The Samsung Galaxy S21 series is finally here, and at first glance, it looks as though Samsung is finally taking lower-cost flagship phones seriously. But dive into the specs a little, and you can see that Samsung has cut some corners (or at least, not advanced things) to hit that $800 price. Like with a 1,080p display, and, unfortunately, by including a plastic — or dare we say, “glasstic” — back on the Galaxy S21.
This isn’t the first time we’ve seen a plastic back on a high-end Samsung phone. Samsung used plastic on the Galaxy Note 20 (not the Ultra) and Galaxy S20 FE, which managed to be good enough to be accepted by the masses despite drawing ire from smartphone nerds.
Glasstic is pretty nice
Now, I’m not a glasstic-hater. In my review of the Samsung Galaxy S20 FE, I actually found it to be pretty nice. Sure, it’s not as premium-feeling as glass, but the soft-touch plastic is comfortable to hold, not to mention the fact that it’s more durable.
And that’s perhaps the most important advantage to the plastic back: Durability. Most of us have experienced the pain of dropping a phone only to pick it up shattered, and while you can definitely still scratch plastic, it just doesn’t break as often, or in the same way, as glass does. No matter how strong Corning’s latest Victus glass may be, it’s still going to crack if you drop it from the right angle or height. Many get around this with a case, but with a plastic phone, you may not need one.
Still, there’s no denying it — glass looks nicer, feels nicer, and is getting stronger every year.
It’s more about the message
Whether Samsung’s glasstic is more durable or feels as nice as actual glass on a phone is kind of irrelevant. It’s more about the message Samsung is sending by not including premium materials on a phone with the Galaxy S name. And by simply not saying a thing about the materials in its new phones — lest it draw attention to the fact that they’re not created equal.
I get it. Samsung wants to widen the gap between its most premium phone, the Galaxy S21 Ultra, and its slightly cheaper phones, which are of course still very expensive. But it’s doing so in the wrong way. Spending extra on the S21+ or S21 Ultra should be down to getting added, bonus features, or a larger size — not a decision made based on getting a phone that feels as good as the brand suggests.
When you spend $800 on a phone, you should get a device that feels expensive. That feels weighty and cool to the touch. You should get a device that feels different from phones that cost a fraction of the price.
Apple has mastered this. Yes, the iPhone 12 Pro’s matte glass feels awesome, and that’s something you can’t get on the standard iPhone 12. But that standard iPhone 12 still has a premium, glass build. It found other places to cut to save money. To the layperson, it still looks like the latest-and-greatest iPhone, even in the case of those only spending $700 for the iPhone 12 Mini.
We’ll have to wait and see if this is a trend that Samsung intends to continue with future models. For now, however, if you buy a Galaxy S21, you’re going to have to be okay with a plastic back.