With The Note 7 Disaster, Can We Finally Put The Metal Unibody Myth To Bed Now

mozo 950 zebra wood

Samsung’s problems with the Note 7 don’t look like they’re ending anytime soon and that’s disappointing for what is such a desirable device. However, as I said when the news of the battery problems first broke this problem is partially a result of Samsung moving to a metal unibody design and sealing in its battery.

Yes, it’s true that the problem isn’t a result of the non-removable battery per se, however if we were talking about a device with the Note 4 design – that is a removable back cover and user replaceable battery – the problem wouldn’t have been half as difficult for Samsung to fix, would have cost  a fraction of the costs that Samsung has burnt through so far and would have left the Samsung brand in a far better place.

The argument for metal unibodies has been that they add a premium feel to a device. The solid, single piece of cut aluminium feels like an expensive watch or tool. That’s a ridiculous assertion. Good design will make a phone feel great to hold irrespective of the material used to create it.

Of all the metal phones that I’ve had the dubious pleasure of trying a mere handful have actually been pleasant to hold. The iPhone 4 / 5 design, which is good to hold and to look at; the HTC Desire HD, rode nicely in the hand (and managed a removable battery too) and… well, that’s about it. I’ve found no other metal phone that has been anything but clumsy to hold in the hand.

Personally I’d say the combination of a metal frame and polycarbonate rear cover to be an ideal solution, but I’m also quite happy to use an all polycarbonate phone – most Nokia Lumia for example.

Right now I have on my desk an iPhone 6, a Galaxy S6 and a Lumia 950. Two phones are in cases because they are impossible to hold comfortably or without the risk of dropping. One sits in its naked form. That the Lumia 950 feels the most comfortable of the three to use is a win for plastic and removable rear covers. That I can swap it out for a leather, wood or even a different coloured plastic back is great.

At this point the fact that I can easily replace the battery is just a bonus.

For Samsung its absence is going to turn out to be a very expensive design error. By the time it has recalled and scrapped the two and half million Note 7 handsets it has shipped out (some of them twice) accounted for the damage to its reputation and brand; and paid out compensation for consequential damage from the phones that ignited, the decision to go metal unibody will have cost the company more than $10bn.

That’s been a very expensive lesson.


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