No, I don't want a metal smartphone?

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File this under Friday link of interest, but this article by Rita El Khoury caught my eye, looking at the increasing use of metal in designs across some of the smartphone world. With plenty of metal designs in Nokia's (Symbian) past and with metal completely absent in the current Windows Phone line-up, I thought a reminder of the pros and cons would be timely.

From Rita's article, unashamedly looking at things from a perspective in the Android world of today, though looking back at Nokia's past in particular:

HTC seems to have started a trend last year (but in fact it originated a long time ago) of building smartphones out of metal to make them look and feel premium. The company built an entire strategy out of this one claim, emphasizing on materials and manufacturing methods to win over those who have been appalled by Samsung’s cheap and flimsy plastics. But contrary to popular belief, not everyone wants a metallic phone, or thinks that it’s the best solution to the problem. And I am one of those people.

Long before the HTC One, I have owned and used a Nokia E71 and a Nokia N8. The E71 was mostly plastic, with a metallic back cover that took me by surprise the moment I held it. It looked and felt premium, and even my grandmother, who knew nothing about phones but who had seen me use dozens before, stared at it in awe and told me, “this is the most beautiful one.” I used an E71 for a year over the course of which it slipped and dropped dozens of times, but I was never worried because it was built like a tank, and it only had a small non-touch screen.


The Nokia E71, built like a tank

Later, I owned and used a Nokia N8. It was the first anodized aluminum smartphone I had laid my hands on, and it was simply gorgeous. However, I carried it in a case because I was certain I’d scratch that beautiful orange finish, and I was more worried that it would slip from my hand and break the screen.

My experience with both devices has lead me to a love/hate relationship with metallic smartphones, where I love looking at them, I like how premium they feel in the hand, but I wouldn’t buy them. Here are the reasons why.

Rita then goes on to list her grievances, including:

  • The temperature is never right
  • Premium but impersonal
  • Too slippery
  • A case is a necessity not an accessory

Rita finishes with praise for Nokia's use of plastic:

There’s a right way to do plastic

I will go back to Nokia for a second and say that the company showed us that there is a right way to do plastics. Their polycarbonate finishes on the Lumia series were spectacular, ergonomic, solid, and they still felt premium. Even the iPhone 5C went for the same material. Plastic doesn’t have to be cheap, wobbly, and badly done. It can be executed to perfection, for an excellent blend of look, feel, and functionality.

You can read the whole article here.

As Rita says, metal in a phone engenders something of a love/hate relationship, though she doesn't list one of the major technical hurdles, in that metal doesn't let radio waves pass, so all the smartphone's antennae need to be packed in seams and small top/bottom plastic sections.

However, HTC (and Nokia) have proved that this latter is simply a design problem that can be solved, while Rita's other objections are rather subjective. I, for one, love the cold feel of metal in my hand first thing in the morning. And I don't buy the 'slippery' argument, since my Nokia Lumias are just as slippery as my old Nokia N8 and E7 - grip is more to do with texture and detail, not material.

The casing issue is also a personal thing. Yash comments on the original story "for some reason, I love the dents and chips the metal phones get over time. I have seen friends whose non-metallic phones get cracks after their drops. I would take dents & chips over cracks any day." I'm the same - after the first dent (which is always annoying), my metal phones then accumulated battle scars which I became increasingly proud of. They proved that the phone was a) being used and b) could survive a lifetime of punishment. Or maybe I'm just strange.

Comments welcome - plastic or metal? Or a design fusion with both?

Source / Credit: Android Beat