Sunday Debate: Is The “Premium Feel” Worth It?
Join us in a fun Sunday Debate on Premium Materials. Come with your opinions and feel free to read some of our thoughts, then pick your side or play devil’s advocate to get your voice heard and engage in friendly discussion. You can read our food-for-thought or jump straight into the fray below!
Our hobbies at XDA are ultimately about software, but the hardware we buy to enjoy ourselves and make our lives easier is just as important. Nowadays, phones have impressive cameras, speedy processors and beautiful high-resolution screens (not enough battery if you ask me, though), and as important as these are, the chassis and casing that hold it all together is a deciding factor for many people as well. You could say that the trend for a “holistic” and “beautiful” smartphone began with the Apple fanaticism and how the iPhone’s design always served as a main point of comparison between the two biggest platforms… and this competition really did change things.
Today, many phones’ internals are protected by more than just glossy plastic. Design has become an intrinsic focus of each new Android phone release, and manufacturers are hard at work to “wow” us with every new flagship’s look. Even Samsung changed its ways with their latest flagships and finally abandoned the glossy plastic that made their phones a target for plenty of criticism, even from the Android community at large. These new materials and the designs that come with them, however, do have some implications when it comes to price, durability and (perhaps most importantly) features. Not everyone wants a “premium feeling” phone, but it seems like that is where the industry is heading regardless.
So we ask you, is the “premium feel” worth it”? Do you want “premium” materials in your phones, and why? Do you consider design to be one of the most important aspects when buying a new phone? Feel free to read some of our thoughts on the matter, but you can always jump straight to the comments if you have your mind made up!
Flagship phones are expensive, so it is only natural that people expect the significance of their purchase to show. Metal phones were not too common of a thing during the dumphone era, but now metal (mostly aluminum and steel alloys) is a sought-after “premium” material when it comes to building smartphones. Glass, leather and wood are also on the list, and they can give the phone an appearance that is quite unlike what most people would expect on an electronic device. Companies like HTC pride themselves in their designs and the feel of their devices, as their unibody One series looks powerful and finely crafted. Sony has the glass and metal design which Samsung borrowed for the S6, and Motorola began offering wood and leather backings for their Moto X 2014 not too long ago. Now LG also has hand-crafted leather backs for an esoteric look as well. These last few years have been some of the best when it comes to phone aesthetics, and this is in large part due to the rising trend of metal, glass and alternative materials.
The truth is that while premium materials do look esoteric, expensive and sometimes even luxurious, they can be detrimental to the user experience. Glass phones are extremely fragile, and a single drop can shatter a back panel just as it would a screen, and it is also as easy to scratch as the front. The metal can get dented, chipped or scratched (especially if it’s a metal edge) but the material is also not bend-friendly (we all know about bendgate by now). These materials can also be rather expensive for manufacturers, which in turn means either higher prices or hardware sacrifices. The S6 was blasted by critics and power users for not having the traditional removable battery and sdcard configuration that the more plasticky Samsung phones had, and neither do many other “premium” phones.
Phones made out of polycarbonate and other plasticky materials are usually associated with “cheap”, and they typically feel this way in the hand. Many plastic phones feature glossy backs that are prone to fingerprints, and they typically do not fend off scratches very well either. The moldability of these materials also means they can get deformed on drops in ways that don’t allow for proper enclosures. However, they typically fare better in bending situations and phones with replaceable covers have cheap replacements for their plastic backs in case they break, bend or scratch.
People who focus on the user experience more so than the design don’t really need “premium-feeling” smartphones, and sometimes the compromises do not outweigh the benefits. For example, phones with replaceable back covers that enclose the microsd and SIM card guard them safely and do not need any additional tools to insert them or remove a tray for them. Metal phones can and sometimes do feature sdcard slots, but not removable batteries which can dramatically diminish (or eliminate) battery anxiety. Finally, the modularity of replaceable backs means that you can try out various colors or configurations – although some premium-feeling phones like the G4 do have removable backs, and there are vinyls/skins that you can put on for different colors and textures as well. But the manufacturing process of these non-premium phones is typically less expensive than those that require fancy materials and techniques, which means that OEMs can allocate more time and resources to other factors that might impact the UX positively.
I like a good design, but not if it means sacrificing valuable features for better materials. The Note 4 remains at a solid tradeoff – metal rim and good feel and grip, while retaining the features I depend on. Ultimately, I don’t care too much about the design as I usually look at the screen and what’s on it, not the sides or back, and I personally don’t care about what others think of my phone’s design. If the internal hardware and the software work for me, I don’t need metal or glass to remind me that my purchase was worth it.
On one hand, we all love a good-looking and good-feeling smartphone, and design has become an important part of any flagship release. On the other hand, these materials can be detrimental to feature sets, durability, and price, and are ultimately not needed for the core of a smartphone experience. So we ask you:
Would you compromise features such as battery life and storage for a “premium feel”? How important is a phone’s design and its materials to you? Is all that metal, glass, leather or wood worth the price?