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Why plastic is still fantastic for the Galaxy S5

Published Apr 24th, 2014 7:40AM EDT
Samsung Galaxy S5 Plastic
Image: Zach Epstein, BGR

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Samsung decided to go (again) with plastic for the Galaxy S5, even though some rumors suggested the fifth Galaxy S flagship handset will finally have a metal body, explaining in an interview with Engadget why plastic is better than metal.

“Our major aims were usability, friendliness and a more humanistic design,” Samsung Product Designer Dong Hun Kim said. “We wanted something with a pleasing feel … and better grip. If we used metal, [we felt] the designs felt heavy and cold. But with plastic, the texture is warmer. We believe users will find [the device] both warmer and friendlier. This material was also the best at visually expressing volume, better at symbolizing our design concepts.”

Furthermore, according to Samsung’s principal user experience designer Jeeyeun Wang, the smartphone is “a fashion product now,” instead of a cold slab of technology. “On previous devices, the discussion was always around one color or another, but with the S5 … my eyes lit up – you could feel three to five different textures and finishes,” Wang said “[Within the UX] I focused on that sense of fun. It’s no longer just a hard, smart machine.”

While Samsung appears to be very pleased with its decision to choose plastic over metal, it still wanted to give the phone a “metallic luster” but in a way that appears friendlier and software, according to Hyejin Bang, Samsung’s colors, material and finish senior designer.

BGR found the Galaxy S5’s plastic to be the phone’s worst feature. Various torture tests revealed that the Galaxy S5 can’t withstand the same amount of damage as the iPhone 5s.

What the interview doesn’t explain though is whether Samsung would have been able to mass-produce enough metal cases to meet Galaxy S5 demand, and whether that may have been the main reason for using plastic. “With the [Galaxy S5], we looked into all kinds of designs and materials. We were open to all options,” Kim told the publication, without revealing more details.

It’ll certainly be interesting to see how Samsung will explain choosing metal – assuming that will happen – for other Galaxy S5 versions that are yet to come. The company is said to launch a Galaxy S5 Active version in the future, which could feature metal elements like its predecessor, and a higher-end Galaxy S5 Prime model is also rumored, although it’s not clear whether it’ll be made of metal or plastic.

Meanwhile, the Galaxy S5’s plastic design has been publicly mocked by HTC, after the Taiwanese handset maker released its HTC One (M8) flagship model that’s made of metal, while a running Galaxy S5 joke likens the gold version of the phone to a band-aid.

Despite any plastic-related criticism, the Galaxy S5 is selling very well so far, while Samsung’s marketing department is buzzing at full speed. The company has just launched a website to showcase its design principles and a related museum of innovation, although it’s not clear whether Samsung has put them up to further bolster Galaxy S5 sales, or to counter Apple’s arguments from their second U.S. patent-related trial.

In addition to explaining its plastic vs metal choice for the handset, Samsung has also revealed in a blog post how it improved the screen experience in its Galaxy S5, one of the best features of the phone.

Chris Smith Senior Writer

Chris Smith has been covering consumer electronics ever since the iPhone revolutionized the industry in 2008. When he’s not writing about the most recent tech news for BGR, he brings his entertainment expertise to Marvel’s Cinematic Universe and other blockbuster franchises.

Outside of work, you’ll catch him streaming almost every new movie and TV show release as soon as it's available.