Plastic has made its way into jet fighter cockpits, Formula One driver's seats, and NASA projects because of its low cost and durability. It only makes sense that smartphone manufacturers would make their flagships out of it, too. 

As you've probably noticed, the Samsung Galaxy S 4's design language shares common roots with its predecessor. That includes the plastic on the S III. To some, it's a deal breaker, and I completely understand. But you do realize Samsung hasn't made a Galaxy device out of anything else, right? 

Then there's the aluminum-clad HTC One which screams quality. From the matte back right down to the glossy edges, the aluminum shell of the One is a triumph in design. Some would say it fits the price tag. But that's definitely at the expense of durability.

I can relate to the arguments against plastic. It’s not visually appealing. It feels cheap. It’s much less to look at than a single piece of aluminum. I completely agree that some matte and shiny bits on a piece of aluminum look plain awesome. From a design standpoint, you really can’t top it. I hear you. Glass could be part of that argument as well. Since the iPhone 4, we’ve seen even more glass devices pop up in tribute. It exudes premiumness and quality unlike any other. Unfortunately, it’s just as prone to catastrophic damage as its aluminum brethren. Corning is doing its best with their Gorilla Glass 3, and Willow, but it will come at a price to manufacturers.

Somewhere down the line, someone determined that plastic equates to less of a device than the aluminum and glass competition. And I get it. When shelling out $600-$900 for a smartphone off contract, you have every right to demand it feels and looks the part. The outer shell of the device is what first catches the eye, and naturally we want it to look the part of anything else we’d pay that much money for. Plastic might not be the best looking outer casing for your Samsung Galaxy S 4 as compared to the HTC One’s aluminum shell, but it certainly wasn’t put there for no reason. 

It’s durable and easy to mass produce. Plastic has clear benefits that aluminum and glass cannot best. It’s light. Any polycarbonate device is lighter than the same device made out of aluminum, or glass. One of HTC’s main reasons for using polycarbonate in the One X was weight. Nokia prefers polycarbonate in the Lumia line because of the way it retains colors. They take design seriously, and you can’t blame them for believing that color and durability play a larger role in design than feel. 

Then there’s the cost savings. When it comes down to it, the fact that manufacturers are using plastic as the outer shell makes complete sense. In place of aluminum or glass, manufacturers are able to spend more on the internals. You could argue that smartphone pricing has only gone up over the past few years, but so has the technology inside. Everything from the processor to the flash memory, to the modems and camera sensors have gotten smaller. The size of the parts inside our devices is driving prices up more than the materials used. I agree that smartphones have become very expensive, but plastic is being used for far more reasons than simply cost savings.

Remember, not all plastic is created equal. Every manufacturer has their version of it. Here are some quotes on plastic/polycarbonate and why it’s the material of choice for some manufacturers.

Nokia's Nicola Ralston on polycarbonate: “We chose polycarbonate because of the colour approach we wanted to take – the ingredients that make up polycarbonate allow us to get the best intensity of colour.”When I first got my Nokia Lumia 800, I told all my friends about how natural it feels in my hand. Again, this is largely down to the polycarbonate."

“The polycarbonate gives us a human touch – that is the best way to describe it,” says Nicola.“What we want to achieve with the Lumia range is absolute top performance. The colour ability with polycarbonate is giving us all that character but at the same time it enables the highest performance relative to the antenna, NFC enablement, wireless charging and so on.”

Samsung’s Mobile Business Executive Vice President YH Lee on plastic“Since we are shipping really large units, we always have to think how efficiently we can manage the manufacturability and also durability,” Lee told CNET.

“I think the next product has a nice balance (between metals and high-quality plastics),” she said. “We listen to the market and try to accommodate.”

So, what’s your beef with plastic? Aren’t the most rugged cases made out of plastic? Is plastic really that bad? Do you feel that plastic really lessens the appeal of a device? Let me know below!

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96 Reactions to this post

"What does it matter if plastic is used as the outer shell of a smartphone, anyway?"

Please limit your reaction to 140 characters or use comments for a longer reply :)
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Marvin Williamson
Marvin Williamson Need to focus on whats under the hood.. not the hood. What does it matter , when your going to put an otter box on it anyway! ;-)
Freddy Yufen Christanto
Freddy Yufen Christanto no problem..as long as it is a beutifull piece of plastics.
Michele Dena
Michele Dena i agree plastic is fine as long as its well made its a non issue for me
Mike Fabisch
Mike Fabisch I really have no issue with the plastic. I find it interesting that the materials that scratch, dent, and shatter the easiest are the materials considered to be "quality." Performance and durability equate to quality for me.
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li re: dropping anvil and pea on foot. of course you hurt more on anvil, it' heavier so it fall faster! you still havnt prove it fall at same speed!
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li just a bunch of losers! nobody give F what material phones made of! when is the last time you impress someone with your stupid aluminum phone? if you want to impress, get a Mercedes! haha
Brandon James
Brandon James People are so idiotic ! You going to buy a case anyways!
J Litz Van
J Litz Van If I'm paying $200 for a phone on contract, it had better feel like $200! That's half my monthy rent right there for my apartment & if im gonna pay that much, it had better feel like it. If I want a cheap piece of plastic, it should cost under $100. Done & done!
Daniel Price
Daniel Price It's going to have a case anyways at some point.
Sebastian Gomes
Sebastian Gomes Nothing is wrong with it. HTC needs something to hold over Samsung and this is it lol. Overall GS4 > One
Elias Ortega
Elias Ortega When both phones have the same specs (HTC One, GS4) I choose build quality, you can keep your gimmicks Samsung.
Anonymous This argument is just bull. For a high price point a plastic for a phone is just unacceptable ( even mentioning it's CHEAP only weakens your argument ). A smartphone is not expected to travel fast or to protect you from life-threatening impact. It is a enjoyment. a leisure someone pays their money for. So customers should expect to get the most satisfying product that suits the money. Not all cases are made out of plastic, there are thin metal casing or casing made out of hard board with a very nice touch ( Sand casing ) so your point of argument here is invalid too.
Sam Rick
Sam Rick Feels cheap
Aaron Calhoun
Aaron Calhoun Most everyone uses some kind of case for their phone. So it shouldn't really matter. I prefer sense so I use HTC.
Neville Hayfield
Neville Hayfield Nothing wrong with plastic but for around the £500 mark I'd expect top material. I've got the HTC ONE and it looks and feels fantastic . So if HTC can build a phone to this standard then SAMSUNG should be able to easy , there just to tight. All my stuffs SAMSUNG , tv, bluray+laptop but when it comes to phones - HTC is the DROID I've been looking for .
Ernest Marvin Esteban
Ernest Marvin Esteban You may argue that plastic is prone to scratches but so is aluminum. What's worse is that aluminum can take permanent dents when dropped... you can't easily replace it because it's aluminum.
Ernest Marvin Esteban
Ernest Marvin Esteban There's nothing wrong. I find plastic more resilient and durable than aluminum. And it's cheaper to replace when broken
Tyler Saddington
Tyler Saddington They feel cheap (except HTC's One X)
Ron Bragg
Ron Bragg Plastic tits at just fine! ;-)
Michal Polak
Michal Polak It feels cheap and nasty. The reason may be that it actually is pretty cheap and nasty.
Sagar Samtani
Sagar Samtani Plastic suckssss!!!
Herbert Salamánca Ramos
Herbert Salamánca Ramos Always prefer quality, doesn't matter if it's expensive as long as you get what you pay for
Curtis Owens
Curtis Owens All objects in a vacuum fall at the same speed due to the same constant acceleration. However. A mass still has mass. So an impact can be more intense for something that has more mass. Easy test, drop an anvil on your foot, and drop a pea on your other foot. you will understand the difference, I hope.
Curtis Owens
Curtis Owens they crack! metals dont. Metals just scratch paint wise.
Nick Kathrein
Nick Kathrein If anyone doesn't put their phones in cases then when it breaks from a fall you get what you get. I could care less about material because nothing that I've see can take falls without holding your breath every time its in free fall. I have a Seidio for my evo 4g lte and I just dropped it on the floor and couldn't be any less worried about it. Not in a case, good luck. PS. Wrap up the nicest car in some kind of casing and you super sexy car now is not so hot.
Vladimir Conrado
Vladimir Conrado To be honest I can care less about build quality
Travis St John
Travis St John I know its a little off topic but i had to say it in response to the article. Well Samsung did have an aluminum Backplate on the Samsung Captivate!! That device helped bring Samsung from the bottom to the top!!
Marlon Milligan
Marlon Milligan My Galaxy Note 2 has scratches everywhere. Its not durable...
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li The reason you get more damages on the heavier object cus it falls faster!
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li I still say all objects fall at same speed is bullshit! If you hit by suv and compact car at same speed, you should have the same amount of damages!
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li plastic =lighter weights! aluminum =heavier. If heavier is better quality, then you losers need to put back that stock metal wheels back on the car! Cus alloy wheels is lighter so it makes your car really cheap looking!
Gary Bowling
Gary Bowling It doesn't as long as it's durable
Jacob Hill
Jacob Hill Vote for my brother and I to win a Wheelchair accessible van! Please share this! We need to get as many votes as we can! Vote once every 24 hours per IP address! PLEASE vote! Tell your friends/family http://www.mobilityawarenessmonth.com/entrant/jacob-and-ryan-hill-marietta-oh/
Chris Steffenhagen
Chris Steffenhagen would you rather have a bowilng ball droped on you at say 10mph or a ping pong ball at the same speed
Chris Steffenhagen
Chris Steffenhagen it has more mass it has nothing to do with speed
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li @paula condom is thin too! Do you worry about breaking on you also? Haha
Shawn Gerhardt
Shawn Gerhardt It doesn't matter really, it's a finite product. The amount of time until it is outdated is a few very short months. I don't mind Samsung plastic phones, I just wish the were a little cheaper. A smartphone is not like a car where it needs to last the better part of 10 or 20 years. The fact is, it will probably be traded out before it is period of usefulness is over.
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li that's what my high school teacher said, all objects fall at same speed. but that's bullshit! if one item is 2lb, the other item is 25lb, if fall at same speed, why is the heavier item do more damage to your car when landed at it?
Paula Kressman Leddy
Paula Kressman Leddy When the plastic is so thin you're afraid the back cover will break while trying to put in the battery it's a problem.
Clint Lutz
Clint Lutz Dont all objects, regardless of wieght, fall at the same speed?
Chris Steffenhagen
Chris Steffenhagen lighter phone mean doesn't hit ground as hard
Jamie Crane
Jamie Crane HTC is just a much better build quality I no plenty of people who've had s3 and screens broken
Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas Finally someone says it. It may be "plastic" but they don't break on me so I'm good
Susan Hugus
Susan Hugus I had a very heavy HTC before all my Galaxy phones, and I do not know why the all of the tech reviewers are so down on the lighter plastic phones. I like the softer feel of the Galaxy phones in my hand and have never had any problems with it. I am sure that any phone will stop working if it is mistreated.
Eric Quach
Eric Quach Hardware inside. lol the HTC One has on par hardware. AND better materials. and Samsung sold a bunch of S3s due to their mass marketing.
Rudy Don
Rudy Don the problem is that the cell phone would STILL cost hundreds of dollars. one would think it'd be less expensive if plastic was used.
Reyna Bates Jr
Reyna Bates Jr I personally don't care as long as it looks nice. The issue many seem to have is that the price does not reflect the materials used. I just looked on amazon and the GS3 and One X+ both retailed at around $799. If you buy these phones off contract, then that would really bother you because the build quality on these phones are definitely not equal. Honestly if all of these phones were just a lot cheaper, I don't think anyone would care what they were made of.
Waii Hui
Waii Hui obviously the consumers dont care, since Samsung is selling a bazillion of these phones. So, the answer is no, people don't care.
Kenneth Li
Kenneth Li what a bunch of losers! plastic is like underwear! who gives a F? only losers care what material phones is made of!
Jason Vargas
Jason Vargas Haven't broken a galaxy in my life. But I have broken a GLASS iPhone 4
Michael Detwiler
Michael Detwiler I have a Droid Razr Maxx with a Kevlar back and Gorilla glass, but protect it with an Otterbox, so I guess what it's made of doesn't really matter. Performance, however, is the most important thing and I could frankly care less about what someone else thinks about my device. I'm not out to impress anyone.
Faddy Oraha
Faddy Oraha i like plastic to be honest
Enes Nadir Çomoglu
Enes Nadir Çomoglu Absolutely nothing wrong with plastic, my ass! Plastic feels cheap. The way S3 and S4 were built, made it look even cheaper. S2's back was plastic too, but it had a design to it; it was plastic, but it still felt premium. S3 and S4 DON'T feel premium. Hell, my Galaxy Nexus has a better design than S4.
Vicki Figueroa
Vicki Figueroa *is lighter
Vicki Figueroa
Vicki Figueroa Plastic I'd lighter.. I don't like heavy phones. If the plastic is good quality its just fine with me
Tony DjWiteboy Lopez
Tony DjWiteboy Lopez People who don't know anything about specs are the blind people who care about what the outer shell looks like. They are blind. Get an iPhone then and stop complaining.
Mark Fisher Jr.
Mark Fisher Jr. Plastic crack real easy.
Matt Shipley
Matt Shipley I do have an iPhone. Quality and specs.
Muayyad Zohair Al Mulla
Muayyad Zohair Al Mulla Better feeling and one piece phone really matters. No creaking no gaps!
Ron Bragg
Ron Bragg Get an iPhone 5 it is aluminum. No!!! Android is better than iOS, oh so it is the technology? Haha!! Absolutely nothing wrong with plastic.
Chris Roberts
Chris Roberts There's nothing wrong with plastic whatsoever. Some people are just spoiled ignorant cry babies......Plain and simple
Eskias McDaniels
Eskias McDaniels People like to feel quality? That's funny the iPhone 3G/3GS had a plastic back and I never heard that
Matt Shipley
Matt Shipley Not the whole thing mind you but the outer shell was.
Matt Shipley
Matt Shipley Mine wasn't. Mine were aluminum.
Charles W. Y. Wong
Charles W. Y. Wong Before smartphones.. regular cellphones were plastic and nobody COMPLAINED about it.. I like my smartphone to be plastic, its suppose to be plastic. All I care is the technology and hardware in the plastic.
Matt Shipley
Matt Shipley It's not all about technology..it's also about the look and feel. Who wants a phone that has the best specs available if it looks like crap? Not me..I like style and function. I'll buy a metal and glass phone way before ill buy a plastic one.
Richelle Alsoknownas Rachel Marley
Richelle Alsoknownas Rachel Marley I don't mind plastic. It flexes rather than denting.
Justin Plecko
Justin Plecko Plastic phones need a case to protect them yet they cost the same as their higher quality material counterparts. That's not right.
Eric Quach
Eric Quach Case Case. It seems that you don't like the design that the manufacturers took to make.
Cool'n HotAnd Juice
Cool'n HotAnd Juice I can see that people prefer aluminum over plastics but in many cases same people who posses aluminum body phones have protective plastic cases. So in that mater i don't understand why they are saying that plastic is bad?
Victor Zarza Fernández
Victor Zarza Fernández I'm ok with plastic phones as long as their price tag is not the same as other phones with far better materials and equal specs.
Marshal Brown
Marshal Brown Who cares... This is so dumb. If you dropped your htc one and scuffed it up or cracked it. ..it wouldn't look pretty anymore. Besides, you don't see the phone in the case. .... whoooopdie dooooo
Victor Zarza Fernández
Victor Zarza Fernández people bitch about plastic because they are paying for their plastic phones as much as they would for an aluminium one, which doesn't make any sense.
Murtaza Rzv
Murtaza Rzv plastic is more durable,flexible than any other material...plastic on s4 is high end ...cars are also made up of plasticmaterial
Nick Chimento
Nick Chimento I have no problem with plastic. If I am going to pay the same amount of money for metal then might as well.
Krishna Karthik
Krishna Karthik Aluminum definitely gives a good look n feel in the hands BUT that's the end.....it gives permanent damage to the phone when dropped...I would suggest casings like the one on xperia z or nexus 4...they look good as well as resistant to drops from shoulder level
Darnell Peacock
Darnell Peacock It's all about the technology and what's inside HTC does not have that
Rich Field
Rich Field People don't necessarily have a problem with plastic but they do have a problem when its: cheap feeling, looking and ugly like the s3/s4.
Warren Saunders
Warren Saunders I get the impression some people here would pay thousands for a car which only had cloth seats instead of leather because they can put covers on them...seriously guys, would you
Jp Garmay
Jp Garmay don't settle for "cheap" PLASTIC
George Millhouse
George Millhouse Feel cheap and being cheap are two different things. People like to Bitch
Arnaldo Gomez
Arnaldo Gomez I like being able to replace the plastic if needed instead of having to replace the whole phone because of a dent
Enes Nadir Çomoglu
Enes Nadir Çomoglu Does that phone actually have no "Open Apps" key? Wow...
Steve Swiger
Steve Swiger People like to feel quality. Would you buy a car made of all plastic when you could get one made quality materials for the same price?
Steve Bachman
Steve Bachman VZW better get the One or I may just bail! They are always the last one to get the best phones!
Andrew F Sheehan
Andrew F Sheehan I have no problem with phones being made from plastic as long as it is durable and can handle a lot of abuse. It also keeps the price down from the phones made out of metal. Plus plastic makes the phone lighter and helps keeps the phone cooler as well.
Abram Wenevermet Dennis
Abram Wenevermet Dennis Yes..
Andre Ball
Andre Ball I don't want my $700 phone to feel like a Playskool toy. I really hope VZW gets the One.
Carl Baker
Carl Baker The new htc one is made from an aluminium unibody, black and silver models are metal.
Nathan Kendall
Nathan Kendall I don't want a cheap-feeling phone that costs $200-$300. That's the bottom line.
Luis Reich
Luis Reich I don't care. I put my phone in a case from day one so who cares if it's plastic?
Warren Saunders
Warren Saunders A premium expensive device should be made from premium materials, you don't just pay for what it can do, you pay for what it's made from
Vicente Trevino
Vicente Trevino Well you pay loads of cash for a phone, you would want it to feel great, not cheap.
Chris Culp
Chris Culp Nothing. People just like to complain. If you have a case, the front is the only part that matters
Jordan Brown
Jordan Brown Plastic is just cheap and doesn't feel premium.
Mark J F Makinika
Mark J F Makinika I want to have this. HTC One!!!!

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