Aluminium vs. Plastic, "premium materials", and the need to stop nonsensical criticism.

When did "build quality" suddenly shift from how well a device is made, and how robust it is, to "how it feels in your hand"?

I am going to touch on a lot of things in this post but this question (and the questions it creates) will be the main subject.

Before I start, I am not any company's fanboy, I have owned and used just about every mobile device that has been on the market in the last 4 years, and I have worked in the telecommunications industry for the last 5 years. I loved my iPhone 4 and 4S, I loved my LG phones, I loved my Samsung phones, I loved my Asus, Samsung, Apple and Toshiba tablets, I liked my Sony phones, I liked my Nokia Windows phones, I liked most of my Huawei phones, I was indifferent to my HTC phones, and I wasn't a big fan of my Motorola ones. That is a small fraction of devices I have used personally on a day-to-day basis and even fewer than I have used at/for work from anywhere from 2 weeks to 4 months.

I am going to primarily be talking about Apple and Samsung because Apple are the biggest pushers of Aluminium phones and Samsung seem to cop the most from people about their plastic ones. I do mention HTC, LG, and Sony; and Apple's name could easily be replaced with HTC and Samsung's with LG/Sony/Motorola but the post would have less contrast.

Following the iPhone 6 Plus bendgate stuff, and the subsequent testing of a lot of other mobile devices on the market, there is still such a huge emphasis on how a device "feels in your hand", and the "premium materials" a device uses.

Every single review, without exception, that compares a device using an aluminium chassis/case (iPhone, HTC) with one using a plastic chassis/case (Samsung, Nokia, LG) will always give "build quality" to the aluminium phone. Usually citing that the aluminium feels more premium in your hand.

What is a premium material? What defines a premium material? is it an expensive material? or a material that is rare? a material of high quality?

If it is any of those 3 things (price, rarity, quality) or a mixture of those 3 things, why is thin aluminium considered a premium material?

Aluminium is one the cheapest materials you can buy on a global scale, especially thin sheeting. With absolutely no sources or supplier connections, and in about 5 minutes of google searching, I was able to source aluminium sheeting (the same thickness used on the iPhone 6/6+) for $1200 Per Metric Ton.

A metric ton of aluminium sheeting is conservatively enough to make 6500 iPhones (rounded down), meaning that fancy "premium" casing on your iphone is worth about 18 cents.

18 cents, and I can just about guarantee that Apple (and HTC) get their aluminium for cheaper than I can.

Now let's have a look at plastics, shall we?

Polycarbonate: $2800-$4000 per metric ton
High density polyethylene: $10000 per metric ton
Polyvinyl chloride (PVC): $3000 per metric ton
Acrylic/Plexiglass: $2500 per metric ton

Plastic is consistently more expensive.

Is aluminium rare?

"Aluminum is the most common metal in the earth's crust, almost twice as abundant as iron. And one common class of aluminum minerals, collectively called alum, has been in use since at least Greek and Roman times."

Aluminium was once worth more than gold in the mid 1800's, but less than 50 years after the first aluminium ingot was sold, the value dropped from $500 (per ingot) to less than 25 cents for the same amount.

http://slate.me/1vJa81P

It is hard to judge plastics rarity, but aluminium is far from a rare material.

Is aluminium a high quality material?

Yes, and no. Is air grade aluminium used on aircraft in correct thicknesses and in the correct way high quality? Absolutely.

Is the aluminium used on most electronic devices high quality? no.

Aluminium is an easily dentable and extremely pliable metal, especially when it is used as thin as we have seen for the last 3-4 years.

The polycarbonate and HDPE used on most electronic devices that use plastics are very high quality materials, they have been engineered to be high quality materials. They have high tensile strength, don't dent, and require substantial force to break.

Plastic is more expensive than aluminium, aluminium is just as abundant as plastic is (possibly even more so), and plastics used on electronic devices are of higher quality than aluminium used on electronic devices.

So why is Aluminium classified as "premium" when an iPhone is in the hands of a reviewer, while a plastic phone like the galaxy note 3 is considered "cheap"?

Just look at this (around the 1:10 mark):
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gJ3Ds6uf0Yg

This is an iPhone 6 plus bend test which the guy did out on the street in front of witnesses, it is almost effortless to bend and to completely destroy. Is this what "premium materials" and "superb build quality" mean now?

Even in the flawed consumer reports test, using a high-precision Instron compression test machine that placed all the pressure on the dead middle of the phones (not at the weak spots) showed how poorly aluminum phones stack up to their plastic counterparts.

HTC One M8, Iphone 6 (Aluminum) - 70lbs of force
Iphone 6 plus (Aluminium) - 90lbs of force
LG G3 (plastic) - 130lbs of force
Samsung Galaxy note 3 (plastic) - 150lbs of force

The iPhone 4S, which most misinformed people call an aluminium phone (only it's edge is aluminium, the sheets of glass sit in a plastic frame, and the majority of the case is plastic), couldn't even beat out the galaxy note 3 and the note 3 is thinner (8.3mm vs. 9.3mm).

Samsung seem to get the most criticism for the use of plastics and I just cannot figure out why. In a lot of the cases they have actually addressed what "experts" and reviewers had concerns about in their previous products.

For example (and I'm moving to TVs for a short moment), Back in 2010-2012 Samsung pushed active 3D over passive 3D, most reviewers and experts complained of the over large and heavy active 3D shutter glasses that this technology required, while praising passive 3D glasses for being light and comfortable.

Skip ahead to 2013-2014 and Samsung managed to turn those big active shutter glasses into extremely light weight and comfortable ones; Now reviewers complain that these glasses feel small and cheap.. but in the same sentence they refer to them as being light and comfortable.

If I'm sitting back and thinking in my head "what the fuck do these people want?" then I have no idea just how frustrated the higher ups at Samsung must be.

Also on the TV front, I read a review recently of the Samsung UA9000, which complained that the remote control was made out of plastic, while at the same time praising the control as the best Samsung has ever made and it being both highly functional, light, comfortable and easy to use.

Do people really want their TV remotes made out of solid metal? I'd rather have something with some texture that doesn't weigh 2 kilos and wouldn't kill a cat if dropped from standing height. I've used the remote at work and it feels fine, it's a great remote... I don't think not making it out of plastic would have improved it in any way.

The latest comparisons between the newly released iPhone 6 plus and Galaxy note 4 are similarly oblivious. The (easily bendable) iPhone 6 plus is apparently better in your hand and is a more premium device, according to just about every review out there. Despite the note 4 using a metal edge, most reviewers however mark the "faux leather plastic back" as being cheap compared to the aluminium that is worth 18 cents on the 6 plus.

The Galaxy Note 4 uses a Magnesium alloy edge around the entire phone, the same Magnesium alloy that is used to make Bugatti Veyron steering wheel paddles. I was able to source magnesium alloy for $10,000 per metric ton, which is just over 8 times more expensive than aluminium.

I was also able to source synthetic leather (which is what the "cheap plastic back" of the galaxy note 4 is made out of) for $3000 per 1000 square metres, which I am willing to bet is quite a bit lighter than a metric ton.

iPhone 6 plus case materials - thin aluminium sheeting - roughly 18 cents
Galaxy note 4 case materials - Magnesium alloy/synthetic leather - roughly $1/roughly 33 cents

Those figures are including the fact that Samsung would be able to produce more phones with their materials than Apple can (around 10,000 phones to Apples 6500 with the same metric ton of materials), and the galaxy note 4 materials are still more than 7 times more expensive per phone.

Subjectively, I cannot even begin to understand how somebody would prefer a slippery, cold, hard surface over a soft, textured and semi-grippy surface. The synthetic leather back of the Note 4 feels a lot better than the aluminium backing of either the iphone or the HTC, it's actually comfortable, it doesn't feel like it'll slide out of your hand at any second, and it isn't easily dentable (it isn't dentable at all in fact).

Samsung (and other companies) use plastic for a reason, it is a suitable material to make an electronic device out of. Cellular/wifi signals can not pass through aluminium. This is why ugly black or white lines run straight through parts of the "premium" aluminium phones, their antennas have to be external; this can create it's own problems, E.G iphone 4 death grip which caused dropped calls if holding it a certain way.

Nintendo president told designers of the 3DS he wanted it to consistently survive 5 drops from a 10 foot height onto concrete. They made it out of plastic.

In fact, every portable gaming console is made of plastic. Every water proof and dust proof device is primarily made of plastic (and laminated glass). Is being water proof not considered as being of good build quality?

How on earth do you compare a slippery, easily damaged aluminium phone to a water proof, dust proof, more robust but still just as thin and light plastic phone and come to the conclusion that the aluminium one is of better build quality? (like just about every reviewer the world over)

Now for the fun part, I said that there was a reason companies use plastic, and it is probably because their extensive R&D have uncovered it to be the best option to make these devices with.

People are constantly on Samsung's back about their "cheap plastic" devices (which I have already shown to be far more expensive than any aluminium counterpart) but Samsung spend more on R&D than any other electronics company in the world, in fact, in 2013 they were the second highest R&D spenders out of any company in the world (right under Volkswagen which own and spend tens of billions on Bugatti R&D).

Do you know where Apple was? not on the list. What about HTC? not on the list.

The top 20 R&D spenders list has been around since 2005, neither Apple, nor HTC, have ever made the list.

You might consider it unfair to name HTC, considering they only make mobile devices, but do you know who has consistently made the list? Nokia... a company who (up until very recently) only made mobile devices.

To put that in perspective, Nokia spent more on R&D for mobile/cell phones in 2013 than Apple spent on R&D for mobile phones, tablets, laptops, desktops, monitors, MP3 players, TV media boxes and streaming devices.

Samsung has been on the top 20 list ever year since 2005, as has Nokia, Samsung has been in the top 10 for 5 of the last 6 years and has outspent companies like Microsoft, Google, Intel and major car manufacturers.

Sony has even made the list several times since 2005.

http://bit.ly/1kFXFVH

I am so sick and tired of people complaining about electronics (and just things in general) being made out of "cheap" plastic. Everybody needs to take a step back and think about it for 5 seconds, before eating up all the crap Apple and HTC spew out about aluminium.

Aluminium is considered "premium" because effective marketing told you it was. An hours research (or even less) would uncover that aluminium is one of the cheapest materials a company can buy, and it is anything but premium; nor is it suitable for electronic devices.

Extensive R&D by some of the highest R&D spending companies in the world have come to the conclusion that plastic is a better (or the best) option for electronic devices. The quicker the industry moves away from aluminium, the better it will be for all of us.

TL;DR Plastic > Aluminium. It is more expensive, stronger, more versatile, more robust, doesn't block cell signals, and is of higher quality. People (especially reviewers and fanboys) need to stop listening to extensive marketing and advertisement coming from companies who have the most to gain by misleading them.

There are a couple of other things to consider when judging the costs of the materials in such applications. Aluminium needs to be machined to the desired shape, which takes time, energy and means you get a lot of wastage.

Plastic on the other hand has very little wastage. Once you have spent the big initial setup costs and the moulds are set up each piece only takes a few seconds to make and you only use as much as you need.

I don't have a problem with aluminium phones. I have a HTC and I like the way it feels in my hand, which is an important criteria for me when selecting phones. Sure it is easily damaged, I just do my best to look after it.

Another aspect is the fact that phones these days are almost fashion items, so how they look is important. Which is, of course, a subjective thing. I personally prefer the look of brushed aluminium to glossy or textured plastic.

This was an interesting read. I have always had the feeling that a phone made out of metal is more "premium" than a phone made out of plastic. And it's not surprising most consumers feel like this. After all, when it comes to consumer products, metal is almost always a preferred material over plastic. We have this (justified) idea that metal is durable, strong, made to last. Metal is what sturdy, expensive things are made of.

Reading your post, I have changed my mind about plastic phones. It may feel and look better with metal, but apparently plastic is a better material, and this surprises me! Good luck changing the mindset of the consumer though. Metal will always be a premium material in the mind of most people. I'd like to know what you think of metal as a build material for larger consumer electronics, like laptops. I'm currently on a laptop with a case made entirely from magneisum-aluminium alloy, and it doesn't feel very bendable to me. In my entirely subjective and biased opinion, it feels much more sturdy than a plastic case. It doesn't bend, squeak or sound hollow as all the other laptops made from plastic I have tried.

I'm in a very similar position. I need to build a radiator cover, and I don't know whether to build the decorative screen out of plastic or metal. Plastic is definitely going to be cheaper, and since the whole thing is going to be glossed white anyway, it'll probably look better. However, I am concerned about reducing the heat output of the radiator by blocking it behind a cover (there's a reason I need a cover, but it's not worth explaining), something I feel using a metal decorative grille might improve upon due to conduction. Your thoughts would be appreciated (as would any links to cheapish decorative screens, be they plastic, MDF or metal.

I'm not planning to touch the cover a lot, so not too worried about how it feels.

Plastic is cheap. Everyone knows this. Plastic cracks and breaks and is fragile. Everyone has seen this. Metal is strong and durable. Everyone knows this. So metal is better than plastic. Thus, premium. The PR draws on what we take for granted so that we accept the "premium" at face value.

It's like the car doors that were deliberately made noisier when the slammed to give the car an aura of solidity or how the power of a motorcycle is judged by the volume of it's engine. We expect strength from weight and noise.

Who doesn't put their smartphone in some sort of case?
I can't stand how my samsung s3 feels out of its comfortable, grippy artificial leather case with a flap.
It's slippery, thin and feels fragile and I don't want to hold something so thin in my hand, it just feels awkward which also has to do with its price point of ~200 bucks.
I'd imagine it's that times 100 for the latest iphone.

The reason why aluminium is regarded as "premium" is because it's metal. I don't think it's all entirely apples marketing.
Metal always had the connotation of being high quality and robust in contrast to the cheap plastic.

I don't disagree with a single aspect of this breakdown and appreciate the OP for his time and effort. That said, I just plain like the look of metal over plastic. Plastics can and are made more durable than aluminum, and how or why people think that the stuff made into coke cans is more durable than the stuff made into "Unbreakable" dishes I don't know. (Not a fair comparison I know, it's just meant to highlight the point.) But that really does not matter to me.

No aluminum phone I have ever had has ever bent in my front or back pocket and I currently have a 6 Plus. This may or may not be because I take care of my devices and don't treat them like junk. I put cases on my phones too, so that if I were to drop it I don't end up with a cracked screen. I see broken phones all the time (my wife works at Apple) and I just have no clue how people manage to screw their phones up as bad as they do.

In short, OP is correct. Build quality does not = made of metal or "How it feels in the hand." That said, the difference in actual build quality means jack shit to me because I don't abuse my electronics.

A lot of the panels on my car are plastic I dont really know why this is the case but plastic (especially on cars) is lightweight and its not as prone to rust/oxidation as a metal panel would. I would also assume its a safety thing as cars have crumple zones which are designed to absorb the impact of a collision

In my day job I work on aircraft and as you say aircraft grade aluminium is very high quality however aircraft are shifting more towards carbon composite which is more expensive however it saves weight which means a lower a fuel cost and it has a longer life and can cope with more stress than a metal panel would. I would imagine it would save overall costs otherwise aircraft companies would still be using aluminium. Pretty much anything aviation wise is designed to save money. I work on high performance aircraft where money isnt really an object however a lighter and stronger airframe is beneficial when travelling considerably over mach 1 and pulling insane amount of Gs

Edit: you'll probably find a lot of the aluminium you find in these phones could be made from recycled scrap aircraft aluminium

Gorrath:
I don't disagree with a single aspect of this breakdown and appreciate the OP for his time and effort. That said, I just plain like the look of metal over plastic. Plastics can and are made more durable than aluminum, and how or why people think that the stuff made into coke cans is more durable than the stuff made into "Unbreakable" dishes I don't know. (Not a fair comparison I know, it's just meant to highlight the point.) But that really does not matter to me.

No aluminum phone I have ever had has ever bent in my front or back pocket and I currently have a 6 Plus. This may or may not be because I take care of my devices and don't treat them like junk. I put cases on my phones too, so that if I were to drop it I don't end up with a cracked screen. I see broken phones all the time (my wife works at Apple) and I just have no clue how people manage to screw their phones up as bad as they do.

In short, OP is correct. Build quality does not = made of metal or "How it feels in the hand." That said, the difference in actual build quality means jack shit to me because I don't abuse my electronics.

I have to agree. I look after my stuff and I cant believe the amount of people with cracked screen or who have dropped a phone down the toilet

To me good build quality doesnt come from the materials used it comes from the internals and the quality of build in the processors etc. I would much rather have a shoddily built case than internals that are poorly soldered or not properly shielded

shootthebandit:

Gorrath:
I don't disagree with a single aspect of this breakdown and appreciate the OP for his time and effort. That said, I just plain like the look of metal over plastic. Plastics can and are made more durable than aluminum, and how or why people think that the stuff made into coke cans is more durable than the stuff made into "Unbreakable" dishes I don't know. (Not a fair comparison I know, it's just meant to highlight the point.) But that really does not matter to me.

No aluminum phone I have ever had has ever bent in my front or back pocket and I currently have a 6 Plus. This may or may not be because I take care of my devices and don't treat them like junk. I put cases on my phones too, so that if I were to drop it I don't end up with a cracked screen. I see broken phones all the time (my wife works at Apple) and I just have no clue how people manage to screw their phones up as bad as they do.

In short, OP is correct. Build quality does not = made of metal or "How it feels in the hand." That said, the difference in actual build quality means jack shit to me because I don't abuse my electronics.

I have to agree. I look after my stuff and I cant believe the amount of people with cracked screen or who have dropped a phone down the toilet

To me good build quality doesnt come from the materials used it comes from the internals and the quality of build in the processors etc. I would much rather have a shoddily built case than internals that are poorly soldered or not properly shielded

Right, I saw some comparisons about dunking a whole phone in water and timing it to see which died first. iPhone lost by a good minute or so. Thing is, I'm not doing shit with my phone where I need to submerge the whole phone in freaking water. As for internals, I can't say I've owned a wide variety of phones like the OP, but I can say I've never had an iPhone die on me. I tend to only keep them 2-3 years though because I actually make money selling them and then upgrading. In any case, the damned things work, so I don't really care which phone is more likely to survive a Sherman rolling over it.

Whatislove:
SNIP

Price is always my main motivator when buying a phone, I don't even mean value I mean cheap>everything else.

This was a really interesting read though and I just wanted to thank you for reminding me once again to not buy into bullshit marketing.

Best post i have read in a long time. Thank you.

My first tablet was a Nexus 7 (1. generation). One of the absolutely most positive surprises about the device was its polycarbonate backside with small dimples/holes. Not only did it feel way better than holding an iPad, but it also turned out to be almost impossible to scratch beyond very brute treatment. After 1 year of ownership, there was only a minor (almost invisible) scratch on its backside from me having it in my back pocket and brushing against a rough stone wall.

With that said, plastic still 'feels cheap' in ones hand. I wish more phones would use polycarbonate rather than plastic. It's great.

But, but Apple said all metal casing was cool! /snark

While I generally care more about how well the phone is designed vs materials (why the hell aren't the screens of every phone made from gorilla glass or something equivalent?), the biggest issue I have is with batteries. Lithium-ion rechargeable technology has been around for decades, we need something better. Now that more and more phones are shipped as sealed units, it's almost impossible for the average consumer to get a new battery and install it on their own. All this does is add to the general carelessness many people have with their phones because they know in a couple years it'll effectively be useless.

I have a nokia lumia 925 and I know for a fact it's a hell of a lot more durable than of the iphones my friends have had, but alas I know in another year or so it's battery will finally hit that point where I have to replace the whole fucking phone because it's somehow cheaper than fixing it. Also, it is really tempting to walk into a cell phone store and bend all of the iphone 6s on display.

Huh, I just thought some people preferred aluminium because they though it looked/felt better. Which, yeah marketing, but marketing to make aluminium appear classier not necessarily a functionally superior material for phones and other electronic devices. I also figured that when people were describing the opposite they used cheap to mean like "tacky" cheap rather than actually cheap.

Sometimes I worry that I actually have no idea what people mean when they say things to me...

This is your chance then, as the consumer, to prove what you feel is a superior material with your dollar. Don't buy the iPhone, and when people ask why, give them this argument. It was well done. The only voice the consumer truly has is through his wallet. Until the wallets say otherwise, the problem isn't that Apple (or whoever) claims its materials are superior, but that the consumers refuse to disagree.

That said, I think aluminum is inherently cooler. Simply for appearance and symbolism. Neither of which are reasons to make a should-be-durable device out of it in a favor of something that would be more practical.

Pretty much everyone puts some sort of PLASTIC case on their phone, regardless of build material. So while aluminum as a premium material is still bullsit, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. What really matters is internal build quality, speed, audio fidelity, and those sorts of things.

the doom cannon:
Pretty much everyone puts some sort of PLASTIC case on their phone, regardless of build material. So while aluminum as a premium material is still bullsit, it doesn't really matter in the grand scheme of things. What really matters is internal build quality, speed, audio fidelity, and those sorts of things.

Do they?

Most blokes in Britain I know (myself included) don't, it's generally a bit girly.

In China, well, either they don't, or they've got this rubber casing that's shaped like a rabbit or a cat or something.

Personally, I prefer a nice, metallic tough touch to a cheapy, crappy plasticky phone. I tried a Samsung this generation and it doesn't feel good; it's too light, gets hot too easily and looks like I could snap it if I sat wrong.

I miss my iPhone.

Leon Declis:

Most blokes in Britain I know (myself included) don't, it's generally a bit girly.

In China, well, either they don't, or they've got this rubber casing that's shaped like a rabbit or a cat or something.

Personally, I prefer a nice, metallic tough touch to a cheapy, crappy plasticky phone. I tried a Samsung this generation and it doesn't feel good; it's too light, gets hot too easily and looks like I could snap it if I sat wrong.

I miss my iPhone.

If you get a pink case with flowers then sure it could be considered girly.....I have this on my phone and I fail to see how it looks girly.
image
Also you seem to fall into the category of people that have been successfully marketed to by apple and htc. And the funny thing is that your old iphone was way more likely to snap if you sat on it wrong than the samsung. Also the new galaxy s5 is water resistant. Yea

The same thing happened when Glock made first came out with a "plastic" pistol in 1982. Everyone said it was junk, now it is one of the most popular and most copied. From wikipedia: Despite initial resistance from the market to accept a "plastic gun" due to durability and reliability concerns, and fears that the pistol would be "invisible" to metal detectors in airports, Glock pistols have become the company's most profitable line of products, commanding 65% of the market share of handguns for United States law enforcement agencies.

I don't care much about phones, but I will say it's probably more to do with perception. You know, kind of like how synthesized diamonds are a common industrial tool that are suddenly worth hundreds of dollars in small quantities when placed on a finger.

That being said, I notice it's the same thing with the interior of cars. Cheaper cars tend to be pretty plastic-heavy while more expensive cars make more use of metals. I think it's because plastic is easier and cheaper to mould than metals with considerably less material lost in the process.

It's just another case of dumbass reviews, people who will share their feelings on a product instead of factual information which is what you need for an actual informed purchase.

Nice OP, I like the research on material costs. Very interesting overall

Gibbatron:
There are a couple of other things to consider when judging the costs of the materials in such applications. Aluminium needs to be machined to the desired shape, which takes time, energy and means you get a lot of wastage.

Not really, it does take time and energy and investment of course but the cost for each form cut is negligible. There are various laser and waterjet cutters that cost about $250,000 per machine with efficient running costs that cut thousands of small forms in an hour, from there its a simple press then off to powder coat or anodisation (which is probably the most expensive part at around 1/5th of the net cost of each piece). The old days of CNC machining for thin sheets of metal are long gone, the machines are computerised and incredibly accurate and can leave a few human hairs width of space between each cut. All the waste is shipped back to the foundry that produced the rolls of sheet metal and discounts future shipments, all of the swarf and left over forms and pieces that fail QC are bailed and sent back this way.

J Tyran:
Nice OP, I like the research on material costs. Very interesting overall

Gibbatron:
There are a couple of other things to consider when judging the costs of the materials in such applications. Aluminium needs to be machined to the desired shape, which takes time, energy and means you get a lot of wastage.

Not really, it does take time and energy and investment of course but the cost for each form cut is negligible. There are various laser and waterjet cutters that cost about $250,000 per machine with efficient running costs that cut thousands of small forms in an hour, from there its a simple press then off to powder coat or anodisation (which is probably the most expensive part at around 1/5th of the net cost of each piece). The old days of CNC machining for thin sheets of metal are long gone, the machines are computerised and incredibly accurate and can leave a few human hairs width of space between each cut. All the waste is shipped back to the foundry that produced the rolls of sheet metal and discounts future shipments, all of the swarf and left over forms and pieces that fail QC are bailed and sent back this way.

This is true for some pieces, however not everything is a pressed sheet design. The HTC One, for example, is milled from a block of aluminium. I'm sure you are able to recover most of the wasted material but it is additional cost.

One other thing I forgot to mention is that when quoting $/tonne figures you need to take into account the density of the material and the amount used. Aluminium is more dense than plastic but the final thicknesses are much the same, in fact plastic is probably thinner. This means a tonne of plastic will make more devices than a tonne of aluminium, even if you didn't get any wastage.

Pinkamena:

Reading your post, I have changed my mind about plastic phones. It may feel and look better with metal, but apparently plastic is a better material, and this surprises me! Good luck changing the mindset of the consumer though. Metal will always be a premium material in the mind of most people. I'd like to know what you think of metal as a build material for larger consumer electronics, like laptops. I'm currently on a laptop with a case made entirely from magneisum-aluminium alloy, and it doesn't feel very bendable to me. In my entirely subjective and biased opinion, it feels much more sturdy than a plastic case. It doesn't bend, squeak or sound hollow as all the other laptops made from plastic I have tried.

I don't detest the use of metals on electronic products, but I do detest the use specifically of Aluminium for the all the reasons in the original post. It's just not premium, suitable, or good in any way but companies can sell their products at a premium over other (objectively better and better made products) because of their supposed "premium" materials.

Magnesium alloy is a premium material, it is expensive, it is semi rare and it has good properties.

Magnesium alloy is a relatively flexible material, however, it has a high resistance to stress fractures.

Aluminium is an extremely flexible (pliable) material and has a crippling weakness to stress fractures, a lot of the iPhone 6 bend test videos showed the owners trying to bend them back into shape, and more often than not the aluminium would tear or snap in half. This is a stress fracture and it is just one more reason aluminium isn't suitable for an electronic device.

The bend test of the Galaxy note 4 (which has a magnesium alloy frame) bent a little bit, I won't down play it because it did bend (though no where near as much as the similarly sized aluminium iPhone 6 plus) but the tester was able to bend it back to perfectly straight in a few seconds with no signs of damage or that it had been bent.

This bending vulnerability appeared on the note 4 which moved from an all plastic construction (from the note 3) to a metal one that everybody is crying out for. Consumers really are all about facade over function.

To answer your question though, Laptops are a different area, there are lots of things a laptop can be made out of to be premium other than metal as well, there are a few carbon fibre laptops, magnesium alloys and magnesium based build materials are very popular too. With laptops, the amount of material you are using is a lot thicker than a mobile or tablet device which should mean that bending won't be an issue. Aluminium is still far from the best material, even in thicker uses like the Macbook, while a macbook doesn't bend, it is very easy to dent. Magnesium alloys are not so easily damaged.

loa:
Who doesn't put their smartphone in some sort of case?
I can't stand how my samsung s3 feels out of its comfortable, grippy artificial leather case with a flap.
It's slippery, thin and feels fragile and I don't want to hold something so thin in my hand, it just feels awkward which also has to do with its price point of ~200 bucks.
I'd imagine it's that times 100 for the latest iphone.

The reason why aluminium is regarded as "premium" is because it's metal. I don't think it's all entirely apples marketing.
Metal always had the connotation of being high quality and robust in contrast to the cheap plastic.

Samsung basically gave consumers the grippy artificial leather case with the Note 3 and Note 4, by making the back out of synthetic leather, but it is still seen as cheap by reviewers and consumers despite the costs involved and how functional and good it feels (and looks, in my opinion, I often get the question in regards to my note 3 if that leather backing is a case and most are stunned to find out that that is how it comes out of the box).

As for your second line, it is all apple's and HTC's marketing in regards to aluminium, because aluminium is not regarded by most people as being a premium material. In fact, most people connect aluminium with coca cola cans and tin foil.

That is what this post was about, quite often people will compare metals like titanium to plastics like a water bottle and claim that metal is expensive and plastic is cheap; but the reverse is true when we are talking about electronic devices, the comparison is the material coke cans and tin foil are made out of in comparison to plastics like polycarbonate which are used to make bullet proof "glass" (bullet proof glass is rarely glass, it is more often than not, Lexan or polycarbonate, both plastics).

Plastic doesn't mean cheap, and metal doesn't mean expensive. There are equally crappy and premium materials on both sides, and as explained in detail in the original post, plastics are more expensive, of higher quality, are stronger and more suitable than most metals (aluminium) used in "premium" phones.

flying_whimsy:
But, but Apple said all metal casing was cool! /snark

While I generally care more about how well the phone is designed vs materials (why the hell aren't the screens of every phone made from gorilla glass or something equivalent?), the biggest issue I have is with batteries. Lithium-ion rechargeable technology has been around for decades, we need something better. Now that more and more phones are shipped as sealed units, it's almost impossible for the average consumer to get a new battery and install it on their own. All this does is add to the general carelessness many people have with their phones because they know in a couple years it'll effectively be useless.

I have a nokia lumia 925 and I know for a fact it's a hell of a lot more durable than of the iphones my friends have had, but alas I know in another year or so it's battery will finally hit that point where I have to replace the whole fucking phone because it's somehow cheaper than fixing it. Also, it is really tempting to walk into a cell phone store and bend all of the iphone 6s on display.

Agreed on the gorilla glass front, though most phones these days do come with at least an equivalent, which is good. The laggards definitely need to catch up.

There are some good developments happening on the battery front but we are still at least a few years away from something at consumer level, lithium-ion is just the best they can do at the moment (to still remain cost effective and functional). Now you mentioned the sealed units part, and this is another gripe I have with reviewers who mark down Samsungs (and older LGs, and other earlier plastic phones) on their "cheap" plastic backing (which is anything but, especially on the note line which is synthetic leather) but they never mark it up for having an actual function... it's removable, so you can replace the battery, and you can have your micro SD card and sim card behind the back so you don't have ugly flaps and holes on the sides.

Having a removable back is both aesthetically pleasing, for the most part, and more functional. The faux leather back on the note 3 and note 4 don't look cheap to me, or to anyone that has ever held my note 3 and commented on how nice it felt and looked with fake stitching and all, and it serves the great function of being removable which is not only great for the card slots and battery, but cases as well, a flip case is usually big and bulky, but on phones with removable backs you can by flip cases that replace the back that comes with the phone, so now it's completely protected with only millimeters of difference in thickness over a traditional flip case which could add several centimeters and push the weight up too.

On the Nokia front, it is more about their choice of material (solid polycarbonate) that makes a removable back impractical. Polycarbonate is an extremely strong and durable plastic (used to make bullet proof "glass" as already mentioned in this post earlier) but it's strength lies in it being a solid piece. All Nokia's now are made of 1 solid piece of polycarbonate, they really are near indestructible, there are several reports of the Lumia series actually repelling a bullet, including a cop who's lumia 520 caught a stray bullet and nothing but the screen smashed, the bullet didn't penetrate the phone and the phone's internals were fully functional (though the screen was smashed).

How on earth a phone that can withstand a bullet doesn't win every build quality award in the world is exactly what is wrong with the emphasis on aluminium we have had for the last few years.

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On an unrelated note, thanks everyone for the discussion and I'm glad some of you enjoyed it, this was mainly incoherent ramblings in my head that had been building up over the last few years.

I honestly believe that we will be in a better place as consumers when companies drop Aluminium altogether; It is just a shame that clever marketing has caused consumers to discount the one perfect material we already have for electronic devices (especially light and thin ones!): Plastic.

Whatislove:
they really are near indestructible, there are several reports of the Lumia series actually repelling a bullet, including a cop who's lumia 520 caught a stray bullet and nothing but the screen smashed, the bullet didn't penetrate the phone and the phone internals were fully functional (though the screen was smashed).

I've seen enough Mythbusters episodes to doubt these reports a bit! But I take your point anyway.

Flatfrog:

Whatislove:
they really are near indestructible, there are several reports of the Lumia series actually repelling a bullet, including a cop who's lumia 520 caught a stray bullet and nothing but the screen smashed, the bullet didn't penetrate the phone and the phone internals were fully functional (though the screen was smashed).

I've seen enough Mythbusters episodes to doubt these reports a bit! But I take your point anyway.

Mythbusters did the bullet proof testing on 1/2" Lexan polycarbonate and found it to be bullet proof against pistols. Half inch Lexan polycarbonate is 12.7mm thick and the Lumia 520 made of the same material (solid polycarbonate) is 11.2mm thick.

I am highly skeptical of claims like this too, but this would seem to be pretty believable.

 

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