A tablet is often judged by its specs and operating system, but rarely on building material. Some manufacturers exploit this by using lesser quality materials for both tablets and accessories (official and third party), resulting in the second coming of the Plastic Fantastic generation of electronics. Question is, do consumers care?
I get asked a lot of computer questions outside this place, and one of the common ones are “is a Macbook worth the extra money”. I tend to use my own laptop as an example; on average, it has about the same specs as a 13″ Macbook pro (2010), but cost me only about half. However when I grab my laptop to go, I grab a huge chunk of plastic. A chunk of plastic that twists and squeaks under pressure and makes it look and feel even cheaper than it is. The point of this being that specs don’t tell the full story. It’s the same way with tablets, and in a market as competitive as this is becoming the question that every manufacturer has to ask is whether or not customers care or not. Is plastic OK, or is it time to turn to metal and glass once and for all?
Personally I am quite the fan of metal, and especially brushed or anodized aluminum. The picture above shows this quite clearly, but it doesn’t include such everyday items as my Leatherman or flashlight, which are both anodized aluminum. Aside from being lightweight and durable, I quite like the look and feel of aluminum, both compared to plastic and any sort of painted metal. I’d rather pay a few extra bucks to get the materials I like rather than have yet another squeaky plastic device.
Sometimes materials are also important for functionality. The 3G iPad has a very visible plastic part on the back that covers the antennae, so that it doesn’t mess with the wireless radios. Case manufacturers then have to do the same to make sure an aluminum case doesn’t block the signals. Another example is capacitive screens; some manufacturers (Archos, for instance) use plastic capacitive screens instead of glass screens, which can severely impact usability. Plastic scratches much easier than glass, so even very mundane tasks like cleaning your screen can turn catastrophic if there’s a dust sized piece of rock/metal/whatever caught in the cloth. Some styli are even metal and plastic these days, which have absolutely no chance of scratching a glass screen but can make ground meat out of a plastic screen. Since such accessories are often marketed as working with capacitive screens, customers might not be aware that they might harm a cheaper device. After all, as long as the screen is capacitive they can market it the same way the glass screen manufacturers do, as very few mention materials.
The good news is that most of the ~$500 tablets today are metal and glass. They might not look like it, as the case is with the Xoom’s black metal back, but that’s another matter. The Xoom keyboard is however plastic, while the Apple Bluetooth keyboard is a combination of aluminum and plastic- they both cost the same. You always have to make sure before buying though if materials is important to you, as this perhaps the easiest way to cut costs. The last thing you want on a touchscreen device (or accessory) is a casing that creaks when touched.
So what about you? Do you care what material your tablet is made of? What about accessories, are you more or less lenient with those?