#ScratchGate: iPhone 5 Owners Are Discovering Aluminum Is Softer Than Glass

The iPhone 5 hit stores last Friday. It’s the lightest, thinnest, most sleek iPhone yet. But owners are quickly discovering that with those advantages, there are some inherent downsides. The slender iPhone 5 has an anodized aluminum backplate rather than one made of Corning glass as in the iPhone 4/4S. And since aluminum is a relatively soft material, the iPhone 5 shows more wear and tear than previous models. The iPhone 4 was a magnet for fingerprints. The iPhone 5 attracts scratches and scrapes nearly as easily.

The iPhone 5 isn’t the first iDevice to employ anodized aluminum. Apple has long used the material for the colored iPods. The material is easy to work with and relatively light — especially compared to stainless steel. Plus, it can be painted nearly any color.

Anodized aluminum allows for a large range of color options — black/grey and white/silver for the iPhone 5 — but this coating is only skin deep. The paint essentially rests atop the metal, just a dye sitting within the top few layers of the aluminum. Given aluminum’s relative softness, this thin layer of paint can be penetrated fairly easily, exposing the shiny metal underneath.

iFixit shows in the video below that the iPhone 5’s finish cannot withstand keys or rings. It scratches very easily. However, the iPhone 4 withstood the real-world tests with ease.

A good amount of iPhone 5 early adopters took to the Internet over the weekend, reporting that their brand new iPhone 5 has scuffs and dings out of the box. Or, even if the phone was perfect out of the box, it did not stay that way for very long. It seems the black iPhone 5 shows scratches more easily than the white. Apple has yet to comment on the issue.

Thankfully, the iPhone 5 seems rather durable. The phone outlasted the Samsung Galaxy S III in a drop test. While the phone was marked up, the screen didn’t crack nearly as easily. And, as iFixit pleasantly discovered, the iPhone 5 can be repaired more easily than the iPhone 4/4S. When disassembling the iPhone 5, the screen comes off first, making it one of the least complicated fixes.

Even with poor maps, screen issues and a scratch-prone body, iPhone 5 will likely become Apple’s best-selling phone to date. That’s just the way these things work. But like the iPhone 4/4S before it, it’s seemingly best to hide the iPhone 5’s stunning design in a protective case. And that’s a shame.