The first phone I ever had with a glass back was the Google Nexus 4. I bought one in 2012 and sold it a few weeks after it arrived because the phone got awful battery life and got super-hot whenever I used it for more than a few minutes.
But the back actually did look pretty nice, and it allowed Google and LG to include support for wireless charging… something Google continued to offer with the Nexus 5 and Nexus 6, but which the company phased out with the Nexus 5X and 6P.
Anyway, smartphones with glass backs have become more common in recent years, but they’re hardly universal. They could be everywhere you look this year though… as The Verge notes, most of the big name phones unveiled at Mobile World Congress last week have glass covering their backs.
The iPhone X and iPhone 8 already have glass backs, and so do these upcoming phones:
While we haven’t seen official launches from LG, OnePlus or Huawei yet, rumor has it that we can expect glass backs from their upcoming flagships as well.
This is all pretty good news for folks who want the better wireless reception that often comes with covering a phone in glass instead of aluminum. But it’s probably less good news for anyone who has a tendency to drop their phone and crack the screen: now you can crack the back of your phone just as easily!
I wonder if we’ll see a bump in smartphone case sales this year.
I don’t care what material the back is as long as the phone stays cool and the signal is strong.
Phone cases are for plebs. Does anyone really like the extra bulge in their pants? Just don’t be such a klutz. The only good cases out there are the cases with built-in battery chargers.
I did not mind having a plastic back. Nobody ever sees it as I (like most people) immediately put my phone in a case. Some of the advantages of a plastic back are light weight, cheap to make, less signal attenuation than most other materials, often can be removed to access the battery. My current phone is aluminum and it is nice, but I only see that part of the phone when I remove it from the case for cleaning.
When it comes to BUILD MATERIAL there are some aspects that need considering:
– Fragility (ie Drops/Cracks)
– Durability (ie Bending/Shape restraint)
– Scratch Resistance
– Heat Dissipation
– Signal Attenuation
– Mass Productability
and lastly Feel/Luxury (subjective)
The way to order one Material over another depends on how you weigh each field.
The types of materials that can be used range from Glossy Cheap Plastic, High-Grade Polycarbonate, Resins (Carbon Fibre/Kevlar), Leather, Wood, Cheap Aluminium, High-Grade Aluminium (7000-series), Ceramic, Sapphire, Tempered Glass.
I might come back to weigh these BUILD MATERIALS in terms of stats. However, it must be well-understood that we are not talking about BUILD QUALITY as many people confuse the two, they are mutually exclusive properties.
The way I would “weigh” the characteristics of these Build Materials would be like:
A – 20% – Price (inc labour)
B – 15% – Availability (production constraints)
C – 15% – Durability (shape-preserving)
D – 15% – Fragility (impact absorption)
E – 10% – Grippy-ness (inc Fingerprint Smudginess)
F – 10% – Premium Look and Feel (Subjective)
G – 5% – Hardness (Scratch Resistance)
H – 5% – Heat dissipation (For fast camera/processor)
I – 5% – Signal retention*
Total – 100% – All properties based on a 5-star system
And based on what I know, I think the different materials behave in each characteristics in a fashion similar to this below.
A: 5/5, B:5/5, C:1/5, D:4/5, E:2/5, F:1/5, G:1/5, H:1/5, I:4/5 =
= 20 + 15 + 3 + 12 + 4 + 2 + 1 + 1 + 1% = 59/100
= 60% Kangal Score (cheap, not good, not appealing)
______8th / 9 contestants
High-Grade Matte Polycarbonate:
A: 4/5, B:5/5, C:3/5, D:5/5, E:3/5, F:2/5, G:2/5, H:2/5, I:5/5 =
= 16 + 15 + 9 + 15 + 6 + 4 + 2 + 2 + 5% = 74/100
= 74% Kangal Score (cheap, good, not too appealing)
______2nd / 9 contestants
Resins (Denim, Nylon, Kevlar, Carbon Fibre):
A: 3/5, B:3/5, C:4/5, D:5/5, E:4/5, F:4/5, G:3/5, H:3/5, I:5/5 =
= 12 + 9 + 12 + 15 + 8 + 8 + 3 + 3 + 5% = 75/100
= 75% Kangal Score (affordable, good, appealing)
______1st / 9 contestants
A: 2/5, B:3/5, C:3/5, D:3/5, E:5/5, F:4/5, G:2/5, H:2/5, I:5/5 =
= 8 + 9 + 9 + 9 + 10 + 8 + 2 + 2 + 5% = 62/100
= 62% Kangal Score (expensive, good, desirable)
______7th / 9 contestants
A: 3/5, B:5/5, C:4/5, D:5/5, E:5/5, F:3/5, G:1/5, H:1/5, I:5/5 =
= 12 + 15 + 12 + 15 + 10 + 6 + 1 + 1 + 5% = 77/100
= 77% Kangal Score (labour intensive, great, appealing)
(gold medal, if only the necessary industrial precision is possible)
A: 4/5, B:4/5, C:4/5, D:3/5, E:2/5, F:3/5, G:2/5, H:4/5, I:2/5 =
= 16 + 12 + 12 + 9 + 4 + 6 + 2 + 4 + 2% = 67/100
= 67% Kangal Score (cheap, good, appealing)
______6th / 9 contestants
High-end Metal Alloys:
A: 2/5, B:3/5, C:5/5, D:4/5, E:4/5, F:5/5, G:4/5, H:5/5, I:2/5 =
= 8 + 9 + 15 + 12 + 8 + 10 + 4 + 5 + 2% = 73/100
= 73% Kangal Score (expensive, excellent, desirable)
______3rd / 9 contestants
A: 1/5, B:1/5, C:5/5, D:3/5, E:1/5, F:5/5, G:5/5, H:4/5, I:5/5 =
= 4 + 3 + 15 + 9 + 2 + 10 + 5 + 4 + 5% = 57/100
= 57% Kangal Score (expensive, good, desirable)
______9th / 9 contestants
A: 4/5, B:5/5, C:4/5, D:1/5, E:1/5, F:5/5, G:4/5, H:4/5, I:5/5 =
= 16 + 15 + 12 + 3 + 2 + 10 + 4 + 4 + 5% = 71/100
= 71% Kangal Score (cheap, poor, appealing)
______5th / 9 contestants
Overall, price was a major factor. So I think its completely fine to use Glossy Plastic or Tempered Glass which are both cheap as a Build Material for phones sold for the US$150 or €100 discount-bin market. Once you increase the price, you get leeway to add better materials. At the low-midrange (US$150-US$250 or €100-€200) you should demand something like High-Grade Matte Polycarbonate. Whereas at the high-midrange (US$250-US$450 or €200-€400) you should demand something like Kevlar. The high-end (>US$600 or €500), where almost anything goes, demands exclusively the Top-Shelf Alloys. Of course, this isn’t a perfect world as the industry persuades the dumbm-asses into accepting cheaper materials by the use of marketing.
*Signal Attenuation is not very important for the material covering the device’s sides and back, as the radio can connect through the front glass fine.
**watch-grade sapphire is technically a glass-like ceramic, and is much much harder than the average ceramic. The average ceramic is identical in properties to good tempered glass. Cheap glass is worse, but not by a large margin.
PS This post required a lot of thinking, number crunching, and careful sprucing to be legible and as objectively accurate as possible. So kudos to myself, imaginary upvote : )
I haven’t given much thought as to whether I agree with your conclusions, but I’m quite impressed with the presentation. Have your real upvote!
Here’s one for you too.
PS I’d actually be interested in your conclusions into this, cheers!
I actually haven’t put nearly as much thought into this as you have… but generally speaking, I get why glass is a thing but it still just feels silly to put something shatter-prone on *both* sides of a phone.
I think most people would have a hard time noticing the difference between cheap plastic and high-quality polycarbonate at first blush. The differences become more clear over time as phones with a decent polycarbonate body hold up better to wear and tear. So I’m fine with the idea that you can have a premium phone that looks “plastic,” but I don’t know how attractive they’ll be most consumers. Personally I loved my Nexus 5… until the battery life became unbearable.
Then again, I put everything in a case. So there’s not really much difference in the feel of my old Nexus 5, Nexus 5X, and Pixel 2, since they were all covered by $20 of plastic anyway. 🙂
Anyway, your analysis looks as good as any I’ve come across… with the caveat that not all resins are probably equal, and that I think most phone shoppers will probably see three categories, not nine:
So I suspect they’d see kevlar, and think “fancy plastic.”
I’m glad to see a variety of choices though… which is why it’s a little disappointing that glass seems to be nearly ubiquitous in this year’s flagships.
Doesn’t seem all that long ago when every phone seemed to be going metal backed. I remember people complaining about all the metal phones coming out without wireless charging. If this is a trend, then my two Amazon Fire Phones are back “in”, sort of.
Yeah, I have an LG V20, it has metal backplate, and it’s sturdy enough. As I have a case installed (the Poetic Revolution type, which covers the whole phone completely), I never see the backplate of my phone, so if it would be made of plastic, then what?
I doesn’t surprise me that phone manufacturers are aiming to shorten the life of their products. A plastic back would make a lot more sense as it offers all the benefits of a glass back together with lighter weight and higher durability.
The XZ2 Compact has a plastic back. And I prefer it that way.
The Moto G6 Plus is also rumored to come with a glass back. And, from experience, anyone with a phone who doesn’t have a case should get one … cracks and damage are all too easy regardless.
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