Smartphones are expensive — you wouldn’t want to spend up to $1,000 or more and end up with a scratched screen. Many people still buy screen protectors to protect their purchase, but are they still necessary with modern display advancements?
It’s true that there was a time when it was practically a must to put a screen protector on your phone. However, the materials used in modern smartphone displays have changed a lot over the years. There’s certainly no harm in using a screen protector, but you may not need one.
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Screen Protectors 101
A screen protector is simply a sheet of clear plastic or very thin glass that you adhere to your smartphone’s screen. The protector is cut to fit the exact shape of your device along with cutouts in the appropriate places —that’s why you buy different screen protectors for different devices.
To apply a screen protector, you generally clean your device’s screen with a microfiber cloth, apply a bit of soapy water to the screen protector, and then press it on top of the screen. You can use a squeegee tool to push out the water and bubbles, leaving a perfectly flat surface that should make the protector invisible.
The idea behind a screen protector is it takes the abuse rather than the glass display. It’s much easier to apply a new screen protector than to replace a scratched or cracked display. However, there are two display types that aim to make screen protectors irrelevant.
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Gorilla Glass Explained
The vast majority of Android phones today use Corning’s Gorilla Glass. This is a toughened, hard glass with high scratch resistance. Corning has actually been releasing new versions of Gorilla Glass over the years. At the time of writing in March 2022, the newest version is Gorilla Glass Victus.
There are two things that Gorilla Glass tries to protect against—scratches and cracks. Generally, it has to favor one over the other. Some versions have been more scratch-resistant but easier to crack, and some have been easier to scratch but harder to crack. It’s a constant balance between the two, and Corning has continued to push the envelope.
According to Corning, Gorilla Glass Victus has been tested to survive drops onto hard, rough surfaces from up to 6-feet. Scratch resistance is measured with the Knoop Hardness Test. Victus held strong against an 8 Newton load, while other glasses failed around 4 Newton.
Ceramic Shield Explained
Apple doesn’t use Gorilla Glass for iPhones. Instead, it uses a glass exclusive to iPhones called “Ceramic Shield.” Introduced with the iPhone 12, Ceramic Sheild is also made by Corning.
Ceramic Shield is not just a fancy brand name—the glass does actually include ceramic. Ceramic Shield glass is embedded with ceramic nanocrystals that are smaller than the wavelength of light, making it appear just as transparent as normal glass.
The result is a tough material that is resistant to drops and scratches. Sadly, Apple doesn’t share many technical details about Ceramic Shield. It simply says it’s “four times better” than pre-iPhone 12 models. There’s really no way to compare Ceramic Shield to Gorilla Glass, but it’s safe to say they are both durable displays made by Corning.
Disadvantages of Screen Protectors
The big thing that screen protectors do is change how the display feels to the touch. Obviously, plastic doesn’t feel as nice as glass, which is why glass screen protectors have become more popular.
Placing a sheet of plastic or thin glass between you and the screen can subtly change how your device’s screen looks, especially if the screen protector discolors over time. And since screen protectors are not as tough as Gorilla Glass or Ceramic Shield, they pick up unsightly scratches that wouldn’t have actually scratched your smartphone’s screen.
This is all assuming you apply the screen protector properly. If you’re not careful, you may end up with bubbles and cracks under your screen protector, and you may have to apply a new one.
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So, When Do You Need a Screen Protector?
Some common materials can scratch any smartphone display. One of the biggest things to watch out for is sand, it’s surprisingly hard. If you go to the beach and end up with some sand in your pocket, that sand can rub against your smartphone’s glass screen and scratch it. Unsurprisingly, hard rocks work similarly. Other types of glass, rare metals, and very-hard materials like diamonds can also scratch a Gorilla Glass or Ceramic Shield display.
Screen protectors also boast anti-fingerprint coatings, but modern smartphones have “oleophobic” coatings that repel the oil on your fingers, reducing unsightly fingerprints. Even if you have fingerprints building up, you just need to give the screen a quick wipe—ideally with a microfiber cloth.
Screen protectors aren’t a must-buy item anymore. You can safely use a modern smartphone with a “naked” screen, and—even if you put it in the same pocket with your keys and coins—it should be fine.
Of course, you’ll probably want to keep your keys and coins in another pocket—there’s a chance they could scratch some other part of your phone.