for a phone though... - Tough - Allows RF reception - Mold to any shape - Mold to any texture from gloss to rough, can have both on same surface! - Any colour - Cheap All metal really has going for it is that it can dissipate heat better, can be slightly thinner and that it's "premium" looking... Before you put it in a case because it's not durable enough that is. The iPhone 3G showed plastic can look classy and the shape was far better than the flat and slippery metal iPhone 6 - that's before we even get onto the need for ugly antenna lines...

6. TerryTerius unregistered

Wasn't there another company besides LG that recently figured out how to make a metal phone without antenna lines? And if I remember correctly Apple is working on doing that too. Besides, Samsung with the S7 and S6 showed antenna lines can be there without detracting from the design in the slightest. Eh, I guess it all comes down to personal taste. I've always preferred the aesthetics of metal, wood, ceramic, leather or glass over the practicality of plastic, but you certainly have valid points.

8. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

Yeah I'm sure there are many ways around the problem - it's another reason I think Jony Ive isn't quite the designer he thinks he is. He's shown in recent years (including upcoming iPhone 7 leaks if true) that he's got very little imagination with Steve Jobs out of the picture. I agree that there are aesthetic and tactile benefits to many materials but plastic can be done well too, that said I'm currently designing products made of aluminium and lacquered wood veneer :D.

9. TerryTerius unregistered

That already sounds beautiful without any further knowledge of what you do, ha. And to a large degree I agree with you about Ive. I honestly think he partially suffers from the weight of his own ego in the sense that he seems too resistant to change. If I may ask, what are you working on? If you're at liberty to share that kind of information.

22. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

Sure, lots of projects at the moment! Just launching a Bluetooth Sub/Sat computer speaker/soundbar system - http://i2.wp.com/www.acoustic-energy.co.uk/wp-content/uploads/Aego-3-Table-and-Tablet.jpg?fit=1000%2C696 That uses aluminium heavily on the satellites but it's from our "budget" electronics range, I'm nearly done on two small table-top Bluetooth speakers that look a little classier and then the Hi-Fi products are where we use the nicer materials... The Bluetooth speakers are also all aluminium but as long as you leave certain spacing and enough areas of plastic/rubber you don't have an issue with signal. That's why the iPhone 6 design surprised me with the antenna bands because I thought they'd have found a more elegant solution than just copying HTC!

24. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

The smaller Bluetooth speaker - http://s33.postimg.org/uybyd1n6n/d_B1_2.jpg

25. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

And the more expensive conventional speaker (though active - with 100watts per side) in black and cherry - http://s33.postimg.org/99dpknrxb/AE1_Active.jpg Sorry for all the posts! :D

27. TerryTerius unregistered

All of those are dope, clean lines and smooth minimalistic forms free of unnecessary detail. I really like those. And the entire 3 series looks absolutely gorgeous for the same reasons. Thanks for sharing :)

28. Jimrod

Posts: 1605; Member since: Sep 22, 2014

Thanks! The 3 Series was the first range I designed from scratch, never been keen on all the nuts and bolts showing so do my best to get rid of them. Before I used to just to do the sound but I got fed up with design agencies being useless a few years back! :D

37. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

The way around the problem is simple, use a less denser or interference causing material. For example, Magnesium alloy. Magnesium is very light. In fact it feels like plastic when its done. It doesn't have that shiny metallic look for feel. Its less slippery without using textures. The Surface Pro's are a very good example of this. Also Samsung has shown there are better ways to do the antenna gaps. The ones on the S6/S7/Note 5 are small. I've still naever had any reception problems. The thing is HTC and Apple are terrible at design They all can use other materials that feel premium. Poly-Carbonate is the one they should never have left. But they could have brought the use of Kevlar, or Carbon Fiber. Bikes made of carbon are light. Sure they are more expensive than their aluminum counterparts, but that is because of other things needed to support components and weight of a rider. something a phone wouldn't need. The problem is those materials are harder to manufacturer at a high pace. They are typically done by hand. As carbon bikes for example, are all built by hand. But Magnesium is a good option.

15. vincelongman

Posts: 5695; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

ASUS Their Zenfone 3 Ultra and Zenfone 3 Deluxe http://images.anandtech.com/doci/10372/1464590829810-294000853.jpg

16. TerryTerius unregistered

Ah, that's the one. I forget about ASUS & ZTE embarrassingly frequently. Thanks.

20. vincelongman

Posts: 5695; Member since: Feb 10, 2013

You're welcome :D

36. TechieXP1969

Posts: 14967; Member since: Sep 25, 2013

To add. Plastic/poly-carbonate is more resilient to drop as the material absorbs shock better vs metal which doesn't which is what causes the glass to shatter easier. Plastic allows for a modular design, which is easier to take apart and fix. Notice how Samsung early smartphones had much higher DIY repair numbers vs now they are just as bad as Apple. A phone being glued together is terrible design.

Latest Stories

This copy is for your personal, non-commercial use only. You can order presentation-ready copies for distribution to your colleagues, clients or customers at https://www.parsintl.com/phonearena or use the Reprints & Permissions tool that appears at the bottom of each web page. Visit https://www.parsintl.com/ for samples and additional information.