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Let’s chat about these leather-backed phones

By Adam Doud May 3, 2015, 12:00 pm

You know? I was willing to let it slide when just one OEM was doing it, but now that it seems to be becoming a trend, maybe it’s time to say something. A lot of us are obsessed with the design and build quality of modern smartphones, and we’re becoming more and more aware of the materials that our phones are built out of. There is such a call out there for metal, aluminum (or al-you-min-e-yum, if you’re pretentious) or even more exotic (for a smartphone) materials – leather, bamboo, and the like.


And introducing…

Motorola made a splash when it announced Moto Maker. Specifically, the most sought after materials were the wood finishes of the first generation Moto X and the leather back of the current generation. These are materials that were drool-inducing from the time they were announced. But it seems that maybe we didn’t give these as much thought, as we should have.


Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice to own a phone that you can take a belt sander to. But are these premium materials something that we should be lusting after in our phones. There are some advantages I suppose, but does the good necessarily outweigh the bad? Not to mention, it’s not like the leather backed Moto X’s are flying off the shelves. So are these materials actually the greatest thing since sliced bread?

Hot under the collar

Also, consider heat for a moment. The Snapdragon 810 processor present in the HTC One M9 and the Samsung GS6 are both known to get a little on the hot side, so is wrapping such a processor in leather such a good idea? Yes, I know neither of the leather-backed phones today are running the Snapdragon 810, but it’s only a matter of time before many more phones are. Perhaps then, we’ll need to answer for this heating issue. Neither leather, nor wood is a particularly good heat sink in general, so maybe this is a reason to shy away from these materials in the future.

Plus, there is always the usual wear and tear to worry about on a phone with such a back on it. Most of the time, a phone is going to be on its back. Other times, it’s going to be pulled and reinserted into and out of a pocket or purse. Over time this can start to stretch and tear the leather of a phone, or it may begin to wear down a wood backed phone. Of course, like I mentioned earlier, if you get a scratch or nick on a wood phone, you can take it out with a belt sander. So there’s that. But overall, one might have to question the wisdom in putting a material best left to shoes onto the back of your phone.


And yet…

Let’s face it though, the smartphone industry is stuck in a bit of a rut. Slab phones all look and behave the same, so what’s left to differentiate an LG phone from a Motorola phone, from a Samsung phone? Not a lot. Once you get past the chassis, a lot of phones are largely the same. So the answer is, don’t let them get past the chassis.

The outside of the phone is the first and best opportunity to make an impression. Premium materials like leather or wood make one hell of a first impression. They just feel different and more importantly, they feel better. And they look better.

Hold me. Love me

If there is one thing the outside of a phone needs to do, it is look better. It is to be better. It is to make a great first impression so that people seeing and holding the phone think to themselves, “I have got to get me one of these.” Leather and wood may be the answers to the stubbornness of the smartphone world. Maybe they have not yet caught on with consumers, but a device like the LG G4 could change that. The LG G4 does have a plastic-back option, but clearly the company’s goal is to sell a lot of leather-backed phones.

Other materials may follow. Maybe not for LG, and maybe not right away. But if there is a trend in this industry, it seems to be headed in the direction of more exotic outsides on a phone. We haven’t quite reached feathers yet, but I hold out hope. What about you? Are you a fan of these premium materials that are adorning our phones’ backsides? Or are you more of a traditionalist – plastic, aluminum, etc? Is a premium material enough to sway you in the direction of a phone? Or are OEMs just looking for the next “fad”? Go ahead and let us know down below and let’s see if we can figure this out.


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