How is a stainless steel iPhone XS better than any other aluminum phone?

How is a stainless steel iPhone XS better than any other aluminum phone?
It was once a metal more precious than gold. Napoleon the 3rd of France is said to have held a banquet where cutlery made of it was given to his most respected guests... while others made do with golden utensils. It is also what the top of the Washington Monument is made of, symbolizing the nation's industrial prowess at the time when the structure was erected.

The material in question is aluminum. Light, durable, and abundant in nature, it is one of the most widely used metals today, with applications ranging from making soda cans to constructing cars and airplanes. In one form or another, it is also found in the phone you're probably holding right now.

Stainless steel is another metal with widespread use, but not when it comes to phones. In fact, there are very few handsets utilizing stainless steel in their construction – premium models like the iPhone X and iPhone XS, for instance – even though the metal is superior to aluminum in a number of ways. Why is that?

The key strengths of stainless steel


Stainless steel is an awesome material. It is highly resistant to corrosion and it looks lovely when polished, but most importantly, it is very, very strong. In fact, the mechanical strength of stainless steel greatly exceeds that of most aluminum alloys, which is why it is the preferred material for products that must meet a higher durability standard – luxury watches, automotive parts, and in our case, premium smartphones. Being stronger than aluminum allows stainless steel to resist dents, scratches, and bending much better, and that's a good thing if you want your product to last. 


Where stainless steel falls short


Aluminum is here to stay, that's for sure. In part, that's due to its versatility – the metal is found in anything from food and beverage packaging to power cables and airplane components. The iPhone XR, the Galaxy S9, the Pixel 3, the LG V40 – all of these phones use aluminum in their construction. Aluminum may not be stronger than stainless steel, but it is strong enough for a device of this kind while giving it a much-desired premium feel. 

The reason why aluminum is preferred over stainless steel by smartphone manufacturers is easy to guess: it is simply cheaper to make a phone's frame and chassis out of it. Aluminum is usually more expensive than steel per unit of weight, but since aluminum is about 2.5 times less dense, a ton of aluminum can theoretically yield about 2.5 times more components than a ton of steel. 

On top of that, aluminum is softer, thus easier to machine and turn into actual phone parts – another reason why aluminum is cheaper to use. Below is a video by Apple showing how an iPhone 7 body is made using a CNC machine. Had Apple used stainless steel, the process would have been slower, more difficult, and more expensive. 


This isn't the only advantage aluminum has over stainless steel. It is much lighter. It is easier to apply color to. It conducts heat more easily, and phones that run cooler do run more efficiently. But ultimately, the lower cost of using aluminum is the top reason why stainless steel is – and is likely to remain – a metal found only in premium mobile products. 

Aluminum series – what are those?


It is worth clarifying that aluminum is rarely used in its pure form. It is simply too soft, which limits its use. In practice, aluminum is often mixed with other metals to create stronger alloys. So when a phone or any other piece of electronics is marketed as made of aluminum, it is in fact made of a blend of metals, with aluminum comprising no less than 85% of any of its alloys. 

Currently, there are over 500 aluminum alloys, each with its own properties and metallic content. You will most often see these alloys designated by an individual 4-digit number: the first digit in the alloy number indicates the series that it belongs to, and each series has its properties and composition characteristics. For example, the thin and light aluminum foil you'd find in a kitchen can be made of alloy 1050 or 1100 – an alloy that comes close to pure aluminum. The walls of soda cans are stronger, made of alloy 3004 which is comprised of aluminum and manganese. Mixing aluminum with silicon and magnesium produces the even stronger 6000-series aluminum: Apple is said to have used alloy 6003 for the iPhone 6. And the even stronger 7000-series is made of aluminum mixed with zinc. 

While both 6000- and 7000-series aluminum are suitable for making a smartphone's outer components, primarily the latter is found in premium models as it is stronger. Samsung is said to be using 7003 aluminum for the Galaxy S9. Apple uses a custom 7000-series alloy for its phones and watches. And while there also exists an 8000-series, these aluminum alloys are not stronger, contrary to what the larger number may lead us to expect.

For those curious to learn more, the Aluminum Alloys 101 page over at Aluminum.org could prove a valuable resource. 

Related phones

iPhone XS
  • Display 5.8" 1125 x 2436 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A12 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2490 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 2659 mAh(20h talk time)
iPhone XR
  • Display 6.1" 828 x 1792 pixels
  • Camera 12 MP / 7 MP front
  • Processor Apple A12 Bionic, Hexa-core, 2490 MHz
  • Storage 64 GB
  • Battery 2942 mAh(25h talk time)

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28 Comments

1. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Stainless Steel? Essential Phone and Red Hydrogen will laugh at that.. Titanium FTW..

4. Ninetysix

Posts: 2965; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

Titanium? Black Panther will laugh at that.. Vibranium FTW..

7. AmashAziz

Posts: 2934; Member since: Jun 30, 2014

How about adamantium?

8. tedkord

Posts: 17463; Member since: Jun 17, 2009

I guess Wolverine is laughing at them all.

21. Ninetysix

Posts: 2965; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

RIP Logan.

14. JCASS889

Posts: 606; Member since: May 18, 2018

How about a non made up material

18. Ninetysix

Posts: 2965; Member since: Oct 08, 2012

How about you limit the number of replies.

15. JCASS889

Posts: 606; Member since: May 18, 2018

How about a non made up material

16. JCASS889

Posts: 606; Member since: May 18, 2018

How about a non made up material

17. JCASS889

Posts: 606; Member since: May 18, 2018

How about a non made up material

11. GreenMan

Posts: 2698; Member since: Nov 09, 2015

Diamond FTW. Koh-e-Noor is laughing at them all.

2. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1471; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

It's aluminium, not aluminum. Aluminum is what a 5 year old would call it.

5. syntaxlord

Posts: 239; Member since: Oct 01, 2018

Different countries, different pronunciations...obviously you're not an American.

22. Back_from_beyond

Posts: 1471; Member since: Sep 04, 2015

Even in America it technically is aluminium.

25. sgtdisturbed47

Posts: 970; Member since: Feb 02, 2012

No American I've ever come in contact ever has said "Aluminium"

26. ojdidit84

Posts: 462; Member since: Jul 16, 2011

No. It's not. It's Aluminum in the US.

10. NateDiaz

Posts: 1092; Member since: Mar 03, 2018

Stop living in mammas basement.

13. worldpeace

Posts: 3135; Member since: Apr 15, 2016

Congrats on making yourself looks like 5-year old..https://www.dictionary.com/browse/aluminum Not everyone on this planet write/read it as aluminium.

19. whatev

Posts: 2410; Member since: Oct 28, 2015

Lmao, thanks for the laugh and making yourself a joke. Btw, I made my profile pic for you and haven’t said anything :(

3. steodoreben

Posts: 379; Member since: Sep 26, 2013

Aluminium is better in my opinion. I love its matte finish. Hairline scratches are visible in stainless steel. I have a greasy hands. It slips off my hand and I don't want to wipe the edges all the time. I think Essential and Red are more premium than Apple. It has a ceramic, kevlar and titanium body.

24. Peaceboy

Posts: 640; Member since: Oct 11, 2018

Apple is the only premium, the rest is garbage.

6. syntaxlord

Posts: 239; Member since: Oct 01, 2018

Stainless steel definitely feels more premium

9. mahima

Posts: 743; Member since: Nov 20, 2014

Fitting title for th site

12. OneLove123

Posts: 1257; Member since: Aug 28, 2018

My lg V10 already had stainless steel.

20. RoboticEngi

Posts: 1251; Member since: Dec 03, 2014

OMFG when apple went for ALU, it was the top dollar. Now they use stainless steel, and suddenly that is back on the crown. If apple made an iPhone body of poop, would that also be the best?

23. wickedwilly

Posts: 743; Member since: Sep 19, 2018

"How is a stainless steel iPhone XS better than any other aluminum phone?" Both metals have pros and cons and for me having stainless steel is more of a disadvantage. For one the metal is a small part of the phone, it is just a band. iPhones have never been the most robust phones, more often less than many of their peers, the stainless steel versions are no different, so it gives no noticeable improvement in strength. So if SS is not better for protection, using a more expensive metal is pointless unless for aesthetic reasons. Yes, SS is shiny, but it is obvious that from the day you unbox a SS iPhone, micro scratches accumulate very fast even with a case. Yet weight has always been a crucial factor on phones, Apple boasting about thin and light and maintaining this only by missing out on features that are arguably far more important, so this by their standards in bad news. If it was better why is the iPad not made of steel? So SS on an iPhone does not make it better and in some ways makes it less desirable. As always it is just a marketing ploy by Apple to persuade gullible Apple fans that the phone is better. It seems PA is one of these.

27. almostdone

Posts: 449; Member since: Sep 25, 2012

Another iPA article. They're so blatantly obvious all these writers must be paid to be like a sheep.

28. romeo1

Posts: 823; Member since: Jan 06, 2012

I like stainless Steel more. The in hand feel of the z3+ is still unmatched for me. It feels really expensive.

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