It’s time for phones to embrace fun materials again

OnePlus 10 Pro on the back of leather shows phone materials

Dhruv Bhutani / Android Authority

A while back, we asked you about your favorite phone materials. You answered with a familiar blackboard of glass, plastic and metal, but there were a few answers that struck the right nostalgia. Praise for the Pleather of the Galaxy Note 4 and the tree in the Moto X made me think about how fun phone materials used to be. If fashion can make a comeback every few years (or maybe decades), then why can’t phone design?

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Outdated (glass) sandwiches

Various telephones side by side display glass telephone materials

Robert Triggs / Android Authority

One material has come to dominate phones – or at least premium phones – more than anything else in recent years. Glass has become the go-to and we itch after complaining when a phone skips the latest Gorilla Glass. It is durable, it is efficient in relation to wireless charging, and it comes in lots of colors. For a while, it was fashionable to switch to a glass flagship phone.

Glass phones, however, seem to end up in one of two categories: shiny and smoother than an eel on a grease factory or satin and ready for a 300-slot Powerpoint in a boardroom. Google Pixel 6 falls in one camp (smooth), while the Samsung Galaxy S22 series falls in the other (business class). Both are among our favorite phones, and they are well-built, but once you’ve seen one fancy glass panel, you’ve seen almost all of them.

Telephone materials are often either buttoned up and ready for the boardroom or smooth as an eel in a grease factory.

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

Perhaps OnePlus is the best example of OEMs still trying to have fun while living in a glass case. After all, the Nord 2 Pac-Man edition was a reminder that collaborations do not always have to be buttoned up and professional. The special Nord 2 has a back panel that, although satin, pays homage to the classic arcade title in a clean and simple way.

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To live in a material world

The back of the Google Pixel 5 shows phone materials

David Imel / Android Authority

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

Google Pixel 5 is a perfect example of how to drop glass and make a phone that people – or at least some people – love. Google went with an aluminum construction, but it did not have to sacrifice wireless charging in favor of style. Instead, the engineering team cut a hole in the otherwise metal body to allow the charging coil to abut completely against the bioresine coating. The bioresin coating felt (and looked) also completely different than glass. It was not slippery, but it was not harsh either. It also does not hurt that Sorta Sage may have been my favorite color on a smartphone ever.

Imagine that – a Pixel 6 with Pixel 5 materials.

If I had it my way, I would convince Google’s mind to merge the designs from Pixel 5 and Pixel 6 into one. Release the glass, embrace the camera rod, and bring back the aluminum and bioresin. If Google can make a metal phone play well with wireless charging, then why can we not bring back other fun materials? As The Six Million Dollar One would say, “We have the technology.”

Maybe I’m alone about this one. Maybe leather and wood have resigned with phone cases for a reason. I certainly do not recommend anyone repeat what Microsoft did with its Sonic the Hedgehog controllers. But maybe if it is for no other reason than an alternative to glass, it is worth trying again. For the sake of old days.

Do you miss fun phone materials?

9 votes