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Plastic, Is It Really that bad?

Discussion in 'GENERAL Wireless Discussion' started by KevinJames, Jul 22, 2015.

  1. KevinJames

    KevinJames WA's 1st retired mod
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    In response to a YouTube video singing the praises of glass and metal phone bodies, I wrote the following:

    I'll probably get hated on for this: I prefer plastic cases because they take a beating better. Metal and glass are more fragile. I really don't understand those that feel glass & metal are positive things. Phones have always been plastic, they are utilitarian devices, not jewelry. But the younger crowd seem more interested in show than function. When enough users get their glass and metal devices damaged, I expect (and actually hope) that the tide of consumer opinion changes and we go back to more durable plastic cases.

    Am I the only one that sees the benefits of plastic?
     
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  2. dmapr

    dmapr Silver Senior Member
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    I too prefer plastic for the same exact reasons.
     
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  3. budney

    budney Resident Headbanger
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    I feel the same way too. I never had any issues with my older plastic phones, they never broke, creaked, or scratched. A Consumer Reports test recently proved that plastic is the better material. Both the M8 and i6+ did the worst.


    Sent from my iPhone 6+ using Tapatalk
     
  4. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    KJ, you bring up a very good point with is post. You say 'cases' in your post, but I'm assuming you're referring to the phone body. The funny thing with that is many people who have a metal body phone then buy a plastic case to shroud it in for better protection.
     
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  5. QLR

    QLR RIP Note!
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    I never really complained about the plastic on my devices. Yeah, glass is pretty, but it does break. I never noticed all the talk about the plastic. There is a reason why Samsung has stuck with plastic.

    Sent from my SM-N910V using Tapatalk
     
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  6. charlyee

    charlyee Ultimate Insanity
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    I never complained about plastic either, my last two Lumias right before my iPhone were polyurethane and looked good and was very durable.

    My Moto X was also quality plastic as well. I never felt the need to put it in a case from day 1, like I did with my iPhone/s.
     
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  7. KevinJames

    KevinJames WA's 1st retired mod
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    @JFB: You are right, I intended to say the body of the phone. Many of the news sites / blogs I read all praise the "upgrade to quality materials" in reference to the metal and glass bodies. IMHO, Samsung tried a number of things to make the plastic look classy with "faux stitching," textured backs, and more. Yet consumers wanted their phones to make a "statement" like jewelry. (For example, the IronMan s6) To me it is a case of "be careful what you wish for, you might get it." The tide has rushed in, we'll see how soon it sucks everyone under and pulls them out to sea.

    As a sidenote, I discovered that the IronMan sells for a whopping $2,500. That is just plain absurd! If the user only keeps the phone for 2 years, that is an extra $100 on top what the user is already paying monthly for their service. I even found articles where people bid upwards of 35K for one. Those idiots must be collectors. I mean, that's the cost of a nice car!
     
    #7 KevinJames, Jul 22, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 22, 2015
  8. JFB

    JFB Gold Senior Member
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    I guess I'm guilty of getting a wood (teak) back for the 'show' factor. However in terms of function, the wood has been pretty durable against bumps and abrasion.
    IMG_0914.JPG
     
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  9. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    Hmmm,you know I'll have a different opinion

    I agree that more phones ( and iPhones ) should be offered in plastic (ABS, Polycarbonate) materials. More robust, and mars, scratches are more forgiving.

    KJ if you mean by glass cases/bodies ,the glass screen...I think that ship has sailed. With such large screens today, glass is so,so much more scratch resistant, and has other wonderful electrical and optical qualities (touchscreen) than clear plastic. That was the reason Steve Jobs insisted on using it.

    Sure it can break. I don't know where I saw it, but I think the incident of crack glass front screens is about the same as ole plastic. Certainly I and my family have had every iPhone since 2008, and never broke one! So it's a wash for me.

    Back in the day, we mainly dialed numbers and read SMS. Different world today. Who cared about a scratch or three on them? I had many on my Nokia's

    But yeah, I'd would be for tough plastic for the rest of the case. The IPhone 'C' series isn't as nearly as popular though. Go figure.





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    #9 viewfly, Jul 23, 2015
    Last edited: Jul 23, 2015
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  10. KevinJames

    KevinJames WA's 1st retired mod
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    @JFB: Your wood case is beautiful. I've seen those and thought it would be nice. Truthfully, the only reason I haven't done those is I always find something else to spend my money on. In regards phones, I usually opt for power and memory over cosmetic. I'm trying to figure out what I'll do with my 64GB MicroSD card in my current Note3 when I upgrade to the Note5. If this becomes available for the Note5, I'll probably buy it.

    PS: I just looked at the enlargement of your phone picture. Dude! You even have your initials engraved. Nice touch. (y)
     
  11. dmapr

    dmapr Silver Senior Member
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    @viewfly, IMHO part of the reason "C" wasn't too popular was that underneath that plastic there was last year's hardware.
     
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  12. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    Yes, I agree. Also it is sold (still is) only in funky colors. A basic black would have appealed to the business community just fine. There are a lot of people who would buy a cheaper phone. And be happy.

    Glass and metal- oh how I remember my Nikon F and F2: just metal and glass, and so rugged in comparison to the plastic DSLR's today. Some would go naked, and many had leather cases for them. The pros would be happy with bare metal, and a little brass showing through was a good sign of a pro!


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  13. dmapr

    dmapr Silver Senior Member
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    Yep, the colors definitely play a part too.
     
  14. palandri

    palandri Former Palm Guy
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    I use to have a Nokia N8 and it had a unibody (one piece) aluminum shell with hard plastic caps on both ends. It was the best metal shell I have ever seen on a phone.
     
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  15. dmapr

    dmapr Silver Senior Member
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    I had an N8 too and it's the only smartphone I have consistently used a case on.
    But I agree, it looked pretty darn good.
     
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  16. palandri

    palandri Former Palm Guy
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    It was also the first phone I had with a real decent camera.
     
  17. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    From an RF point of view, plastic cases make the most sense, as plastic isolates your hand from the internal metal antennas. And we all know, strange things happen to the RF when your hand touches the antenna.

    The first mobile phones had external antennas, which is the best in terms of gain: larger antennas = more gain, it's also further away from the head and hand, so less body absorption.

    Then they decided to stick the antennas inside the (plastic) housing of the phones, I guess to make it look nicer, or because external antennas would get broken. They added a 2nd internal antenna, to give it diversity gain, so performance would still be comparable to the external antenna phones.

    The first phone to use a metal case was the iPhone 4, which required external antennas built into the exterior of the case, and as we all remember "antenna gate" and "death-grip" stories, that wasn't exactly a "smooth" transition. Obviously external antennas on a metal case can be done, but it's being done for the sake of aesthetics (ie: to have a nice looking metal housing), not for RF purposes. The antenna has to be worked in around the phone, meaning aesthetics comes first, and RF second.

    If you remove aesthetics completely from the equation, and look at it only from an RF point of view, then the best option is probably going back to the 1st gen phones with external antennas (and actually adding a second antenna). Or then a plastic housing with internal antennas. But having a metal housing on a RF device without an external/extendable antenna means a big challenge (ie: headache) for antenna designers.
     
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  18. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    Actual real world testing has shown that intelligently designed external metal antennas, banded as in the 4S, 5 and 6 iPhone series can work as well as and sometimes even better than internal antennas behind plastic bodies. Even ones designed by Motorola.

    Yes indeed the 4 version antenna had a problem at the lower 1 mm gap separating the two antenna bands. But that was fixed in the 4S.

    Advanced antenna science and engineering trump lay seat-of-the-pants antenna myths eventually. One just needs to design for the application.

    True a free space external antenna as in the old cell phones is best. However even those few inch long external wires were a compromise and could be twice as long for improved performance.

    Nokia first introduced the non-whip or stubby-free cell phone since cell coverage was so decent over there. And for most of us, it is true here too, allowing for flexibility in mobile phone design.

    That's all that really matters. A quality phone connection.


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  19. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    To me, knowing what effects metal has on RF, it seems "unnatural" to have a hand-held radio encased in metal. The only other hand-held radio I could think of was the walkie-talkie. And that design hasn't changed since it came out more than half a century ago: a rugged plastic housing, and an external antenna. It hasn't changed in 70 years because it's a good, functional design. And the people who use it most (military, police, etc) prioritize functionality above looks. I can imagine if someone invented a walkie-talkie in a metal housing with several small antennas built in a complex way into the metal frame. I don't see anybody buying that (altho if you brand and market it right, people might line up around the block to buy it ;) )

    Yet with phones it's different. "Look" is prioritized, and functionality comes second. Fashion designers first decide how the phone should look (because ultimately that's what sells), and then they pass the design to the engineers and say "ok, stick your antennas and electronics somewhere and build this". In any case, today's cellphones, metal or plastic housing, are a compromise between look and functionality, but I still feel/think a plastic housing is less of a compromise, because it's a natural insulator for the metal antenna.
     
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  20. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    I thought the N8 design was an interesting "hybrid" design of plastic and metal. The main housing was metal, but the end-caps, where the antennas were located, were plastic so as not to interfere with the RF. Much simpler design than trying to build metal antennas onto a metal housing.
     
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  21. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    There really no point to argue over this (again). Engineering results on real world mobile phones, overrules engineering feelings.

    I agree that plastic over hidden antennas are easier and cheaper to make. And that one doesn't want to short out a metal antenna. However, that doesn't mean it is impossible to make other worthwhile designs, for practical reasons.

    70 years ago, the first WW2 military Walkie Talkie was an all metal housing, with a long metal whip antenna. It was used by hundred of thousands soldiers in the war. Made by a company, that later changed its name to Motorola.

    My first CB radio walkie talkie was in a blue metal housing with a metal whip antenna.

    Kids and military field situation, antennas are gripped and misused in all kinds of situation.s

    Sure, a rubber ring separated the antenna port from the housing, but that is totally like the current Apple 6 design, where the grey plastic insulator surrounds the two antenna.

    Your thoughts on the battle between engineers and designers is archaic. Engineers enjoy being challenged, and making elegant new designs.

    Our old 'rabbit' ear metal TV antenna worked best when my kid brother held it with his hands. Knowing that, one could engineer the antenna to make it more comfortable for him to hold it for us. :)

    RF engineers groan when they saw their retractable whip mobile phone antennas unused, and people using the top nub as a finger holder. Being the common case, might as well design for the practical application: Comes along the stubby, and then internal antennas.

    A properly designed internal antenna or external band is designed with the knowledge of where peoples hand/faces will most likely be, since inductive coupling, and well as actual contact needs to be considered.

    Test results and comparisons have shown that internal antennas are subject to the same signal fade as well designed external band metal antennas when held in the hand in various common positions. A poorly designed internal has shown to be even worse! It took some mistakes to get there, but that is where it is.

    There is nothing to argue about anymore.


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    #21 viewfly, Aug 14, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 14, 2015
  22. charlyee

    charlyee Ultimate Insanity
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    I see this as an interesting discussing of plastic vs metal, merits and demerits, not an argument at all.

    I personally I have learnt quite a bit of history and evolution of communication devices from this thread, and I sincerely hope this thread continues with additional information and not turn into an argument.

    Just my 2 cents. :)
     
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  23. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Were we arguing? LOL, I thought we actually agreed on most points: that external antennas are best from an RF perspective, and that internal antennas, both plastic and metal housing, were a compromise, with metal housings requiring more careful antenna engineering for said reasons.

    As for walkie-talkies, I've never seen or held one in my lifetime that had a metal housing. In the military, all the radios I used did have metal housing, with the only exception being the LMR's, they were always plastic (LMR=Land Mobile Radio, aka "walkie-talkie", it's not cool to say "walkie-talkie" when you're military :p ). The LMR's were also the only ones that were hand-held. And ALL radios had external antennas.

    As for engineers, well, they aren't first in the food chain. Sales, marketing and money come first. I love the "Onion's" classic report on how Gillette was the first to make the 5-bladed razor....not because it works well, but because from marketing/sales POV it will sell....it's a joke of course, but in every joke is a piece of truth...

    Full report (caution, language)
     
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  24. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    I only argue that engineering results be used and understood instead of brand biases.

    If you are interested in history, here is Motorola's ( called Galvin at the time) 2nd generation 'Handie Talkie', used in 1943. The official military term 'Walkie Talkie' was used for the backpack version. Made with 5 vacuum tubes, all metal rugged aluminum case, waterproof, and metal telescoping antenna ( that turned on the radio). Thousands landed on the beaches in Normandy. 100,000+ were in use during the war.


    Note the precaution for an electrical shock when transmitting and touching the metal antenna and aluminum case. The antenna was 39" long. Total weight 5 lbs.

    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]
    [​IMG]

    And here is my Lafayette CB radio from the '60s. Not the exact one, but the same era and company.

    Note the "die cast brushed Aluminum case" Very common back in the day.

    These things took a beating from us kids.

    [​IMG]

    [​IMG]




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    #24 viewfly, Aug 15, 2015
    Last edited: Aug 15, 2015
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  25. KevinJames

    KevinJames WA's 1st retired mod
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  26. RadioRaiders

    RadioRaiders RF Black-Belt
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    Could be "grounds" to "argue" one might be better served using a plastic housing rather than metal? ;):whistle:

    I searched for LMR's/walkie-talkies made today and can't find a single one with a metal housing. Looks like in the 1940's to 60's (or so) metal housings may have been common, but around the 70's or 80's they all switched to plastic and haven't looked back. I wonder what the reason was? Weight? Durability? Ergonomics? RF reasons? (Honest question) My guess/theory is that since plastic is non-conductive, not just in RF but in electrical (AC/DC) terms as well, it's safer for use in dangerous surroundings (police, military, etc.). In these environments it's best to use non-conductive materials for safety reasons when/where possible. Eg. work boots have to be rubber-sole and certified, etc.

    PS- I always wanted a LMR built into my cell-phone, but not major mfgrs do that, only a couple of smaller ones, like this (note the plastic case ;) ) http://thetoughphone.com/
     
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  27. viewfly

    viewfly Mobile RF Advisor
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    Cost and weight ( honest answer)

    Could one 'argue' that your pronouncements & knowledge on radios, RF antenna design and commercial manufacturing should be 2nd guessed? ;) whistle


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