Opinion: Aluminum phones should make a comeback

Before the Pixel 5 debuted last week, I picked up a Moto Z2 Force that I had in my desk drawer for years. I played around with it, checked to see if there were any software updates for it, and took another look at the build quality of the device. If you’ve read either of my Z2 Force reviews, you know that I’m a fan of its thin-and-light aluminum body. I haven’t used a phone made of aluminum like that in years, but I think it’s time for them to make a comeback.

Aluminum phones used to be all the rage about 5-6 years ago. The iPhone was made of aluminum, HTC was making aluminum phones with beautiful chamfers, and even Google’s first couple of Pixel phones were metal. Aluminum feels good in the hand. After leaving your phone untouched all night, that cool feeling you get from the cold metal screams high-end. It’s also durable and doesn’t shatter when you drop it. That made virtually every expensive phone more durable than what’s available today.

That’s not the case anymore, and it’s all thanks to the premium smartphone segment.

A popular feature of more expensive smartphones is wireless charging. While it’s not all that useful given how slow it can be on certain phones, it’s definitely a great convenience. When I get to my office in the morning, all I do is set my phone in my wireless charging dock and get to work. When I have to get up to handle something, I grab my phone which is between 95 and 100 percent charged. That’s beautiful.

Of course, in order to add wireless charging to a phone, you can’t use aluminum to coat the back. Wireless charging coils simply don’t work through metal. You have to use a different material such as plastic. You can also use glass, and that’s where the current high-end smartphone market comes into play.

Virtually every high-end phone is coated in glass. The front has to be glass because otherwise it’d be plastic and no one wants to scroll Twitter through plastic every day. But one of the only reasons the back of every phone is glass is due to wireless charging. For a minor convenience that some people may ignore altogether, smartphone companies have decided slapping delicate glass to the backside of their devices is a good idea.

Looking at it from another perspective, I understand glass on a smartphone makes it feel expensive. And when you’re paying upwards of $1,000, I’d want it to feel expensive every time I picked it up. But in all honesty, glass just isn’t necessary anymore, and the Pixel 5 is perfect proof of that.

Leading up to last week’s announcement of the Pixel 5, no one really knew what material Google was gonna use for the back of the device. Renders suggested it would be aluminum, but others pointed to glass due to the inclusion of wireless charging. As it turns out, the majority of the Pixel 5 is covered in aluminum, with just a small section carved out that’s covered in plastic so that the wireless charging coils work. Google then blends the two materials together with some special coatings on top.

Not only does this mean the Pixel 5 won’t completely shatter if you drop it on concrete, it also means glass truly isn’t necessary for smartphones with wireless charging. The Pixel 5 also proves you can keep devices from feeling cheap by incorporating aluminum, something Samsung could pick up on.

I am definitely of the belief that glass phones need to go. Now that the Pixel 5 won’t require glass for wireless charging to work, I don’t see why more companies couldn’t do the same thing with their own devices. Unless they wanna include glass because it looks pretty (read: A Very Stupid Choice), including an aluminum/plastic hybrid seems like the right thing to do. That way, customers won’t be so weary about dropping their phones. Plus, like I said, they’ll still feel premium. Cold metal will always feel high-end.

It’s time for aluminum phones to make a comeback. If you agree or disagree, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.