Skin Deep – Thoughts on the mobile phone industry’s preoccupation with materials

Htc one m8 1

The aluminium HTC One M8

The association between “premium” and metal is inescapable in today’s technology press. Reviews of everything from notebooks to mobile phones consistently bash products for using plastic while praising the use of metal or glass as “premium” and “expensive feeling”.

There’s little doubt that a mobile phone machined from a single piece of aluminium will feel more expensive and solid than one made from polycarbonate. This is a perception we should not be afraid to deconstruct however as it could well be based on societal conditioning and marketing rather than measurable factors of durability and performance.

While plastic may feel cheap – it bends, allowing it to absorb impact from a fall for example, rather than denting as is often the case with metallic casing. Polycarbonate or kevlar (as used in certain Motorola models) allow signals to escape, whereas metallic casings severely attenuate signal output. This is something phone designers often work around by using materials such as glass in certain areas, however this has the downside of making signal distribution much more unidirectional – hardly a desirable trait.

These are both very significant factors impacting the quality of a given device – yet in their preoccupation with “premium feel” the tech press almost never evaluate a device’s performance in these areas.

To all tech writers I would plead – Please don’t focus solely on the physical feel of a device. This is certainly a factor but given that many mobile phone users place their product in an aftermarket case the downsides to using all that premium feeling metal should definitely be explored in your reviews.

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