At the risk of sounding like a broken record, I’m writing about glass-backed smartphones, yet again. You may recall my article a few months back where I shared my “love/hate relationship with glass-backed smartphones” – highlighting a few of the benefits offered by the unique design, but also emphasizing my frustration with the fragile material, which isn’t well-suited for devices that are subjected to tremendous abuse on a daily basis.
My opinion hasn’t changed, but new devices from HTC and Xiaomi are pulling me apart.
First, there’s the HTC U12+ and its semi-transparent Translucent Blue color option. HTC has always had a lot of pride in its design prowess, delivering smartphones which can stand out in a crowd, but HTC really outdid itself this time. The tinted glass on the back of the phone teases subtle details of the phone’s internals, forcing you to hold the phone at different angles in the off-chance that you can see just a little bit more. The design choice is subtle, understated and yet extremely appealing.
And then there’s the brand new Xiaomi Mi 8, unveiled this week, featuring a completely transparent back panel, exposing the phone’s exquisitely-crafted internal components. To be fair, the Qualcomm logo below the glass isn’t actually sitting on the Snapdragon chipset itself, but rather a meticulously-designed RF shield which shows the placement of the chip.
I know that most people really don’t have about a phone’s actual design since they usually slap a case on their device as soon as they pull it out of the box, but the HTC U12+ and the Xiaomi Mi 8 are two glass-backed smartphones which are doing it right. Humans have been using glass for crafting for millennia, but its main use has been to create a solid surface through which light can pass through, revealing what’s on the other side. The Xiaomi Mi 8 and HTC U12+ do exactly that.
I still like the unique designs other manufacturers have been dreaming up with glass-backed smartphones, but I honestly think that the simplest design – showing off the internals of a smartphone, is the best design. Looking at the back of these phones is like walking around a Ferrari F430 and peeking through the glass on the rear hatch to see the car’s 4.3 L V8 engine.
Now, I’m not saying that I’m in favor of glass-backed smartphones sticking around for the long-haul. I still think manufacturers gave up on aluminum unibody designs a bit too early and I honestly would pay a premium for a smartphone with a soft-touch polycarbonate finish. But if the current design trend is set to stick around for the next two or three years, I really hope that more manufacturers will be inspired by the design teams at HTC and Xiaomi.
I’m not saying that every smartphone with glass on the back needs to show off the inside of the device, but I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s tired of seeing subtle variations of the same design repeated over and over again. What’s your take on the designs of HTC’s U12+ and Xiaomi’s Mi 8? Do you think a transparent glass panel is better than the slight color tweaks we’ve seen these past two years?