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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.

  • http://www.facebook.com/jason.quaicoo Jason Quaicoo

    Good question. It seems to be that most consumers are pretty vain when it comes to their phones; companies seem to feel that different materials would satisfy a wider range of needs

  • Scott Hartman

    Part of it is weight – we instinctively feel things are chintzy if they are too light for their size. But also there’s the issue of flex – my Galaxy Nexus simply was not a rigid device in the same way that my Droid X was. The Droid X probably also had plastic parts, but between the metal and the soft-touch covering it was a solid phone and I never once questioned its toughness like I did the Gnex.

    My Nexus 4 actually feels tougher than the Gnex. Given the glass back this may not actually prove to be true, and I imagine that there is plastic under the soft-touch coating around the edges, but in the hand it feels like a more solid product. Given all this I suspect that the problem isn’t really the act of using hydrocarbons in the body of your smartphone, but rather things like the tolerance of the body in production, and whether the engineering inspires confidence (and increases subjective valuation) in the device, or if it makes the device feel cheap.

  • TheRetroReplay

    Nothing is wrong with plastic, the GNex was made of plastic and I loved it, but the S3 and by the looks of the S4, use really thin, glossy and shiny plastic, giving it a cheap and fragile feel.

    The GNex and Samsung devices before the S3 used thicker and harder plastic, so it still had that premium feel. I dropped my GNex several times on pavement and not a scratch happened. Dropped the S3 from a height of about 10 inches into soft dirt and the back cover shattered to pieces.

    No one has a problem with plastic, but no one wants thin flimsy plastic that feels like it will snap in half if you look at it wrong.

  • ds

    It doesn’t matter. Everyone has some kind of cover around ANY phone I see. Doesn’t matter it looks cheap or good. I don’t know why people here think Samsung plastic looks so cheap if they are going to cover it anyway.

  • N8shon

    No complaints here. I love the look of my Note 2.

  • http://twitter.com/jdrch jdrch

    I have no issue with it whatsoever.

  • Dick

    Plastic by itself isn’t really the problem, it’s the kind of plastic that I don’t care for. There may be more opportunity to see it because of market share, but I see a lot more people with cracked/cracking Samsung phones than, say, HTC or Motorola. Same goes for the glass they use.

    Frankly, if I’m going to buy an expensive toy, I want them to at least seem like they’re going to last. This is not something I can say of many of my previous Samsung products of ANY type, including phones.

  • http://twitter.com/terry12s Terry Stoe

    I prefer plastic, these days there are so many different types and formulas of plastics available I feel plastic is much more durable. I myself don’t understand why people have such hatred for plastic on their phones either.

  • Tim242

    People seem so worried about what the back of the phone is made of…IT’S THE FRAGILE GLASS ON THE FRONT THAT SHATTERS

  • austin

    At this point Samsung is the only android OEM the uses plastic, it comes down to a nicer looking smart phone. Owned an optimus g for 3 months and it was a nice looking phone, not to mention plastic doesn’t have the same “complete or solid ” feel as other materials.

    • Tim242

      Did you fall and hit your head? Every single OEM uses plastic.

  • cphilano

    I feel you Kel. The comment section is acting like you’re crazy and it doesn’t get mentioned none stop by Android and iPhone users that Samsung makes plastic phones instead of the other materials you mentioned. The iPhone is a rectangle with rounded corners and people fawn over it like a beautiful woman.

    I’ve been asking that same question for a while now though. The GNex looks food to me and all you heard was that it was made of cheap plastic. I mean super cars are made out of the same stuff and no one complains.

  • rlarson_mn

    I have a SG3 and I am very happy with its performance as well as its build quality.

  • Dad

    Elitism. If cheeseburgers cost $100, everyone would be bragging how cool it was to go to McDonalds last night and how wonderfull the food was. Plastic is inexpensive- therefore not desireable.

  • BrionBrown

    I have a note 2 and I’m fine with the plastic. Yeah it’s a little flimsy but it looks ok and I feel much safer with it than I did with my glass nexus 4. It looked nicer but I was afraid to pull it out of my pocket.

  • http://profiles.google.com/booboolala2000 Patrick Crumpler

    Dropped my GNex the other day. Very glad it is plastic. If it wasn’t, it would have shattered like so many N4s.

  • Marcus Reid

    if you’re going to go with plastic go with the kevlar look like with the Razr. Samsung is not known for build quality and you can tell in hand. Samsung it’s time to bring something new not just some injected plastic crap.

  • Chris King

    this is funny kellex himself has made fun of samungs plastic phones

  • Brandon S.

    My Lumia 920 is made out of heavy durable plastic. Its fine, and feels like high quality, buts its kinda bulky. That’s being said I would prefer an aluminum build like on the Lumia 928 being release on Verizon. I will get over it, but my next phone WILL be made out of aluminum.

  • Aaron17Watson17

    People are shallow. ; (

  • Bionic

    Here is the TRUTH. There is nothing “wrong” with plastic on phones. But, when you compare against ceramic, kevlar, or metal, plastic finishes dead last in drop test and stress test.

    Game.Set.Match

  • rdoib

    Its a shame that this plastic will outsell HTC one aluminum unibody.

    • Bionic

      it really is, no joke

      • Tim242

        I’m surprised that someone who bought the Bionic still praises its maker.

  • rdoib

    They make a creaking sound reminding you how cheap plastic is every time you press hard any of the edges.

    • Bionic

      or try to take the back cover off to change batteries, feels like you’re gonna break it

  • http://www.facebook.com/amtrombley Anthony Trombley

    I don’t think it’s so much the fact that the Galaxies are made of plastic, its the poor way they implement it, and build it (hence the term build quality). A $600+ device SHOULDN’T creak brand new. It shouldn’t flex either. It’s the flimsy way that Samsung makes their phones that upsets people (myself included). Plastic can be done right, but Samsung does not. And it’s disappointing that the top manufacturer in the Android game can’t invest in the manufacturing of it’s devices.

  • Andrew Weckstein

    I haven’t got any problem with plastic. I have a plastic phone and may buy one again. But the fact remains that the glass/aluminum/whatever the droid DNA is (soft touch something?) Is just way sexier. It’s not so much that plastic feels cheap as that metal feels expensive. And classy and futuristic. It feels more cohesive somehow. And more solid overall. I ahve a Samsung Series 9 Laptop and was super surprised when I took the bottom panel off that it was so thin. Even when metal is thin, it just feels real and solid and premium.

  • calum wilper

    well it’s really as simple as; “it feels cheap.”

  • JSIN

    Plastic feels cheap in hand for a device you pay a premium for. Not to mention that phones that are very light are easy to drop the heavier ones sit in my hand better.

  • Bionic

    X phone

  • nightscout13

    HTC is using metals for their devices, Samsung has no excuse why not to. Plastic makes a premium phone feel cheap, end of story.

    • Bionic

      this

    • austin

      I agree, metal makes a phone feel more solid and looks better then plastic, why pay top dollar for plastic?

    • NexusMan

      Samsung’s excuse is durability, ease in manufacturing (let’s face it, they have to pump out a lot more units than HTC does), and easy removable battery door.

      • nightscout13

        I hate to do this, but HTC made aluminum phones with removable batteries, see attached photos. I’m not an HTC fan, but even THEY were able to use aluminum. It wasn’t pretty, but the point is that it’s doable if you sit down and think about it.

  • nightscout13

    Plastic feels cheap. It does not feel solid. In drop tests, GS3 lost to the iPhone 5, not sure if it’s cause of the plastic, but the majority of the time, iPhone 5 wins in drop tests. (bring on the downvotes) Aluminum feels more solid in the hand. FFS Samsung, at least give us SOME metal, like you did for the ATIV. Why does a windows phone get metal, but Android gets plastic again?

    • Tim242

      None of moto’s recent phones have been metal.

      • nightscout13

        Carbon Fiber they have been. better than plastic….

  • TheWenger

    I’m an engineer so I’ve always liked the plastic better. Naked G-Nex is a sexy piece of electronic goodness.

  • jrphillips10

    Plastic is slippery and can just look cheap. Also what’s with the design in the plastic that they used? I just don’t like that diamond type design. The phone still looks really good but it doesn’t hit that high quality mark. My favorite phones were the Droid 1 and Droid X for phone material. They metal with rubberish coating made it very durable and easy to hold on to and it looked great!

    • NexusMan

      Plastic is slippery and glass is not? Not all plastic is slippery. The plastic used on the Galaxy S III is. But the plastic on the Galaxy Nexus or the Droid Incredible are not.

      • jrphillips10

        Very true I like my Nexus better than other phones out right now. One of the best plastic phones. It has that soft touch to it. I hated my Samsung Droid Charge. I dropped it so many times.

  • David Weeden

    I’m not a huge fan of plastic phones that have no texture. The build up of oils and other grime can make the phone feel all slimy. Especially phones like the gs3. I love the textured back on the galaxy nexus. What did they call it again? Hyper skin?

  • Jwhap

    My galaxy nexus (purchased on release day) looks like the day I bought it. Occasionally I use a case but generally it is naked! Guess plastic is a horrible material to build phones with!

    • NexusMan

      Agreed! And when I drop it (which has happened frequently), guess what happens? It doesn’t shatter, break or scratch. Instead, the plastic back pops off, breaking the fall, and I just pop it right back on and keep moving.

  • Ibrick

    Personally, I don’t like the feel of cheap plastic. My DNA on the other hand feels great whatever the backing is made of..

    Not to mention my phone spends much more time in my hand than it does falling to the ground.

    • Tim242

      The back is soft touch plastic.

  • http://iamandroid.co/profile/rocktoonz Rocktoonz

    It seems to be more about the look and feel than the actual durability. As phones have gotten larger again, they’ve also gotten much lighter. A bad finish on plastic and no weight at all gives the impression of low quality and potential for durability issues.

    My DInc is plastic, but it feels anything but cheap. It has a nice glossy finish on top and a textured, comfortable finish on the back. The pieces fit together snugly, there’s no flex, and it’s got just enough weight to it to make it feel like a sturdy, durable phone.

    When I first got it, I put a case on it because I was terrified of dropping it. After a year or so, I realized I hadn’t had any major issues with it, and the plastic case made it look and feel more cheap and flimsy than it ever did without it. I removed the case and haven’t looked back.

    • LionStone

      Same here, I took the cases off my Inc. and TB, they were study enough and with non slip backs, and haven’t bought any more cases since. The girl has just a screen protector on her Inc4G and that’s all that’s necessary really for that phone too. I just put a screen protector on my dna but I don’t like it, I’m looking for a better one I think?

      Anyway, plastic is fine if done right… Slippery, shiny no like.

  • Kenneth Hung

    In a word: Nothing. In five words: It doesn’t “feel” as nice. Emphasis on “feeling,” both physically and emotionally. By itself there is nothing wrong with the Galaxy S3/S4. I love my GS3 and would probably today still take it over the HTC One (but for reasons other than materials). It’s only when we compare it to the glass and metal of the HTC One or iPhone that suddenly people start criticizing the materials in the Galaxy series. The problem is in our heads we have made an association between certain materials and value. Plastic “feels” cheap in our minds because that’s what phones have been made out of for decades. It wasn’t until a few years ago that people started using “premium” materials and that’s why it feels modern and valuable.

  • biberon

    Plastic itself doesn’t bother me, provided it doesn’t flex and creak under normal usage, it’s the feel of Samsung’s plastic I don’t like. If the phone were made of unobtainium, and had a slick lacquered finish, I’d still hate it. A textured soft touch finish would go a long way; even just the type of plastic found on the back of the Rezound feels much better in the hand.

  • http://twitter.com/Big_Awesome Nick

    forget glass, plastic and metals, i’m waiting for transparent aluminum! if it can hold whales, it can hold up to my daily use for sure.

  • bobzrag

    This goes beyond materials, every phone that comes out is critiqued to exhaustion; it’s too big or small; it’s metal and weighs too much; it’s light, but looks cheap. That’s why there is a choice, no one phone is going to make everyone happy. I’m not a fan of Apple (closed environment, same user experience for everyone, lack of choice in keyboards, form factor, etc) but my wife and a lot of colleagues (it folks) love it and works great for them. Like the phone and buy it or don’t but are the rants necessary?

  • michael centeno

    it feels cheap. its a very expensive device, but it feels like a cheap toy. thats what.

  • Nish R

    Aluminum scratches and the dents are quite real. Glass cracks and scratches as well. Both of the previously mentioned do have a slightly heavier weight than plastic. Plastic does scratch as well but it is also comes with plenty of advantages. 1. It is cheap. 2. Cheap to replace if it is a replaceable part. 3. Light. 4. Easier to allow radio transmission. 5. You won’t hurt yourself that bad if you’re using a broken piece of plastic(I see reactions already). Glossy plastic, certain colors more than the other, is a fingerprint magnet and can prove to be very slippery. If you’re like me and have very sweaty hands at all times, this can be an issue. Matte black versus matte white plastic finish, white hides the prints and black shows it all as smudges. More reason to complain than anything to be honest. We want cheaper phones, yet want a premium product. Samsung balances it out by giving super cool internal hardware but somehow minimizing cost on exterior appearance to make the phone somewhat reasonably priced. Think of a samsung internal hardware blended with an iphone exterior or heck, even a Vertu. LOL That’s one phone no one would want to buy even with a discounted contract price. Just my 2 cents. I rarely spend time admiring the back finish of my phone and usually just see the front that is covered in Corning. I guess that’s why I just have an opinion rather than a die-hard preference.

  • Eion

    Answer: Nothing. I don’t get people, most if not all users slap a case on the phone anyways.

  • oosagi

    No matter what phone i have…i always get an Otterbox Defender case due to working for and with the military…so what my phone is made of at the end if the day is meaningless to me. And that is something that i think is funny when i think about this subject. I very rarely see someone with a S3 naked…or an iphone naked…or even a lumia naked…they almost always have a case on them..at least covering the back…so i guess i am just curious with everyone having cases on the back of their phones is this really that big of a deal? And if it is why do i see so many people walking around with the cheapest case on their super expensive phone?

  • Austin Warren

    Xbox and PS3 are made of plastic. I guess those are a waste of money and built cheaply.

  • BulletTooth_Tony

    Nothing wrong with plastic… it’s just the result of the typical echo chamber of people unable to think for themselves. Pretty much all expensive electronics are in plastic shells… and so are the most expensive of cars, with their mix of plastics and carbon fibers.

    What do I use aluminum for? Containing my Coca Cola and other beverages.

  • http://www.getintonursing.com/ Jon

    So let me compare the aluminum Motorola phones that had removable battery…like the Bionic, Droid X2…etc, to the plastic removable battery phones of Samsung. With samsung phones, you can very carelessly just peel the flexible plastic back cover off. It has a surprisingly good plastic tabbed method that holds the back case on amazingly well. I’ve never had my back fly off my Samsung phones when dropped. Now the Motorola phones have aluminum tabs that slide off. You have to be much more intentional to take the cover off, and the aluminum tabs can be bent and will give you problems if they are. Also, the back cover would fly off all the time on my Droid X and Bionic when dropped from a decent force.

    Motorola phones are like tanks, but Samsung phones are incredibly durable without the weight and feel of a tank like product.

  • Sean Wood

    Not a damn thing.. I just wish manufacturers would actually mold the plastic components from the intended color. One scuff an the back of your pretty blue GS3 looks like it has black tiger stripes. Also… If they’re going to continue to make phones out of cheaper materials why are the prices still so high? It’s part of the existing consumer capitalist paradigm. Make it cheaper not to better compete but for better returns to shareholders. Ultimately consumers need to voice their all mighty bucks and make a stand.

  • Aaron17Watson17

    Sammobile said that one of the prototypes of the gs4 was an all aluminium unibody but the production took way too long to meet the demand. I guess thats why

  • Austin Warren

    First world problems.

  • Rob

    Better question of the day: When will the sites address be http://www.samsung-life.com?

    • Austin Warren

      It’s an android device. Get over it.