Metal vs Plastic vs Glass: What’s the Best Material for Smartphones?

Looking for a new phone? It’s good to do some research beforehand, as Smartphones have a lot of other components – other than the camera, RAM, and display size – that you should take into consideration. Smartphones have come a long way in both internal specifications and external designs, and there are a lot of choices to pick from.

One of those hard choices, which you probably never thought about, is what the phone is made of, metal, plastic or glass.

Glass, Metal, & Plastic – Which One Is Best?

Glass Metal and Plastic Body Smartphones Back

These days, phones come with either glass, metal, or plastic for most devices. Of course, there are gold finishes available as well, we even saw a smartphone made up of meteorite ore, but let’s just stick to the standard ones for now.

  • Most of the premium, expensive devices have glass backs these days. It “feels” premium to hold a glass phone as opposed to a plastic or metal one. It’s personal preference but most people agree that a glass phone seems more expensive (and usually is) than the others. For reference, Samsung’s recent flagships – both Galaxy S and Galaxy Note series – are all-glass.
  • Metal may not be as premium as glass, but it still makes a device look expensive if a manufacturer does it just right. Nokia (HMD Global) for instance, produced some great metal devices recently.
  • As for plastic, most budget devices come with it but this medium has become fairly rare and most new devices either have metal or glass. Its cheaper to put into a smartphone and it also speeds up the production process, so its safe to say that “plastic” means cheap.
The partial glass back on the Pixel 2XL
The partial glass back on the Pixel 2XL

Still, it does not mean plastic is bad because unlike glass and metal, plastic phones do not bend or shatter. Due to its non-premium nature, it’s not used in phones these days merely because of the fact that it does not “feel” as good in the hands.

Aside from the basic differences, there are also some other aspects that help differentiate the materials such as cellular connectivity, wireless charging support, thermal issues, and durability.

Metal

Huawei Mate 9 Metal Body Back
Huawei Mate 9

Metal is a common occurrence in most smartphones these days. Even most glass-made phones use a metal frame or at least some metallic components to add durability. Most of the time a light and thin aluminum alloy is used because of its low weight and durability.

Pros

  • Metal looks good, shiny, and premium – polished metal looks good to most people and seems expensive.
  • It’s light and more durable than glass in most cases.
  • Such a material finish also exhibits modernness, as in, most metal-made devices have minimalist designs with no extravagant overlays or anything over the top.
  • Metal transfers heat much better than other materials, it gets cold when you stop using it (warm too, see “cons” below) and feels good in the hands.

Cons

  • Light metals, like aluminum, can get dented or bent easily and can get permanent deformities if dropped.
  • Just like how metal phones can stay comfortably cool when not being used, they can also get quite hot during heavy usage especially on the back where the battery and chipset is.
  • Metal is slippery and can easily slide off of most surfaces, but that can easily be sorted out with a good case.
  • It’s a tried and tested the fact that metallic phones inhibit wireless connectivity – Wi-Fi, data networks, and even Bluetooth – because it’s difficult for microwaves to penetrate through metal. Manufacturers put in small plastic portions (called antenna lines) or glass cutouts on the phone’s body to mitigate this. Due to this very reason, metallic phones usually don’t have wireless charging as well.

Glass

HTC U12+ Glass Body Back
HTC U12+

Phones made out of glass look shiny and if done right, awfully gorgeous. That’s because glass is transparent and it adds depth to a phone’s body. These days, we get to see all-glass phones that have glass on both front and rear. This does look great, but glass is also incredibly brittle.


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Most recent flagships have glass bodies, smartphone companies can use glass however they want without having to worry about antenna lines or any cutouts for connectivity, it gives them the freedom to create their work of art with no design constraints. Samsung does it too – their recent Galaxy S9’s design is among some of the best glass-body designs ever made.

Pros

  • It’s reflective, shiny, and these attributes can instantly make anything look expensive.
  • Unlike metal, glass does not come in the way of cellular signals so LTE, Bluetooth, and Wi-Fi works just as well without any antenna lines or cutouts.
  • Polished glass feels ergonomic and luxurious in the hands, it also faces lesser heat-up issues as compared to metal.

Cons

  • Glass can easily slip out of anyone’s hands – especially if its summer time and your hands are sweaty. It can become almost as slippery as a wet bar of soup.
  • Glass breaks easily too – this one goes without saying, glass products always break even after minor drops on hard surfaces. We have always feared breaking smartphone screens – having a smartphone covered entirely with glass simply adds to the fear.
  • And it is vulnerable to scratches. Even though new smartphones come with “scratch resistant” Corning Gorilla glasses, they can still get scratched all over. This is because sand is a harder material than the current versions of gorilla glass and it can easily scratch a phone’s screen or back.

Plastic

Blackberry Priv Plastic Body Back
Blackberry Priv

The good thing about plastic is that it is easy to produce, shape, and mold – and of course, cheap as well. Additionally, it comes in tons of different vibrant colors. Ever wonder why most entry-level phones have bright and vibrant colors? That’s because cheap phones are mostly made up of plastic which is why the can be made that way.

It does not mean plastic is not good – it can be sturdier than metal, because it does not bend, and more long-lasting than glass because it cannot shatter or crack – but it does not feel as premium and shiny as compared to its counterparts. However, it has become quite rare nowadays and mostly seen in cheap entry-level phones or midrangers these days. (See: Huawei Honor 7A)

Pros

  • Plastic can be molded in almost every shape which is why most plastic phones have a unique design.
  • It has no signal issues – actually, plastic has the lowest density when compared to metal and glass, which is why wireless connections work best in plastic phones.
  • It’s much tougher than metal and glass. Good plastic phones last much longer and cannot be bent or cracked easily.

Cons

  • It feels cheap. This is the very reason plastic has been replaced by more shiny, reflective materials because it does not feel as premium and classy. It was commonly used even in flagship phones a few years back, the Galaxy S5 and LG G4 are some of the most popular examples.
  • Plastic covers get discolorations over time. Climate, heat, and even a large case can put stains on a plastic back over time.

Verdict

In the end, it mainly comes down to preference. Some people like it more when they are holding a metal slab, some prefer the premium glassy looks, and you’d agree that its more of a matter of preference than usability. All materials have their own perks, glass phones can have rounded edges so they often feel more ergonomic and grippy as compared to metal ones.

Metal Plastic and Glass Body Smartphones

Metal, on the other hand, can be slippery but it’s lighter and sturdier. Of course, with the right protective case, it won’t even matter. For plastic, it’s usually light, it comes in a wide range of vibrant colors and does not break that easily.

It all depends on what you want your smartphone to have – there’s a lot to pick from, and you can get a decent device within your budget if you do enough research. Glass is premium, metal looks awesome, and plastic is kind of more practical.

But all three have their own disadvantages. So, find the right combination of style, sturdiness, and usability that suits your needs.

What is your choice? What do you think about smartphone materials and which one’s best? Don’t forget to leave your opinions and feedback below!


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