There are many smartphones out there with glass or a ceramic composite on the front and the back. If you’ve ever had a cracked screen, you probably know the struggle of keeping your phone from breaking. Why are manufacturers so adamant about having glass backs on our smartphones?
Yes, glass back phones help with wireless charging? Many smartphones have a glass back nowadays, and the perception by the public of glass material is less durable than aluminum or plastic. In reality, phone manufacturers are using improved technology and durable ceramic or glass composites to minimize cracking or breaking.
Let’s dive deeper into the manufacturers’ perspective to understand better the use of glass in our smartphones, the type of glass they use, and the advantages and disadvantages of having smartphones with glass backs.
Main Reasons Why Smartphones Have Glass Backs
As previously mentioned, there are two main reasons why manufacturers have shifted from plastic to glass in manufacturing smartphones: Wireless Charging and Aesthetic Purposes.
It all started in 2010 when Apple released the iPhone 4 with not just a glass screen but also an aluminosilicate glass back.
Aluminosilicate glass is more robust than most and more resistant to scratching or breaking. However, aluminosilicate glass still does break, and although it was touted to be highly durable, it did not prove strong enough to withstand frequent drops or drops from considerable heights.
Since most phones back then had plastic or metal bodies, glass backs were a novelty. And while people found the iPhone 4 design to be very stylish and sleek, many also felt that the phone was too fragile, a scary thought given how expensive iPhones can be!
Yet, perhaps due to the solid iPhone appeal, other smartphone manufacturers followed suit and started to produce phones with glass bodies. Let’s take a deeper look into the two main advantages of (and reasons behind) glass-backed smartphones.
The Move Towards Wireless Charging
Technology is slowly moving towards wireless everything. Gone are the days when we had the patience to organize our charging cables and earphone wires. And why shouldn’t everything be wireless? Wireless charging is usually much more convenient.
Wireless charging is an important feature considering smartphones don’t have particularly long battery lives. And because most of us use our phones all day every day, we often need to charge our phones several times per day. In that regard, wireless charging is a godsend.
We also have QI Wireless Charging, and no more looking for battery cords, no more untangling wires. We need only put our phones on a charging pad, and they charge in our cars, office desks, coffee tables, or nightstand.
Glass Make Wireless Charging Better
Wireless charging works thanks to the glass composites on the backs of our phones. Radio Frequency transmission also works better with materials like glass, allowing radio waves to pass through fairly easily.
When manufacturers replaced plastic and aluminum with glass, they made wireless charging better. Thanks to Nikola Tesla, it may sound like new technology, but wireless charging has been around for decades.
When charging, the metal in a smartphone’s back that lays on top of a wireless charger consumes part of the power from the charging pad, turning it into heat, and power loss occurs. The creation of the heat can be dangerous and raise the temperature of the phone’s interior electronics and can cause problems.
Glass is Better for Wireless Charging
With a glass back on the phone, the magnetic field transfers power from the charging pad to the smartphone with negligible energy loss.
Wireless charging is essentially inductive charging or a transfer of energy through the air, so to speak. In this charging method, you need a phone that supports wireless charging and a charging pad or mat. The wireless charger emits energy by creating a magnetic field through which your phone harvests energy to juice up its battery.
However, this electromagnetic transfer cannot occur through metal or plastic as effectively, which is one reason why manufacturers switched to ceramics and glass. This type of charging typically heats the phone’s surface, particularly the back, which can be uncomfortable. But for its convenience, it’s often a small price to pay.
Despite the appeal of this “new” way of wireless charging, not everyone uses it, and it’s hardly a necessity. That is evident in how no smartphone today relies on wireless charging alone. It’s an option, but wired charging is still most widely preferred.
Glass and Ceramic Body Are More Aesthetically Pleasing Than Plastic
Another reason phone manufacturers have switched from plastic and metal to glass is the premium look. Simply put, a glass body gives a smartphone a smooth, unified, and flowing appearance that cannot be achieved with a glass screen and a plastic back.
Plastic has become associated with lower-end or cheaper models, even if it’s more durable, affordable, and widely used than glass. Companies are now distinguishing between flagship, high-end models and their cheaper counterparts.
Consumer perception and the fact that smartphones have become a luxury accessory also play a significant role in the way smartphones are designed today. Some don’t want just a powerful smartphone; they want one that looks “expensive.”
And true enough, that’s what glass and ceramic do. Its surface stays smooth, scratch-free, and shiny. And thanks to advancements in technology, ceramics used in smartphones today are far more substantial and more life-proof than the aluminosilicate glass that the iPhone 4 had years ago.
Top Smartphone Manufacturers Who Use Ceramic or Glass Front and Back
|Manufacturer||Materials – Ceramic or Glass Front and Back||Wireless Charging|
|Apple iPhone 13||Ceramic Shield front, Textured matte glass back, and stainless steel design||MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W, Qi wireless charging up to 7.5W. Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter. Fast-charge capable: Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes with a 20W adapter or higher.|
|Apple iPhone 12||Ceramic Shield front, Glass back, and aluminum design||MagSafe wireless charging up to 15W, Qi wireless charging up to 7.5W. Charging via USB to computer system or power adapter. Fast-charge capable: Up to 50% charge in 30 minutes with a 20W adapter or higher.|
|Google Pixel 6||Scratch-resistant Corning Gorilla Glass Victus cover glass. Edgeless Corning Gorilla Glass back with tactile alloy frame||Qi-certified, Fast wireless charging, Wireless charging rates up to 21W (Pixel 6), and up to 23W (Pixel 6 Pro) charging with Google Pixel Stand (2nd gen). Up to 12W with Qi-certified EPP chargers. Actual results may be slower.|
|Google Pixel 5a||Premium metal unibody, Corning Gorilla, and Glass 3 cover glass||18W fast charging. Actual results may be slower.|
|Samsung Galaxy S22||Corning Gorilla, Glass Victus, Armor Aluminum frame||Support up to 15W speeds. Wireless charging speeds may vary by device.|
|Samsung Galaxy S21||Corning Gorilla, Glass Victus, Armor Aluminum frame||Support up to 15W speeds. Wireless charging speeds may vary by device.|
Additional phones with composite glass and ceramics front and back are Asus, Blackberry, Cat, Lenovo, Motorola, Nokia, OPPO, OSOM, OnePlus, and Xiaomi.
What Type of Glass and Ceramic Is Used in Smartphones?
Most smartphones today have Gorilla Glass bodies or ceramic composite. This type of glass is an offshoot of aluminosilicate that’s chemically engineered to withstand high amounts of stress, i.e., when your phone falls or hits a hard surface.
Victus Gorilla Glass is said to be able to stay intact even if you drop your phone on a hard surface from a height of up to 2 meters or 6.56 feet. Glass composites are integral not only to the front of many cell phones but also to the backs.
Gorilla Glass is composed of an oxide of silicon and aluminum. However, it’s important to remember that though the glass material is far tougher than ordinary glass, it may break if you drop your phone too many times and don’t have a case.
Ceramics are non-conductive and don’t interfere with wireless charging. Some ceramics are harder and lighter than any metal or plastic you would use in your day-to-day activities.
Ceramic is almost completely corrosion-resistant and an insulator, so there is no heat transfer. Ceramic is used in many internal components of cell phones and on many flagship phones.
Apples Ceramic Shield used on its screens is made by Corning, the same company that makes Gorilla Glass. Ceramic Shield is made by embedding ceramic nanocrystals into the glass through a high-temperature crystallization process and dual ion exchange.
Downsides of Having a Composite Glass Back
While we only had to worry about keeping our front screens intact, in the past, we are now seeing more and more smartphones with glass screens and ceramic or glass backs.
Smartphones with glass bodies may be equipped for wireless charging and even look more aesthetically pleasing. But even sleek and functional glass backs have downsides. Ultimately, it’s up to you to decide whether the pros outweigh the cons.
Here are a few downsides to having a smartphone with a glass back.
Glass Cracks But So Can Aluminum
Unlike plastic or metal, glass, ceramic, and even aluminum can crack or break. Even the strongest Gorilla Glass can crack under the right circumstances. And no matter how careful you are, you may still drop your phone, perhaps even down the stairs or too many times.
A phone with a cracked back or front is not a good situation under any circumstance. So, you always have to be careful with your phone. Most people have dropped their phones many, many times.
Ceramics are also easy to break due to their high hardness. Ceramic materials have a look and feel of metal and are malleable. Ceramic body materials can also have some interference properties for RF signals, which requires the manufacturer’s antenna design to be adjusted.
Repairing a Cracked Glass or Ceramic Body is Costly
Fixing a phone with a cracked back is expensive. We’re talking several hundred dollars for an iPhone. It’s so expensive that some people give up on their cracked phones and just upgrade to a new phone.
Also, if you don’t fix your phone quickly, the tiniest crack can spread all over your phone’s glass back, affecting its usability.
The best way to keep your phone from cracking is using a protective casing that will act as a cushion for the phone.
Smartphones now have glass and ceramic backs to equip them for wireless charging and make phones look and feel sophisticated. Glass gives a high-quality look that you can’t achieve with plastic.
Though glass is generally less durable than the more commonly used plastic, the glass used in smartphones today is chemically engineered to withstand intense stress and pressure.
Nevertheless, best to error on the safe side and use a shockproof phone case to keep your phone from cracking when the inevitable fall or drop happens.
- The Star: The Heart of Glass: Why are Smartphones Made with Such Fragile Materials?
- Science Direct: Aluminosilicate Glass
- Business Insider: A Full Guide to Wireless Charging, Including How It Works and the Best Models to Buy
- The Guardian: What is Wireless Charging and Do I Need It?
- Wikipedia: Aluminosilicate
- Matmatch: Aluminosilicate Glass: Properties, Production, and Applications
- Britannica: Aluminosilicate Glass
- Britannica: Nikola Tesla
- Wireless charging for your Galaxy devices
- Ceramics in Cell Phones.
- Smartphones: Smart Chemistry – American Chemical Society