Debate : Metal vs Plastic casings

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Which of these two is better? Phones with metal cases or those with plastic cases? This is an interesting debate that has been raging on for a while now, and there seems to be no end to it. In recent times, mobile technology has changed dramatically. Things are developing and changing at a breathtaking speeds. Phone makers are trying as much as possible to capture loyal fans, which has led to a renewed focus on the material design of phones especially at the high end segment.

plastic vs metal

Many phone users don’t really care which material their device is made of, since they usually use it with a protective casing or pouch. But for the benefit of doubt and to fulfil all righteousness, let’s look at the pros and cons of these two materials.

Plastic (Polycarbonate)

Polycarbonate is a derivative of plastic commonly used in the manufacture of phones, because it has better physical properties than plastic itself, so any mention of plastics here mean we refer to polycarbonate.

Points for:

  • The material, polycarbonate, has high impact resistance, relatively good temperature resistance, and it’s extremely flexible. A good example is the Nokia’s Lumia devices, Galaxy S series(except the new S6) and the Galaxy Note series.
  • Polycarbonate material effectively doesn’t attenuate radio signals.
  • Polycarbonate is relatively cheaper than metal or glass and therefore helps to lower production costs.
  • It allows for lighter devices, and makes replacing a scratched back plate affordable. It doesn’t chip off or crack like glass.

Points against:

  • Polycarbonate is a poor conductor of heat, this means that in cases where the phone heats up, cooling takes a longer while.
  • Plastic makes the phone feel or look cheap with its glazed, or squishy finish. Critics have said so for the Samsung Galaxy S3 and S4.

Metals (Aluminium alloys)

There are a wide range of metals, but for the making of devices, aluminium alloys are the most common, so any mention of metals here really means were using aluminium alloys as case study.

Points for:

  • Aluminium is more rigid and durable, and hence offers better protection to the internals of a phone.
  • Metals are better conductors of heat.

Sir Eyebeekay quoted:

If a phone actually overheats, then adopting metal body for the phone will actually help the situation…

Sir Harry also quoted:

…if my phone was made of metal casing, It most likely wouldn’t be able to overheat because then, the heat will be conducted away faster than what a plastic will ever be able to do and thus the temperature wouldn’t get to the level that it would be uncomfortable to hold.

  • Phones made of metal give you that premium look and feel. You hold it and head swells like ‘Oga Boss’. 🙂
  • Metal phones use external antennas and this facilitates better radio reception (to some extent).

Points against:

  • A phone made of metal casing must have its antennas built externally (which might involve using some parts of the casing as antenna) to prevent attenuation, and problems (in radio reception) occurs when a hand touches the antenna or bridges it to another conductive body.
  • Metal phones are more susceptible to scratches, dents and gouges whenever it drops unlike plastics.
  • Metals are expensive and add to the cost of production.
  • Metal being what they are at extreme temperatures of cold and heat; it’s more comfortable to hold a polycarbonate-bodied device even if the internals are at higher temperatures.

Sir Eyebeekay also quoted:

…but it will also mean that in cold regions of the earth like Russia, it may feel uncomfortably freezing cold to hold a phone made of metal casing.

Like I said earlier, no material is perfect for making a phone. Also, the final design of a phone is based on many factors, including: hours of research, prototyping, design work, and evaluating, price, etc. So, while using plastics has lesser disadvantages, a manufacturer may abandon plastics and use a metal uni-body design. That doesn’t make using plastics any better or worse.

Now over to you: would you prefer a plastic or a metal body for your device? Feel free to point out any factor not listed in the post.

3 comments

  1. Polycarbonate allow QI Wireless charging metal doesn’t, mix of material is the way to go for me until that is fixed.

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