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Question of the Day: What’s Wrong With Plastic Smartphones?

Samsung Galaxy S4

I have a completely honest question to ask the DL community as we head into the weekend that has to do with smartphone build quality. Over the years, we’ve seen devices built from aluminum, fancy micro arc oxidation processes, glass, kevlar, and of course, plastic. All have clearly had their own sets of issues, but one in particular always gets more negative feedback than the others and that is plastic. I’m just curious, what exactly is your reasoning for not wanting a plastic phone? 

Whenever Samsung announces their new smartphone, since it is always made of plastic, we hear the same groans and complaints almost simultaneously:

  • “Nice internals, but it’s made of cheap plastic.”
  • “It just feels cheap because of the plastic.”
  • “Why can’t they use premium materials like aluminum or glass?”

I’m just not sure I understand the hatred here. Plastic, is probably more durable than most of the other materials I mentioned above, for one. It’s not like the all-aluminum iPhone 5 or HTC One can last through a drop test anymore than a Galaxy S3 (go search “iPhone 5 drop test” on YouTube). Sure, it might take an extra drop (if it’s lucky) before the screen spiderwebs, but it’ll still crack like none other should you drop it a certain way. And let’s not forget the chipping paint and finish issues since these fancy aluminum devices are also starting to get paint jobs.

Aluminum and glass also scratch just as easy as something made from plastic (maybe even easier). All you have to do is ask me and my opinion on the Optimus G and Nexus 4’s glass panels. After terrible experiences with both, I’ve had to wrap my entire new Nexus 4 in a plastic case to make sure it survives more than a week.

And that brings me to my next point – don’t most people put a plastic case on their phones anyway? Or are you aluminum and glass lovers finding cases made of the same materials?

I’m trying to wrap my brain around this idea as I sit here on a plane back to Portland and am struggling to fully understand it. Is it because you pay an arm and a leg for a smartphone that you expect it to be made of the finest materials? Do you want some sort of piece of mind, knowing that the most powerful device in your life isn’t made from the same material as your child’s Legos? Or is it simply an excuse to find fault?

Hit up the comments with your thoughts.

  • Alan Paone

    I’m going to live with a device for two years, I’m paying a lot for it. Its always in my field of view, hand or pocket. If I’m going to pick one device to splurge and go premium, it might as well be my phone. Especially when its the same price, it should be in the same league in terms of look and feel. It feels like Samsung is aggressively making the device feel as bad as possible, while selling it for the same price as an iPhone 5, it feels like Samsung is arrogantly trolling customers, while apple/htc is trying to please customers.

  • specialblend15

    For me, it all relates to having a “High End” Phone. Its the same principle as owning a ferrari. If someone owns a ferrari, they want it to feel as nice on the inside as it drives. They dont want it to have the same cheap feel as my friend’s toyota. the same applies to my phone. When playign several hundred dollars for a top of the line phone, I want it to feel as if it was worth that. I hated the GSIII purely because of build quality. I baby my devices, and while I have dropped them, Im not throwing them around without a case, or as hard as the ones in the drop test videos.While I do put my phone and laptop in “plastic” cases, its for protection, nothing more. I like to have my premium smartphone feel premium too. Just my take on things…thoughts?

  • binqker

    Look people, Who cares about the phone being plastic! People are going to be buying covers for them anyway! So whats the point of discussing it. haha.

    It should be FUNCTION first before FORM!

  • Ralph Basile

    Nothing is wrong with plastic. I have had anodized aluminum, plastic and now glass. The glass one is too soon to give real feedback, but compared to the metal body, the plastic show way less ware. Plastics can be incredibly strong and also lightweight. So I do not share the disdain for plastic phones. Way more important is performance.

  • I put a plastic or rubber case on my phone, not only to protect it, but because phones today are too tiny and thin. I need more bulk. If the phone was made of diamonds, i’d probably put a plastic case on it just to make it thicker

  • Well plastic isn’t wrong but I would like to see and feel a more sturdier device, I’m still with my outdated Droid Bionic and love the sturdy feel when I held the gs3 without the otterbox case I felt like the HULK ready to smash. Its a little disappointing for paying such a high price on a device that feel’s more like a toy. But what compensates that is the extended battery combo with the siedo case but many can’t afford these high priced add ons

  • Ryan Frankenstein

    thanks for using my suggestion as a story. should have made a bigger deal of….most people put their phones in cases so one can’t even see or feel the plastic. as it seems every comment people are just trying to make it about “shiny plastic”

  • mb1108

    I used to think aluminum and glass were better, but these phones are getting so thin you can hardly even hold them without a case. My Note 2 is slippery without the OtterBox on due to the thiness and rounded edges. I remember when I first activated it someone called and I tried to hold it between my shoulder and ear and it fell. Luckily I was leaning over the bed. Needless to say, I put the case on right away. Plus, nowadays you can resell your device later which I’ll be doing so it’s best to keep it in mint condition. That being said, I no longer care what it’s shell is made of but rather what specs does it come with.

  • batman

    I think the only reason why the HTC One is metal is because it’s expensive in big batches, but they knew they would never sell any so smaller batches is better.

  • burpootus

    I just sold my S3 and bought a Note 2 and I really like both phones. But what I hate is how slick they are, and I’m mainly talking about the plastic backs. I haven’t received the case for the Note 2 yet, and it requires concentration not to drop the phone when handling it due to how slick it is. Granted, most use a case and this is no big deal in the long run, but I really wish they weren’t so slick feeling in your hand.

  • bucho

    CHEAP plastic.

  • bionicwaffle

    Plastic is a great option. I think Moto has made the best choice with Kevlar. Like plastic it doesn’t interfere with signals, but it’s stronger. Given the choice between metal and plastic, I’d take plastic on my phone. I’d want good proof that a metal phone has great antenna design and will have excellent signal for cell, wifi, and gps.

    I actually think they should go back to plastic for screens. I’ll take a scratch over a break any day and I’m not sure how you’re going to scratch your screen. It would weigh less as well as being less likely to break.

    I wish they would at least stop putting glass on the back of phones. It at least makes it easier to pick a device to buy. I can cross off the Nexus 4, LG G, and Xperia Z.

  • Nothing is wrong with plastic, it’s just the plastic that samsung chooses. Moto never seemed to have a problem choosing quality plastics.

  • liderc

    I use a galaxy nexus so I don’t hate plastic devices, I just think we expect more from Samsung now that they’ve become the #1 Android dealer.

  • Marcel L.

    There’s just one thing I dislike about plastic: a glossy finish!For me it’s ugly, feels cheap, it doesn’t add any extra grip to the phone.
    Take a OneX(L; X+…etc.) and compare it to any Samsung…it’s just a totally different feeling while using the same material. Even Sony knows how to use plastic right. The back of a phone doesn’t need to be classy or anything special like the “holo”-glass of a nexus4, but should add a good grip to phones like LG did with the rubberised grip-plastic around the back. Take any NXT of Sony and try to drop it…ofc it works, but rubberized back feels somehow glued to your hands.

    And my opinion as a “hater”: it’s a Samsung-Thing. Samsung has a weird image. People never thinking about buying smartphones just pick it randomly…and it always is a samsung. The phones arent any special anymore since “everyone” has one > therefore any other material, company, whatever, shines. Weird right? But thats how I feel about it. Those phone looks like Fisherprice- or Lego-Toys with their shiny plastic. Samsung (and also Copycats like Huawei) really loves that image it seems even if they sometimes prove that they CAN do it “better”. But somehow a lot of people seem to love a simple Lego-Design…so why not producing it. Well, as a customer I might be a minority, but I will always pick a heavier, thicker phone with edges and some handy rubber on it that doesnt look like a samsung at all 😉
    So if you wanna sum it up: it looks cheap and isn’t really comfortable to hold, but it’s also the Samsung-Rep. people might be picky about.

  • Lane252

    i just like a heavy feeling phone, not ridiculously heavy but weighty. Oppo Find Five comes to mind. however plastic isnt bad, however take this into consideration: the Nokia “Tank/Hulk/NeverGonnaBreakIt” 3310 was made of plastic! so if samsung or any other phone creator can take a hint…make the phone of tougher plastic or more compact!

  • ron

    I have only have one problem with plastic. In my mind it should be cheaper. All things being on par with each other; such as processors, ram, storage, and screen resolution. I think the plastic phone should be a little bit cheaper. I love my note 2, and I worry about my nexus 4 (which has a rubber cover). I’m not expecting everyone to sell at a price like Googles,but why isn’t the phone with the cheaper body not cheaper over all?