With each passing generation of smartphone and tablet, we’re promised an even stronger screen, more resistant to scratches, and made out of increasingly exotic materials. But have you ever stopped to ask yourself if these screens are so scratch-resistant, why do manufacturers continue to ship them to us with a protective film covering the screen?
Think about it. Manufacturers assemble these devices in very clean environments, then place their products into clean boxes that hold them securely in place and protect them while they’re shipped across the globe. Why would they need a protective film over the screens under these circumstances? Are OEMs so unsure about the durability of their screens that they can’t even guarantee they’ll make it to store shelves without getting scratched?
If they’re not even certain their screens will escape being scratched while inside a box, what’s the likelihood they’ll escape damage while tucked in a pocket or stuffed in a purse?
Scratches are inevitable
Anything with a transparent screen is going to get scratched. It’s a fact of life. Gorilla Glass (and other tempered glass formulations) promised us the most scratch resistant surfaces available. They still scratch, and they still break.
Now we’re promised that sapphire is the next “miracle solution” which will prevent scratches and minimize breakage. Manufacturers, if you’re so sure about this, ship your new phones and tablets without protective films, otherwise I don’t want to hear about it.
Even a diamond screen will be scratched by other diamonds. Before you argue that diamonds are relatively rare, look on the fingers, wrists, and ears of women in many cultures. Rings, bracelets, earrings, necklaces, and more are encrusted with diamonds. Even industrial tools use diamonds to harden them. Don’t fool yourself into thinking that even a diamond screen will escape scratches. It won’t.
Don’t get me wrong, I like the fact that we’re making devices more scratch resistant. Scratches weaken the surface of an otherwise strong screen, and more often than not, result in those screens becoming broken. Aside from not dropping your smartphone or tablet, the best way to keep it from breaking is to keep the surface scratch-free. Since that’s a statistical impossibility, what can you do?
Over a period of several months I’ve scratched up more screens than I can recall damaging in the prior few years. It’s taught me a valuable lesson: screen protectors are invaluable. Back when we had resistive screens that we wrote upon with a stylus, it was vitally important that we covered our screens. We typically snapped a sheet of plastic under the bezel and above the screen. Although they were easy to install, they didn’t keep dirt out, and even a few specs of grit sandwiched beneath it could wreak havoc on the underlying screen.
Today, not many devices have bezels under which we can tuck old-fashioned screen protectors. Instead, flat glass now stands proud of any bezels, virtually inviting scratches. Makers of screen protectors have switched to adhesives to affix their protective films to these new screens.
The concept itself isn’t new. NASCAR teams have been covering the windshields of their cars with dozens of layers of protective films. When one gets scratched or even just dirty, the pit crew peels off a layer, exposing the pristine surface below. The process can be repeated several times through the race, keeping the driver’s view unobstructed — something that’s particularly important at a few hundred MPH.
Military forces around the world use a similar technology to coat the blades of their helicopters. Instead of resurfacing rotors, they simply remove and re-apply a protective film. They’re also used in civilian applications, coating the leading edges of wind turbines.
Case in point
Manufactures of screen protectors these days typically use a flexible material or a fairly rigid material, both with an adhesive backing, when making their products. I’ve used both. The rigid versions seem easier to install at home, but both can benefit from the skill of a professional installer to ensure they’re applied without air pockets trapped beneath them, and free from lint and other grit.
On my 2013 Nexus 7, I started out with a rigid screen protector. After returning home from a late night of meetings, I noticed that someone had carelessly slid it inside my bag — into a pocket with various chargers and portable batteries. Despite it being enclosed in a flip-covered case, three large (and DEEP) gouges tracked down half the screen. I was exhausted from the night’s labors, and seeing those scratches made my heart drop. I carefully peeled back the rigid screen protector: no scratches! That $15 piece of plastic had just saved me from over $100 in costly repairs!
The next morning I headed to the mall and had a flexible screen protector installed on my Nexus 7, my Nexus 5, my wife’s Nexus 4, and my children’s Galaxy Nexi.
To date, the kids haven’t scratched up their screens, and we haven’t had to replace their protective films. My Nexus 7 was borrowed and used as a Square Register. Apparently someone input all their data using a ballpoint pen. This put little divots in the screen protector, but the screen itself came through unscathed!
My Nexus 5 didn’t fare too well coming home from a recent vacation. Something gouged into the screen protector, ripping a hole in it and lifting it off the screen. After cleaning the area, I reseated the screen protector until I could make it back to the mall. They took one look at it, told me it was covered under the warranty, and replaced it on the spot.
Though this isn’t an advertisement for any particular brand of screen protector, the two in question were by Spigen and Zagg. Each cost around $15 to $25, and both have paid for themselves more than once. Subsequently, as soon as I get a new device, I’ll always cover it up with a screen protector as quickly as I can.
If only they made screen protectors for my LG G Watch…