Caring for Technology: Mobile Edition

Yesterday we went over tips for purchasing and using computers that hopefully shed a little light on how to take care of them over the long haul. Today we’ll be delving into a tougher technology to care for: mobile devices.

Mobile devices are the joy and bane of our existences. They connect us to the world in ways that past generations never dreamed of, yet they have the tendency to suck our attention away from the essentials and they’re a pain to care for. Think about how many times you’ve dropped your phone over the past year. The gravity of that never really hit me until I went to trade in my old smartphone, and guess what? That nick from the time I dropped it knocked $72 off the trade-in price – went from $130 to $58. Guess who’s even more careful now?

With that in mind, let’s dive into the mobile pool of insanity. We’ll follow the same format as the computer article: buying decisions first, then general use suggestions.


Metal or plastic?


Mobile phones

The discussion over which phone to buy as it relates to long-term care inevitably falls somewhere around this question: should you get a metal or plastic phone?

Before we get into that, I need to make a clarification: this is a different discussion than the computer one; apples and oranges, essentially. When we discussed computers, we discussed why overkill (mostly price-wise) in the Caring for Technology - Mobile Edition - iPhone 5“ruggedness” category wasn’t as beneficial, because other computers were also Mil-Spec tested in similar areas. At the very least, a mix of decent material composition and general care will get you far with computers. But with mobile devices, there aren’t very many “rugged” choices. With Verizon you have the 3G and 4G LTE versions of the Casio G’zOne Commando, but that’s it, and the typical smartphone shopper won’t consider those models. So you’re back to the metal vs. plastic debate.

Now that we can’t really argue as much about specs anymore (a little, but definitely not as much as 2-5 years ago), one of the topics to pick up the slack is the metal vs. plastic issue. Is one better than the other? Metal feels more sturdy, but plastic phones can still have some weight to them (Samsung Galaxy Note II and S4 are examples), and some have argued plastic holds up better in drop tests. But then we have others where phones like the metal iPhone 5 hold up better than plastic ones like the S4, and still others who see those two phones as pretty equal. So who’s right?

I tried to find some scientific research on metal vs. plastic regarding phones, but found nothing. Just a bunch of forum discussions and drop tests littered with mixed results. Unless I find some straightforward research, here’s where I stand:

I don’t care.

I don’t care if my phone is metal or plastic – I’ve enjoyed a mixture of elements with my smartphones (although mostly plastic variants), and none have been completely destroyed by drops. If the jury is out on what can withstand drops and nicks more, I’ll stick with what’s made by a reputable manufacturer and feels good in my hand.


Tablets are another beast altogether. The same metal vs. plastic debate is applicable, but not nearly to the same extent. While owning my Samsung Galaxy Nexus I probably dropped it five or so times. While owning my ASUS TF300T I didn’t drop it at all (albeit I had it for roughly six months). Your phone is with you so much it has a much greater risk of fall, and you’re often walking around with it out when it drops. With a tablet you’re typically sitting down somewhere checking out a video or playing a game – the usage situations are completely different.

I’d follow the same rule of thumb as with phones – buy something that feels good to you and is from a reputable manufacturer. Apple, ASUS, Samsung, etc. are well-known in the tablet world and get consistently good marks from agencies like Consumer Reports.


Oh no, it’s falling!


So now that you’ve purchased your phone, what can you do to keep damage to a minimum? I’d suggest the following:

  • Just like with computers, treat your mobile device with an appropriate amount of care – not so much that you’re freaking out, but enough that you don’t want it to drop.
  • Related to that, use “common” sense when handling it. Don’t try to juggle your grocery bags and check your email at the same time. Disaster is imminent, my friend.
  • Due to the confined space inside a phone, there are no fans trying to blow hot air out away from the internal parts – phones and tablets use other methods to dissipate heat. Because of that, you don’t need to worry about opening them up and blowing out dust. I’ve noticed that even after months of use, dust doesn’t accumulate very quickly even around the battery area.
  • However, phones and tablets can overheat from other sources. If you use your phone as a GPS (like I do; God bless Google Maps and Navigation), keep in mind the sun will cook the back of your phone in the summer. Phones hate the sun. My suggestion? Use your phone as a GPS when traveling around town, but use it sparingly on long trips when the sun’s beating down. You don’t really need it to tell you it’s 50+ miles until your exit anyways. Same with tablets – limit their direct sun exposure as much as possible.
  • Try to not hold your phone over liquid – drinks, the tub, directly over the toilet, etc. But if your phone does fall in liquid, quickly do the following:
    • Pull it out.
    • Remove the battery. (While in some situations this isn’t completely necessary, it’s a nice way to be sure no more internal damage can be done due to a connected power source.)
    • Dry the phone and battery as much as possible.
    • Place the phone and battery in rice (a tried-and-true method; alcohol is also an option).
    • Remove and test (first let it dry if you’ve placed it in alcohol).

Hopefully that gives you a good framework in which to purchase and maintain the physical health of your mobile devices. Your situation may be different, your device may be different (carbon fiber, anyone?), but the idea is the same:

Bottom line: be careful enough to keep your mobile device safe, but not so careful that you’re stressed out about it. Find that happy medium, where safe devices live.

Nate Humphries

Nate Humphries

Tech Editor at CultureMass
My two personal passions in life are technology and theology. If you sneaked a peek at my life you'd see me hanging out with my wife, our Dachshund Bella, and our snake Phoenix; playing Skyrim/Civ:BE/F3/FNV/BL/Rage/GW2/SRIV; watching movies; reading on my Kindle (sci-fi or theology research); or playing on my Moto 360/Samsung Galaxy Note II.
Nate Humphries
Nate Humphries

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