Maybe polycarbonate wasn’t so bad after all


Hindsight is a weird thing. You say things in the heat of the moment, and later realize that maybe the things you thought should happen shouldn’t have happened. Right now, I’m having a lot of hindsight regarding my negative feelings of “plastic”, or polycarbonate, casings on smartphones.

A few years ago it was kind of a big deal, especially for Samsung. Polycarbonate casing was described as cheap and generally viewed as undesirable. This debate was especially strong when HTC came along with the M7, which featured a beautiful aluminum unibody design. While the aluminum design didn’t come without criticisms of its own (i.e. dents when it drops, inability to remove the battery cover) overall people seemed quite pleased with its design. It definitely wasn’t receiving the same amount of hate as Samsung received for its continuous use of “cheap” polycarbonate casing. I myself was critical of its use – it just seemed too cheap for Samsung’s rising flagship status at the time.

So it’s 2016, and Samsung’s polycarbonate housing in its flagships is a thing of the past. A couple of notable design changes have occurred in the Galaxy S and Note series, including a faux-leather design in the Note 3, and glass backs in the Galaxy S6, S7, Note 5, and now the Note 7. Glass backs certainly have their appeal, and they have the premium look and hefty feel that many were calling for from Samsung years ago – but the switch from polycarbonate to glass is about as impractical as you can get, as they easily crack and shatter when dropped if they’re not in a case. Although, apparently some people think outside the box and make it work even if it is cracked.


Samsung isn’t the first company to feature glass casing for their phones. This was also a design that Apple chose for the iPhone 4 and 4S, and a design they later switched out for aluminum. While the iPhone 4S was one of my favorite smartphones at the time, I never did understand the appeal of the glass back. Aside from the fact that they’re easier to break, they’re also fingerprint magnets. They might look nice, but given that I absolutely do not trust the safety of a glass phone out of a case, it isn’t given justice. My Galaxy S7 has the same situation, and in the rare occasion that I don’t have the phone in a case (switching SIM cards or cases, for example) I hold the device like I would a raw egg: very carefully.

When I see the leaks that the two new Nexus devices may look like what appears to be a design mix of the HTC 10 and a Nexus 4 (which featured a glass back), I just think, “What have we done?” I know there isn’t a perfectly durable material out there that isn’t prone to some type of catch, but I would argue that glass casing presents more issues than others. Even aluminum is better – I’d take a dent over a shatter any day. Regardless, I’m eating my words about Samsung’s use of polycarbonate back in the day; the glass back trend is definitely worse, even if it looks better.