Smartphones are too fragile and thin these days

Chase Bonar
 from  Winter Springs, FL
| February 2, 2013

When it comes to a device worthy of the term "daily driver," it's my belief that function and utility should come before design. I like to run case-less even if accidents are bound to happen. Most rugged cases are unattractive and ruin the appearance of the device it's protecting. But they work. Screen protectors negatively impact viewing angles. But they're a necessary evil. We need to see more devices that are both attractive and durable. We are at a plateau in terms of design and quality but customers are clearly being shunned when fragility is mentioned.

There has never been a better time to be a consumer due to the multitude of choices beckoning us. But to what extent can manufacturers continue to increase build quality at the expense of durability?

The first device that comes to mind is the iPhone 5. Every time I pick one up, I'm enamored by its physique. It makes every other phone on the market seem cheap and obese. Apple has every right to be proud of the "Designed in California" printed on its matte aluminum backside.

I realize it's no longer the thinnest on the market (that title goes to the Alcatel One Touch Idol Ultra at 6.45mm) but it's still impressive. Having said this, I could never own it for the same reason Taylor Martin dislikes the anodized aluminum. I simply can't get comfortable with a device that mixes shades of aluminum and metal…on all sides. To top it off, it's uncomfortably thin. It may exude premiumness, but it fails miserably as a daily driver if durability is your concern.

I miss the days when curvy smartphones were acceptable. Not everyone is a supermodel, so why is every hero device so fragile and skinny?

The heftiest device that comes to mind is the HTC Thunderbolt which is a tank in every regard. At 14mm thick, you might get some questions about the bulge in your pocket, and with a case installed, you might want to consider a fanny pack. A good friend of mine grabbed the Thunderbolt as soon as it was announced and loved it…initially. His main concern was never the durability or quality of the device because "it never should be." This was indisputable. It was the battery life. Since 2011, we have seen OEM's increase the size of batteries and shrink the skeleton of devices at the expense of durability. How have OEM's managed to increase fragility with no one noticing?

I have noticed and I'm interested to know if you have, Dear Reader.

We consumers are right in the middle of a made-up competition that manufacturers are just now making the rules for. To put it simply, if phones were people, they'd have chicken legs. Their cameras, displays, and processors are the muscle. For all the hubbub around quad and octa core CPU's, we're still left indefensible when they fall out of our pockets.

HTC's CEO Peter Chou said at the end of 2012 that one thing the year had taught him was the need to "act fast and be responsive to market changes." Despite it being only February, we have already seen Sony introduce durability into the flagship scene with dust and waterproofing on its Xperia Z. It's too early to tell, but I believe it might be one of the "market changes" Mr. Chou said he'd respond to. Is HTC going to react to Sony's push for durability? We'll have to wait until they unwrap the M7, M4, and G2.

If history is any sign of HTC's future, you can be sure that they'll nail the form of the device. Just don't hold your breath for something as durable as the Xperia Z or Oppo Finder (which doubles as a hammer and is only 6.65mm thick).

At 10.1mm thick, the HTC Windows Phone 8X is nowhere close to dethroning the thinnest smartphones, but it works well. It feels great in-hand and the polycarbonate is partly responsible. It might not be the best in terms of durability but it wasn't completely neglected when designed. This is the ideal fit and finish of a smartphone which is why it's still in my Top 5 for a third week running.

Samsung is the most proactive in the group when it comes to functionality. Their market share in Q4 may have just missed Apple's taking of 39% but their future is looking bright. They've managed to push their line of S features all the while maintaining a level of craftsmanship that can take a beating. I have long praised Samsung's polycarbonate hardware in the face of adversity. Their devices are tough. But are they tough enough for daily use? They mostly are but they could be tougher.

The Galaxy S III is a couple millimeters thinner than the 8X and it's noticeable. My test of a phone's feel in-hand is to lay on my back with it in one hand. Then I start texting. If it falls, it's a bit too thin. The Galaxy S III is tough to hold but it doesn't fall. Everything else about it is competitive with HTC's hardware except for its width. Maybe 8.6mm is my threshold.

Reader! I want to know how you feel about smartphones and their evolution toward premium build quality and thin form factors. Do you expect flagship devices to be thin? Do you associate the width of your smartphone with its quality? Most manufacturers seem to have started an unjustifiable trend to produce the thinnest device. But is it really worth their effort? Let me know how you feel in the comments below.