It’s time for phones to embrace fun materials again

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

A while ago we asked you about your favorite phone materials. You responded with a familiar list of glass, plastic, and metal options, but there were a few responses that hit just the right note of nostalgia. The praise for the Galaxy Note 4’s Pleather and the Moto X’s wood got me thinking how fun phone materials are. If fashion can make a comeback every few years (or maybe decades), why not phone designs?

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Stale sandwiches (glass)

Various phones side by side showing glass phone materials

Robert Triggs/Android Authority

One material has come to dominate phones — or at least high-end phones — more than any other in recent years. Glass has become the benchmark, and we can’t wait to complain when a phone skips the latest Gorilla Glass. It’s durable, efficient in terms of wireless charging and available in many colors. For a while it was fashionable to switch to a glass flagship phone.

However, glass phones seem to fall into one of two categories: glossy and smoother than an eel in a grease factory, or satiny and ready for a 300-slide Powerpoint in a conference room. The Google Pixel 6 falls into one camp (slippery), while the Samsung Galaxy S22 series falls into the other (business class). Both are some of our favorite phones and they’re well built, but once you’ve seen a fancy glass panel you’ve seen almost all of them.

Phone hardware is often either buttoned up and boardroom-ready or smooth as an eel in a grease factory.

There are, of course, some exceptions to the glass ceiling – take OnePlus, for example. The OnePlus 10 Pro offers a Gorilla Glass back panel, but it’s neither glossy nor satin. Instead, it almost feels sandblasted. It’s still glass, but it flirts with texture just enough to feel unique in the hand. The texture is a small win, but a good reminder of the ghosts of OnePlus’ past. It’s hard to forget the OnePlus One’s quirky sandstone, wood and bamboo StyleSwap covers (pictured below).

Perhaps OnePlus is the best example of an OEM still trying to have fun while living in a glass box. After all, the Nord 2 Pac-Man edition was a reminder that collaborations don’t always have to be buttoned up and professional. This special Nord 2 features a rear panel that, although satin-finished, pays homage to the classic arcade title in a clean, simple way.

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Living in a material world

Rear of the Google Pixel 5 showing the phone's hardware

David Imel / Android Authority

There are a number of reasons OEMs choose glass as their material of choice, as noted above. It’s tough and it often looks pretty good. In this sceneglass phones are Richard Hammond’s Ford, but I’d much prefer something like Jeremy Clarkson’s Volkswagen – something like a Pixel 5, if you will.

The Google Pixel 5 is a perfect example of how to ditch the glass and create a phone that people – or at least some people – love. Google opted for an aluminum build, but it didn’t have to sacrifice wireless charging for style. Instead, the engineering team drilled a hole in the otherwise metallic body to let the charging coil hit the bioresin coating. This bioresin coating felt (and looked) quite different from glass, too. It wasn’t slippery, but it wasn’t rough either. It also doesn’t hurt that Sorta Sage might have been my favorite color on a smartphone.

Imagine it: a Pixel 6 with Pixel 5 materials.

Given the choice, I would convince the minds of Google to merge the Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 designs into one. Ditch the glass, embrace the camera bar and bring back the aluminum and bioresin. If Google can make a metal phone work well with wireless charging, why can’t we bring back some other fun materials? As The Six Million Dollar Man would say, “We have the technology.”

Maybe I’m alone on this one. Maybe leather and wood have resigned themselves to phone cases for a reason. I certainly don’t recommend anyone to repeat what Microsoft has done with its Sonic the Hedgehog Controllers. But maybe, if for no other reason than an alternative to glass, it’s worth trying again. For the good old days.

Do you miss fun phone material?

35 votes

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