Pocketnow Power User: What you need to know about screens, part 1 (video)

People who live in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones – but what about people with glass smartphones?

Pocketnow Power User is a series of videos and articles aimed at the “average Joe”, explaining core concepts that might seem confusing, even daunting. On this episode of the Pocketnow Power User, we’re going to talk about the glass that covers your smartphone, tablet, or wearable.

Almost all of our smartphones, tablets, and wearables have a screen. Some are very small, like on your smartwatch or Google Glass, others are very large, like on your iPad or Surface. Still more are somewhere in the middle. They all have something in common: you look through them to see whatever is on the other side.

For as long as devices have had screens, people have been trying to figure out how to keep them from getting scratched. How to best accomplish that depends on what the screen is made of.



Some screens are made of some type of polymer – “plastic”. Plastic is generally inexpensive, flexible, and very break-resistant. There are even some types of plastics that are “self-healing”. Generally speaking, plastics are soft – which translates into “scratchable”.

Back in the “classical era” of PDAs – when Palm, Newton, and Pocket PC roamed the land – you’d find a plastic screen in the vast majority of devices. People hated scratched screens, and the previously small “screen protector” industry exploded.


Gorilla GlassManufacturers, having gotten push-back from partners and customers, and began to switch from plastic to glass to cover their screens. Glass is much more “brilliant” than plastic. Colors come through better, blacks are blacker, text and images are crisper. Devices just look better with glass screens compared to plastic screens.

Since glass is much harder than plastic, screens are much less likely to scratch than plastic. “Less likely”, however, doesn’t mean “immune”. Companies like Corning continually refine their products, making them more scratch-resistant by various proprietary production processes and special chemical coatings.

The down-side to all this is, although glass screens are much less likely to scratch than plastic ones, they’re much more likely to crack – or shatter.


sapphire-boulesSince glass is still relatively soft, what materials are still transparent, yet harder? Diamond comes to mind, but that’s ridiculously expensive. Slightly less hard, but still significantly harder than glass is sapphire.

Right now, relatively few products come with sapphire screens, but it looks like that’s going to be changing very soon. We don’t have a large sample of devices with these screens just yet, so we’ll have to wait and see if they crack or shatter any more or less than glass.

Sapphire is expensive compared to glass, so be prepared for devices with this item on their spec list to carry a premium price.


coatingsLast, but certainly not least, are coatings. Some devices come with oleophobic, antibacterial, and other coatings. These coatings might actually be more important for protecting the underlying screen from damage than the screens themselves. The coating on Google’s LG-made Nexus 4 was silky smooth and very nice to touch. It was also very scratch resistant – more so than it should have been with only its Gorilla Glass screen.

Just because a device doesn’t list a name brand like Corning or Gorilla Glass, or doesn’t have super-high-tech materials like sapphire, doesn’t mean you’re destined to have a scratched screen – but it probably means that you should start asking some hard questions abo0ut the screen before you lay down a chunk of change for the device.

Stay tuned…

In this episode we talked about the “glass” that covers your screen. In our next episode we’re going to talk about the technology that sits behind the glass. Make sure you’ve subscribed to our YouTube channel so you don’t miss out!

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About The Author
Joe Levi
Joe graduated from Weber State University with two degrees in Information Systems and Technologies. He has carried mobile devices with him for more than a decade, including Apple's Newton, Microsoft's Handheld and Palm Sized PCs, and is Pocketnow's "Android Guy". By day you'll find Joe coding web pages, tweaking for SEO, and leveraging social media to spread the word. By night you'll probably find him writing technology and "prepping" articles, as well as shooting video. Read more about Joe Levi here.