Skip to main content

Are we OK with a $799 Galaxy S21 being made of plastic?

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.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

Image used with permission by copyright holder

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.

Editors' Recommendations

Christian de Looper
Christian’s interest in technology began as a child in Australia, when he stumbled upon a computer at a garage sale that he…
Asus’ latest Android phone could be a big threat to the Galaxy S23 Ultra
Holding the Asus Zenfone 9 to show how it's able to be used one-handed.

After plenty of speculation and waiting, Asus is finally ready to launch its next flagship smartphone, the Zenfone 10, at the end of this month. First announced late last night on the Asus Taiwan Instagram account, the Zenfone 10 will be officially revealed in full and launch on June 29.

Asus tends to make pretty solid devices despite not being quite as popular as the smartphone giants like Samsung, Google, and Apple. But the Zenfone 10 looks like it's shaping up to be one of the best Android phones on the market. Based on a handful of videos posted on the Asus website on a page devoted to the Zenfone 10 launch event, the phone's specs make it seem like it might be able to go toe-to-toe with the likes of the Samsung Galaxy S23 Ultra with one key difference: its size.

Read more
Can a $450 phone beat the Samsung Galaxy S23’s cameras? It’s close
Samsung Galaxy S23 and Galaxy A54 in hand

Samsung has a typical release schedule each year that starts with the main flagship devices. After that, there are some new, budget-friendly options.

So far in 2023, Samsung has given us the flagship Galaxy S23 lineup, which includes the S23, S23 Plus, and the S23 Ultra. Though the S23 Ultra is no doubt the most powerful of the trio, the standard S23 is also great for those who want a more compact smartphone that still packs a punch.

Read more
This phone just ruined the iPhone 14 Pro and Samung Galaxy S23 Ultra for me
Vivo X90 Pro with Yashica analog camera on a flat surface.

Vivo may not be as popular outside of China as its sister brands OnePlus and Realme, but it has recently gained widespread recognition for its impressive cameras on the flagship X series.

For their commendable camera quality, Vivo's X series phones rely on its partnership with Zeiss, which provides special lenses and helps tune colors for these devices. The Vivo X90 Pro is the latest product in the series to benefit from this exclusive partnership, which has resulted in some phenomenal photography.

Read more