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Plastic or Metal: Which Is Better For Electronics?

Sunday, June 2nd, 2013 by | Filed Under: I've Always Wanted To Know...
 
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I Always Wanted To Know:

What is better material for your electronics to be made out of: plastic or metal?

Answer:

If you’ve purchased a piece of consumer electronics in the past ten years at a store, you’ve done what many call the ”feel in the hand” test. You picked up an item to decide if you like how it feels in your hand; if the materials and craftsmanship match up to your expectations of the product. One thing many people notice is if the device is made primarily out of plastic or metal. So which material is better for the casing of your electronics? It depends on the type of device and how you plan to use it.

Metal Pros and Cons:

Pro: Metal casings on devices are great for durability and rigidity. Metal cases are often made out of aluminum or magnesium and are highly resistant to snapping or cracking. Metal also gives you a very rigid feel, which many people prefer.

Con: Metal cases can be easily scratched and sometimes interact with acidic foods, resulting in staining if food comes in contact with the case. Metal also causes problems with wireless signals. Manufacturer must design the antennas to overcome the shielding effects of a metal body.

Plastic Pros and Cons:

Pro: Since plastic is often injection-molded, it can be shaped into nearly any shape desired.  This allowins manufacturers to offer naturally curved devices. Plastic has very low level of interference with wireless signals, so is well-suited for internal antennas. Plastic cases are lightweight, reducing the overall weight of the device.

Con: Plastics are prone to snap or crack when dropped. Plastic tends to flex slightly when pressure is applied to the edges, giving poor “feel in the hand” impressions on some devices.

Which is better?

This is a very personal opinion as each has its benefits and its detriments, but if forced to choose very general “which is better” categories, I’d say:

  • Laptops: Metal as it dissipates heat well and gives a very rigid typing surface.
  • Mp3 Players: Plastic as it’s lightweight and keeps the unit from feeling like a brick.
  • Tablets & Phones: Toss-up; plastic if you want the lowest weight and metal if you want the nicest feel holding the unit.
  • Small Electronics (Voice recorders, remotes): Plastic for weight and ergonomic design.
  • Large Electronics (TV’s, DVD, etc): Plastic with metal frame/mounts. The plastic keeps the total unit weight down and the metal frame/mounts gives structural rigidity if you’re mounting the unit to a wall or placing other equipment on top of it.

-Tim

P.S. Many plastics are now coming with coatings like Kevlar or simulated textures which greatly improve the “feel in the hand” of the case while keeping the benefits of plastic.

Do you have a general technology or electronics question you always wanted to know like “How does a Microwave work?” or “Why do LED’s last so long?” Write us here.

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